Yesterday, James Harris of New Lenox, IL, USA, wrote, “I’ve always dabbled in art, but now I’m looking to make the transition to my dream of being an artist. It’s been said that your income will never be larger than the average of the income of your five closest friends. If this is true and I do believe it is, how do we as artists develop a mastermind group to challenge us, hold us accountable, and see our income increase? I believe the income is a by-product of hard work, setting goals, networking, and associations. Does this group need to be made up totally of artists? Does it need to be in person or could this be a virtual group?”
Thanks, James. I’ve never heard of such a thing as not making more than your five best friends. Sounds like nonsense to me. The wonderful thing about fine art, as opposed to more pedestrian businesses, is that the making of art is already perceived to be valuable — not like the making of donuts, hamburgers, or hangnail clippers (and other practical widgets). Given time, a properly-run life in art can build to such outrageous monetary levels you have to slap yourself hard to contain your hubris.
As a matter of fact, all this worry about income misses the point. You are right about hard work, setting goals, and networking, but other things are of equal importance, including proficiency, efficiency, and purposeful exploration.
Any amount of actuarial income-projection does not stand a chance against the singular development of a uniquely creative style and direction you can get into, live inside, and enjoy daily. When this happens, the coinage is automatically shaken from the money tree.
Evolved work attracts the attention of others in the position to share. Talented in their own way, proper art dealers will go to work for you daily and make your dreams possible. You can do what you want — even go golfing — with your other friends, virtual or real, poor or wealthy.
Regarding those who challenge and hold you accountable, only one friend is needed for this job. He must be a person with a lot of character. He is yourself. You may find him critical or cranky at times, but he means well. Leave your other friends to keep track of themselves. They’re probably too self-occupied to worry about you, anyway.
PS: “If you have anything really valuable to contribute to the world it will come through the expression of your own personality, that single spark of divinity that sets you off and makes you different from every other living creature.” (Bruce Barton)
Esoterica: The more I study the successes of self-actualized artists, the more I come to understand how they value themselves. People with a decent amount of self-esteem tend to find quality within their work and within their lives. It’s this trust of the universe that leads to great art, great fortune and great happiness. “Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect and make everyone else deal with you the same way.” (Nikki Giovanni)
The tyranny of ‘twice’
by Gordon Portman
The evidence is all around me that having a signature style sells, builds reputation, solidifies career, all that stuff that we all shoot for. I can objectively see the value of it, and can certainly see the value of it to the careers of a lot of successful artists.
My problem is I don’t like creating the same thing twice… I don’t like cooking the same thing twice, I don’t like writing in the same style twice, I don’t like telling the same story twice. It’s a gut thing, an intentional thing, if I try to recreate a “style” from one work to another it feels stale and uninteresting, and chances are I barely get started, let alone finish. So is it something I just power through, make myself do no matter what? If so, where’s the creativity? How do I make myself do something (i.e. create a signature style and/or perspective) through a practice that seems to go against the instinctual grain? Maybe I’m just exploring to FIND my “signature style” … either that or I’m creatively ADD. I’d appreciate any thoughts you might have.
(RG note) Thanks, Gordon. You should note I said “style and direction.” When you develop a direction, you can run with combinations that are forever varying, with satisfying surprises and epiphanies. While expectations within this process can be unrealistic for some artists, the style evolution that follows is somewhat automatic.
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Making the switch
by Lanie Frick, Licking MO, USA
I made the transition to full time artist 6 years ago from 20 years self-employed sign/graphics business. So, you need to ask yourself… Are people wanting to buy my work? Am I self-motivated enough to be self-employed? Do I like to market, be organized and efficient? This will be very important if you’ve never been self-employed. The next best thing I did to benefit my art career (besides buying the book The Painters Keys) is buy the book I’d Rather Be In The Studio by Alyson Stanfield. Very valuable marketing and organizing information. I’ve also taken some of her online workshops and they’re great. Finally, make sure you get the best quality photos of your work possible and file them. Keep good records that are easy to get to and go through.
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Be the exception to the rule
by Bill Curtis, Alexandria, VA, USA
The business about not making more than your five best friends is a valid statistic, but it doesn’t say you will never make more. It only indicates that most of us tend toward the average. We must be ever vigilant as to how we interpret statistics. It is easy to understand how this might work being that we tend (there’s that word again) to think similarly to our closest friends, and consequently manage to make very similar decisions and take very similar actions. Seize the day Mr. Harris and break out! If we’re going to be statistics, be the exception not the rule! Don’t settle!
The leap pays off
by Brenda Jacobsen, CT, USA
In September I took a first step with a few oil paintings and put them in a storefront for two weeks as part of an Art Celebration — out of that I sold a painting for several hundred dollars. I felt naked showing my work, but I took a leap and it paid off. I love to paint and draw. Would there be actual buyers for my work? I had better test the waters — that was my motivation.
