This post is the fourth in a series on Seeking the Hidden Path of the Artist’s Career. If you want an overview of the concept, click here to read Thoughts on the Hidden Path.
In Finding the Path we talked about the need to start showing your work, and how most artists start by just showing their work to friends and family. In this post, we’ll discuss growing beyond the friends and family relationships.
The private nature of making art alone in a studio lends itself well to people who are naturally introverted, so many artists who are introverted say, “I don’t sell myself/do events/reach out/promote, I’m an artist.”
In the traditional world of art galleries and museums, the artist stays hidden. The gallery hires an academic to interpret the artist’s place in history. The artist remains an enigma. It’s in the gallery’s best interest to do this because they control the relationship with the buyer.
For some artists, this makes a lot of sense. Some artists just can’t handle the spotlight or don’t have the mental faculties to learn basic social skills. But most of the time, these are just excuses.
A secret that most beginners don’t know? This problem isn’t just limited to artists. Most entrepreneurs come from some sort of technical or skilled background. They might be software developers, hardware inventors, machinists, weavers, or writers.
They’ve trained long and hard to acquire the technical aspects of their skills. They’ve logged 10,000 hours in their respective fields. Then they see an opportunity to sell some of their skills. But they don’t have the people skills, the math skills, or other skills necessary to make a business venture work.
But they learn it. Every year there are hundreds of small businesses that figure it out. Smart inventors, makers and artists collaborate together to grow their customer base and help prop each other up. Partnering with your friends along the path is an opportunity to learn from them and to help them.
Bringing Friends Along the Path
In addition to showing your work, social media lets you build a rapport with your fans. You can answer their questions about your work, ask them questions, find out about their lives and what makes them tick. You can begin to build a little following that understands your story and encourage them to share it with their friends.
The next logical step for many artists is to put on a show. Monet was rejected by the French Academy, so he organized a group show with a handful of other young artists. That’s where Louis Leroy made his famous criticism of Monet’s work and named a new movement.
Using other artists, friends, and your online social networks to reach their contacts is called the network effect. It’s one thing to reach out to everyone you know to sell art. It’s another thing entirely to inspire everyone you know to share your work with everyone that they know.
I can often predict the local artists who are going to do well because I see them at every small art fair in town, or on every coffee shop and restaurant wall. Their small pieces end up on the walls of 2 – 3 of my collector enthusiast friends. They are busting their humps to show their work in as many places as possible.
Because they are showing their work, partnering with other people, and talking to everyone about their work, they intuitively start to understand this next point:
The thing that many artists miss in their early career is that showing your work is not necessarily about selling your work. It’s about gathering information and building a network.
Who is interested in what you do? How do people respond to what you make? Who is willing to sign up for your mailing list to hear about future shows?
While getting sales at this point is certainly wonderful and welcome, the information you’re gathering is the most important element, because it gives you a clue about where you should go to find the next step on the path.
With that said, what is one thing you can do today to build out your network?