I’m guilty of it too.
Of being that friend who gushes about how great your art is that you HAVE to be selling it online.
You might feel like you’re supposed to sell your art and that if you don’t or can’t, you are somehow a less talented artist.
I’ve seen this concept keep artists stuck for years, trying desperately to sell their art and realizing in the end that it stresses them out and makes them incapable of taking joy from their art-making.
Many artists are made to have art careers. It suits their personality and skills perfectly. It makes them happy every day, living the dream.
But some artists, even if they are just as talented, aren’t suited to a professional art career.
I’m one example. You can read about my artist journey a bit over here.
Growing up, my dad used to tell me,
“EITHER DO WHAT YOU LOVE OR DO SOMETHING THAT GIVES YOU ENOUGH MONEY AND TIME TO DO WHAT YOU LOVE.”
He would explain that you can choose to turn your passion into a job if you like, but you can be just as happy (sometimes even happier) keeping work and passion separate as long as the work gives you the resources to pursue the passion.
Sage wisdom, right?
There’s so much pressure in our culture right now to have a career filled with passion that we get caught up in a romanticized vision of work.
There are two sides to this conversation and I think I’m well-suited to present both, being someone who fell into a passion-driven career but initially eschewed a career with a different passion.
There are definitely pros and cons to an art career, but I want to focus mostly on the cons today because the pros are so obvious and talked about so often.
However, I don’t want you to take that to mean I don’t want you to have an art career. I wouldn’t have a career myself if no artists decided to have a art careers! I love helping artists build those businesses for themselves.
I just want you to make a choice that’s right for you, regardless of what the world tells you that you should or shouldn’t do.
When you start selling your art, you’re going to have to deal with people telling you what they think of your artwork. You will get critiqued and you won’t always like what they say. And when you’re at your lowest confidence, you’ll get rejected from a gallery, a grant, a magazine, a licensing deal, etc.
REJECTION IS MORE COMMON THAN ACCEPTANCE IN THE ART INDUSTRY.
You have to be able to weather the negativity and persist through it.
Sometimes it’s easier to do that with something you have a little less passion for. Just like how it’s easier to talk up a friend’s artwork to a potential customer than to talk up your own talent.
When you’ve got a bit less skin in the game, it can be easier to handle the pain.
Art careers are hard, as well.
An art career is essentially running your own business. And starting a business is hard. There’s a huge learning curve and then a ton of experimenting to figure out how to make your particular art business work, since not only is every business different, every art business is different too.
It can take years to find that magic recipe that sells your art really well. And often once you’ve found that magic, there’s a soon shift in the marketplace and you’ve got to look for a new magic recipe to match the new culture around art buying.
I WORKED WITH AN ARTIST WHO WENT THROUGH THIS IN A DRAMATIC WAY.
Let’s call her Jenny. In the Eighties, she was renowned and had galleries begging to work with her. Jenny made tons of money and never wondered where her next sale was going to come from. She had her magic recipe, that’s for sure.
And she rode that wave pretty far into the digital age. She managed to use the collector-base she had built up and the industry connections she had made to keep her success going even after her magic recipe had really stopped working.
Jenny didn’t really notice in the new millennium that on the backend of things, she didn’t have many galleries wanting her work anymore. She wasn’t getting new customers very often. And she really didn’t have a way of getting in front of her target market except to individually call collectors she already had a relationship with.
So as her collector-base fell off (taking interest in new artists, having filled their homes and not needing new art or even downsizing in retirement to a smaller home with less room for art, or having enough of her art, etc) and her industry connections looked to the next big thing, Jenny’s income slowly dropped.
She finally hit a point where she realized she no longer knew how to sell her artwork.
This can happen to any artist. Jenny is not alone in this tragic story. To keep being a financially-successful and relevant artist, you have to evolve your business as you go along.
A business working now will not still be working in 2050.
And then there’s that danger of just not enjoying the work that goes into building an art career.
My clients are usually surprised how much of my advice revolves around contacting strangers, reconnecting with people, and asking people to buy their art.
And you might not really enjoy one or more of these pieces of the puzzle.
On the positive side, it can be incredibly fulfilling to see your artwork find loving homes, it’s great to have control over your work because you’re the boss of your business, and it doesn’t hurt that you get to feel like you’re accomplishing something important when you’re playing in your studio.
There’s no shame in either.
You can have a fulfilling life as an artist making a career out of it.
You can have a fulfilling life as an artist doing it on the side for fun.