How to Cure Your Art Career When It Needs a Kick in the Butt

Are You Repeating the Same Marketing Efforts and Getting the Same Results?

I regularly see artists, even established artists, making rookie-marketing mistakes. You can hardly blame them. Many are overwhelmed by feeling they have too much to do on all fronts. Not surprisingly, they find evaluating the volume of art marketing options and making decisions on what and how to implement them overwhelming. As the saying goes, “It is hard to remember your job is to clear the swamp when you are up to your ass in alligators.”

Is your art career stuck?

If your art marketing is not getting the results you want then you need to change things up. Answer the following question honestly—remember it is only you who will know the answer. Is your art saleable? That is, are you confident it sells well when exposed to enough qualified buyers?

If you answered yes, get started now on revamping your marketing plans for 2019. Work on tightening your focus on what is both important and urgent. Make it your goal to create and act on a sustainable marketing plan that will guide your most awesome career year ever.

Stop reading here if: (see sticky note)

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

if your art career

None of the items on the sticky note are career killers, but it makes sense to address them before you invest time and money into building demand with your marketing.

Creating the success you want is all about prioritizing what to do when. If you have the items listed on the sticky note under control, then I recommend you begin working in earnest on the eight steps outlined below

Success is subjective.

Since the first step is about setting clear goals, let’s take a moment to talk about success. Only you can define your success. While you can allow others to inform you of their opinion, ultimately it’s up to you to decide what you want from your art career.

Your success is as distinctively personal and unique to you as your art is to you. Therefore, what you deem truly important for your career will never match another artist’s career goals. As such, you cannot take a cookie-cutter approach to market your art.

What you can do is apply the art marketing tools and techniques best suited to achieve your unique career goals. You can develop an achievable, believable marketing strategy that will allow you to become successful on your terms.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

They don’t teach this in art school.

You won’t find this concept covered in other art marketing books, blogs, courses, and websites. Here is the crux. While making art that connects with art buyers is unquestionably crucial to your art career; it is not the actual nature of your art business.

Do you know what business you are in?

what business are you in A prevalent problem for artists and many other businesses, both large and small, is they don’t know what business they are in. You need to know the true nature of your business. Not knowing the right answer is a common and often costly mistake.

You are not in the business of making art.

Making art is the creation side of your career. It is a multi-layered and complicated process where you blend your creativity and personal vision to create art desirable to you and others. The art creation process also involves perfecting your production methods so you can make enough work to meet demand, which will allow you to make a living from it.

Building a network of collectors and galleries and distribution channels is your business.

You will succeed in the art business side of your career by taking effective, repetitive actions designed to: build nourish replenish

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.
  1. Build new buyer, gallery and other distribution channel relationships.
  2. Nurture your existing relationships.
  3. Replenish the buyers, galleries and distro channels you lose along the way.

When you fully understand and accept these points as the exact nature of your art business, and begin to act decisively on them, your career will take flight. As with so many other things in life, this is easier to say and harder to do.

Breaking down needed actions to easy steps leads to success.

In my humble experience, the only way to get a grip on turning a desire to grow your business with an effective marketing program is first to determine what you need to do and how to do it, and then break everything down into manageable increments.

I believe if you do well on the eight steps outlined below that you can create your unique marketing program and career success.

Here is your 8-step program to move your career in the right direction:

1. Set realistic goals – you must know what you want from your career — Full-Time, part-time, museum-bound, a comfortable retirement, fame, or fortune. It does not matter; the only poor choice is no choice. Having clear art career goals allows you to make smart, informed decisions.

2. Assess your resources – knowing what you have to put into your art career is essential. No two artists are the same. Some have more money; some are more productive; some have qualified family members helping them. Some are more motivated, and some are more business savvy. When you accurately know what your resources are, you can work on fixing weak spots, or enlist help to shore them up. Resources and goals work closely together. Knowing what is achievable on a stretch is comforting. A feasible plan is only possible through an honest self-assessment of your available resources for the necessary tasks.

3. Branding – artists and all small businesses have brands. While they may not be iconic, they still are brands. People buy from people they know, respect and admire. Like it or not, most of your collectors are buying the artist as much as the art. Don’t believe that? Imagine that Herman’s Hermits released “Satisfaction” instead of The Rolling Stones. Would that tune still rank as the number-one rock n’ roll song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine?

Want a more modern example? Let’s pretend Vanilla Ice recorded “8 Mile.” Would it have become a movie and one of the most influential rap albums of all time? You already know the answer. In most cases, you cannot separate the two. When you understand the power of branding and work on making it important to your business activities, you add potency and punch to your marketing? Part of branding includes creating powerful back stories about you and your art that will sell much more art for you.

4. Local Marketing and Networking – too many artists ignore the potential sales in their backyard. They somehow have gotten the misguided notion that it is easier to sell art to strangers who often are thousands of miles away. In doing so, they look right past their local/regional market. And as a result, they also avoid networking their warm market. These are epic career mistakes.

people buy from people they like Here is an often overlooked but a simple truth about how many things get bought. People buy first from people they know and like. 

People who know you are your easiest sales. The next easiest is the people they know. You don’t want to miss any easy sales—ever!

To become known locally is easier and more affordable than marketing nationally or internationally. Plus, you can use becoming slightly famous locally as a springboard to greater career recognition. This is obvious and within your means way to lay the foundation for a successful, viable long-term art career. You gotta grow where you’re planted.

5. Traditional Marketing – I break marketing into two broad categories:  Traditional and online. While conventional and online marketing work beautifully together, it is easier to compartmentalize them when making plans on how to use them in building your art career. Traditional marketing consists of such things as publicity, press releases, advertising, direct mail, and more. Learning to use these tools selectively and efficiently will have a profound positive impact on your art career.

