10 Facts You May Wish You Learned in Art School


Perhaps you recently graduated from art school or have been on your own now for many years. Either way, there is probably a very different reality of how the art business world operates and your vision of it while you were taking art studio courses.

Having counseled thousands of artists over the years, I have learned there are important business principles that successful artists have learned. It’s never too late to integrate these empowering lessons into your art career.

1. Talent alone will not suffice

Galleries, curators, and art buyers have an enormous population of artists from which to choose. This competitive profession requires business savvy, stamina, perseverance, organizational skills, and more, to succeed. Don’t wait for an agent to come to your rescue. Continuously strive to achieve your creative, career and financial goals.

2. You will most likely fail if you fail to create a business plan

Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. You can plan for success or wait for failure — it’s up to you. Statistics prove that most businesses that don’t have a business plan are doomed. I now require all of my coaching clients to prepare their business plan during the first session. It provides them with a foundation, direction and enormous self-esteem. Take a look at “How to Create Your Art Business Plan.”

3. Art doesn’t sell by itself

Occasionally someone will fall in love with your art and have an overwhelming desire to buy it. Most of the time, however, prospective art buyers need reassurance from you. Supply support materials for them to peruse. Provide an up-to-date résumé. Share positive testimonials from previous art buyers. Quote favorable excerpts from your reviews. Describe the important details of your art that emphasize the quality of your art and materials. Also, show images of your art in situ on your website so that potential buyers may visualize it on their walls.

4. Accept the “Rule of Thirds”

The sooner you learn that being a full-time professional artist requires an understanding of this principle the happier you will be. Generally, one-third of your time is spent creating the art; one-third of your time must be spent focusing on marketing and promotion; and one-third is spent doing those pesky administrative tasks. My solution is to delegate or hire others to do what you don’t enjoy doing and/or find ways to become more efficient at accomplishing those necessary tasks in order to increase time doing what you love.

5. It is necessary to learn how to promote yourself

If you don’t make self-promotion a habit, it is likely no one else will want to do it. Replace feelings of shyness with self-worth. Share enthusiasm for your current art project, announce recent honors and awards you received, and share the news about your sales. Make these events the subjects of your social media posts, blogs and email newsletters. Practice self-promotion with dignity, sincerity and confidence. Take a look at “What To Do When You Receive Publicity.”

6. Apply the 20/80 Pareto Principle

Your art buyers are valuable assets. Whenever you make a sale, recognize it as the beginning of a long, rewarding relationship. According to the Pareto Principle, 20 percent of your clients will bring you 80 percent of your business. Don’t ignore those 20 percent. Cater to them, focus on their needs, keep them on your radar. Take a look at “Increase Art Sales With Your Present Art Buyers.”

7. Your relationships will make or break your career

The most powerful tool in your career arsenal is the art of building and sustaining relationships. Every successful artist follows these basic principles: Hunt (seek out relationships); Farm (cultivate relationships) and Feed (nourish your relationships). Also, avoid burning any bridges because you never know when the young gallery intern you offended will later become a museum curator. Learn how to create your “People Power List.” Take a look at “Nourish Your Art Career With People Power.”

8. Create your own signature style

If you want to live with authenticity, stay true to your personality, spirit, character and values. Let your creative greatness shine. Avoid producing derivative art work. Dismiss the negative critical voices in your head. Read “Learn As Much as You Can, Then Fly Solo” in Professional Artist magazine’s Aug/Sept 2014 issue.

9. Never stop learning and growing

There is no excuse to be ignorant about art history, current art movements and new art business methods. The responsibility of a professional artist is to keep abreast of what is going on in the art field; it’s the same way we expect the best attorneys and doctors to be aware of the newest advancements in law and medicine. Learn to understand innovation in all areas of art, technology, business and education. Professional Artist magazine is one of the best resources available to help artists learn and grow.

10. Feel comfortable when talking about your art

You should be able to answer in a brief statement, “what kind of art do you do?” without any hesitation or stumbling. When someone asks you this question, speak about your art in a succinct, compelling, enthusiastic, confident and informative manner. Write about your artwork in the same way. Avoid using language that is either simplistic and superficial or complicated and difficult to understand. Take a look at “How to Write Your Artist’s Statement: 28 Guidelines.”

Renée Phillips is an author, writer, and frequent blogger. Her articles can be found on www.Renee-Phillips.com, www.ManhattanArtsBlog.com and www.LuxeBeatmag.com. She is founder and director of Manhattan Arts International. As The Artrepreneur Coach, she provides career guidance and writing services for artists. Follow her on Twitter and join her on Facebook and Linkedin.