That same week I read about an art fund raiser (paint local barns), and while it was for “prominent artists in the area” I emailed the organization and they let me join. I painted for a few weeks and entered two paintings and one sold again to complete strangers, which I think is a compliment. In fact, only 20 out of 100 paintings sold. Again, the organization received part of the money but I still get my name out there. Now I have three commissions which will help pay for more paint supplies and a few bills before Christmas. I am not rolling in cash but I would be a fool not to feel encouraged — to keep on going. There are bumps in the road but I have to agree — I can worry about money or the lack of my job or I can get busy and create art that I am drawn towards and enjoy. Then, perhaps, I will reap the benefits. I am a perpetual student. I do have a class that I attend sporadically and we cheer each other on. But when it comes down to it — I have to face the easel alone each morning.
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The power of positive action
by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA
Seminar language and Law of Attraction aside, I hear two conversations going on, and they don’t necessarily blend into one. A life in art is wonderful. A living in art is something entirely different, though not necessarily separate. Frankly, Robert, I know some astoundingly fine artists, some of them world class, who have a hard time financially, and have for years, even decades. The thing is that as soon as money is mentioned, especially real money (i.e., bill-paying money), you’ve put one foot out of the world of art and into the world of marketing.
It’s all very well to say that quality and dedication will out. It may even invoke a placebo effect in some people, giving them the audacity to stride out of their studio solitude and let their work be seen. The truth holds, nevertheless: no one can buy your art if they don’t know it’s there. Letting enough people know it’s there is marketing, and like any sales, evolutionary, reproductive or biological process, it’s at least in part a numbers game. When your interlocutor talks about support groups, he’s onto something. Partners in accountability and strategy can be helpful in the extreme. Making art can be solitary as a walk in the desert. But selling art is highly collaborative, especially on any regular basis. It’s got to get not just out there, but far enough out there to be seen from all sorts of locations. Positive thinking only goes so far. As you’ve pointed out many times, positive action, and lots of it, are requisite to making this kind of change.
Owning our successes
by Lisa Schaus, Flathead Valley, MT, USA
Battling low esteem is common among creative people. Why? Perhaps we have been allowed to indulge ourselves for too long. A good inner task master develops slowly. The outer task master is the bumpy road of life. (Like the challenging painting in progress!) As the empty canvas fills and keeps the artist in a lively conversation with a modicum of reprimand, lessons on many levels are learned. Owning our successes along the way to grow and nurture self-esteem is paramount. Thank you for your reminder!
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Focus equals expansion
by Mary Susan Vaughn, Charlotte, NC, USA
Being accountable for your own goals and direction as an artist is critical to your success. Depending on a friend or friends to carry you and motivate you is the surest way I know of to fail as an artist. The motivation and goals must come from within. You, the artist, must be passionate about your work, your subject, your goals, and your direction if you are going to be successful in this field. This is true with any field. I think of it this way — what you focus on the most expands. If I focus on my website more than my artwork, my artwork will not sell or grow in collectorship. My website will, but not my artwork. And vice-versa. On the other hand, if you have multiple passions, as I do, I find that structure of time and talent is necessary to expand and grow in all areas of your creativity. Bottom line — to be successful in any endeavor — creative or otherwise — you must focus and have a clear set of goals, reasonable expectations, and a plan — from educational goals to business goals and networking, too, all of these efforts will expand your financial gains over time. Patience is a virtue — and so is persistence. Stay focused and you will be evermore successful as an artist.
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Grace and persistence
by Karen Schoch, Glenside, PA, USA
I can totally agree with the ideas in this post. I too am on the cusp of taking that step to make reality the dream of being a full time artist. The important people in my life support this and yet income loss is a concern and causes me to hesitate. I find that there are two kinds of people who are confident in their skill as an artist. Those who have the attitude of “get out of my way I know what I want so leave me alone to do it” and those who I think of as more teachable in their spirit. The later are persistent in both doing their own work and honing their skill, but they haven’t lost their ability to relate in a caring way to others, or their interest in personal growth and learning. I want my own life to be a balance of grace and persistence.
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In the stream
by Lina Jones, Melbourne, Australia
I found this one particularly uplifting and the advice given so positive for all artists. My aim is not to make a lot of money, but to enjoy being in the artistic stream with those of like mind, no matter whether they are wealthy or otherwise. And I especially liked the last paragraph — our own inner self is the best guide in every area of our lives. Thanks again for your wise and encouraging words.
(RG note) Thanks, Lina. And thanks to the more than one hundred others who wrote to express essentially the same thought.
Where’s the beef?
by Jackie Strickland, Brunswick, GA, USA
Could we hear from at least 15 artists who are making so much money they have to slap themselves silly? I’m an artist. I know a lot of artists. We’ve all painted for years. We’re all committed, diligent and work our butts off painting and promoting. None of us are slap happy yet. Surely one of us would have gotten it right by now. Honestly and sincerely — no sarcasm now — can I hear from a few rich artists who make their living by selling their paintings? It would truly make my day!
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watercolour painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Larry Moore of Orlando, FL, USA, who wrote, “I gotta go get me some more rich friends.”
And also Andra Norris of Burlingame, CA, USA, who wrote, “Sometimes I really like you. And this is one of those times.”
And also Gerald Liu who wrote, “Artists don’t eat bread and butter they eat lobsters.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Worried about income…