6. Online Marketing – businesses of all sizes have had to adapt and use the vast, evolving and growing range of online marketing tools. These include email marketing, websites, blogs, online galleries, and social media. It can be quite a challenge to master using these tools, especially social media because the platforms are constantly evolving. Social media often change how to use their services for both users and marketers. Despite the ongoing changes, challenges, and drawbacks, the benefits of a successful online marketing program are worth the effort to use them.

7. Project Planning & Synergistic Marketing – when it comes to marketing an art career, I think many artists are either doing too little or too much of the wrong things. More importantly, too many are unfocused with their art marketing efforts. The best results come by simplifying your efforts. Tighten the focus to get maximum benefits from fewer targets. When you put the synergized power of all your art marketing on a particular function or event, you increase the effectiveness of each message you send.

Sending a steady drip of consistent and branded marketing messages from a variety of sources to a highly targeted audience is how you break through the noise, get found and get your work sold.

8. Develop Direct Buying Collectors – today, the roadblocks and stigma to sell directly to collectors are gone. When it comes to successfully marketing your art career, it is vital you make selling directly your most important art-marketing goal. While your mileage may vary, a typical artist creates 1,000 original works in a lifetime. That math works out to 33 originals for 30 years. If an artist, throughout a lifetime, develops 100 or more direct buying collectors, those collectors most likely will buy as much as one-third of the artist’s work. Additionally, there is a high probability at least a few will provide powerful introductions or have positive influences in other ways on the artist’s career.

You can do these things. You can reach the top.


How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.


art career, art marketing workshop

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  • I will never know what is possible in my career till I am at death’s door. No artificial goals would ever serve me, if expressed in numbers, because outside forces are beyond my control much less my understanding and will affect my sales for better or worse. I am only able to try new and previously successful strategies for selling my work, finding out afterwards how good or nearly non-existent my sales were; no near or far-out numeric goals, were I to bother to record them where I’d see them again, would change this unfortunate fact. Therefore I lack the heart to set goals; they would be arbitrary from the get-go and end up making me cranky, like trash fallen out of a trash can.

    Also, though I always have better – selling subjects among my cards and prints, I can never say what is truly saleable till it finally sells.

    • Thanks for your comment. From what I read, your art is already proven saleable, so good on you for that. Setting goals for artists isn’t like selling tooth paste where you look at SKUs in sales by Zip Codes or per chain store, etc. You can set goals like, “I will add 12 new collectors and five new galleries in the next 12 months.” Or, “I will add 300 new names to my email subscriber list. I will contact 25 interior designers this year.”

      The point of making goals is to give your business and you direction so you don’t flounder about. Lewis Carroll famously said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” To grow your art business, you need time in your schedule for marketing. The only way to make good use of that time is to have a prioritized plan of what you are going to do with the plan and what you hope to achieve by doing it.

      • Thank you for taking the time to reply and give an example of the kind of goal I could set. Since I do work with a to-do list, it ought to be feasible to slip little numeric goals in with the items on the list.

  • Hi Rick, Thanks for your comment. Blogging is a tool that can help you make sales. My approach is to use everything available that you can to contact and message your collectors, fans, friends, and prospects. That’s why I talk about harnessing all your resources and using them in a cohesive plan so you don’t waste time and energy on just one aspect of your business. On average, you need 7- 10 touches on a prospect to move them from aware to interested to desire, and then action. My Guerrilla Marketing for Artists book covers how to do this in detail. Many of the free broadcasts I present with Jason Horejs also cover aspects of art marketing. Best wishes and good luck to you.

  • Hi Barney,

    I’m a photographer and have had some success in stock photography. My work can be seen on my website at I’ve sold to magazines, newspapers, corporations and websites. I tried to break into fine art print sales through Fine Art America a little less than a year ago. I realize that not all stock photography is something that one would want to hang on their wall. For this reason I have tried to curate my portfolio and limit the prints available on FAA. I am also marketing through Facebook and Twitter. In the case of Facebook I bought several months of targeted advertising. The money spent resulted in thousands of views of my work and many compliments but zero sales. I also do some blogging and try to market both my stock photography and prints through the blogs.

    I really like Fine Art America, their print quality and the level of system integration they have achieved. I have incorporated their embed code into my website and Facebook so my print offerings can be seen in several places.

    I would like to achieve at least the same success in art prints that I have in stock photography but I’m not sure what else I can do to make that happen.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


    Jeff Goulden

    • Hi Jeff,

      I think the biggest difference between stock photos and fine art photos, at least from the sales angle, is relationships. I could care less about who took a stock photo if it fills my need. I think people buy art from the artist as much as they buy the art. The likes and kind words from online activities do not represent a relationship, you are just one step from total anonymity online without working to gain a relationship. For emotional, discretionary income purchases, unless you have fame, you need relationships and great backstories about your art.

      My Guerrilla Marketing for Artists book tackles how to build a collector base using a variety of tools. I recommend it to you. If you want to dive deep into how to build collectors and set up your art marketing so you are constantly doing trial and error, you should consider my Art Marketing Mastery Workshop. It is 6-hours of intensive art marketing advice. It’s broken into four 90-minute sessions over four weeks so you have time to absorb the information and work on the ideas and suggestions offered in the workshop.

      The workshops are online and will be recorded for you to view on your schedule. You also get a free copy of my book, Guerrilla Marketing for Artists, and half-hour private consultation with me. I’ll be setting up a private Facebook group for attendees to communicate with each other and me about the materials presented. Here is the link to the workshop: How to Make Your Art Career Insanely Successful workshop

    • Jenny, Thanks for sharing a link to my post. You have some useful insights in the link to your original post, too.

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