Boost your success by learning why art careers fail.

Art careers can fail for many reasons. Here are five common fails you need to avoid.

  1. Fail to choose success –

Success never just happens.

It is a result of choosing to be successful. As the late Stephen Covey said, “You are the product of your own decisions.” He encouraged us to be proactive in our lives – to reinvent ourselves. Circumstances do not determine your life, your choices do. How you choose to respond is what makes the difference.

If you believe life dealt you a bad hand and you must accept the consequences of it, you will fail.

Nothing about how your life turns out is pre-determined. Sometimes, and unfairly, bad things happen to people. It is possible people get caught in the wrong belief that this is just the way life is, and in doing so they pave their own road to failure. If you do not understand you have the freedom to choose how you respond to your circumstances, you will fail.

  1. Fail to pick yourself –

Leaders are neither born nor made they are self-made.

Seth Godin is a self-made authority on marketing. Through his books, blog, and business endeavors, he has become one of the most influential thought leaders on marketing. One of his most widely read and admired posts is titled; Reject the tyranny of being picked: pick yourself. Here is a quote from the post:

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It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from the publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work.

If you are waiting to be anointed, waiting to be branded, waiting to for someone with supposed authority to declare you famous, worthy, genius, or what have you, you will fail.

I get the question regularly about will doing certain things harm my career. Often the question is along the lines of whether making prints, or selling online, will affect original sales, or an artist’s reputation. My answer is simple. Picasso sold open edition prints in Sears stores at the height of his career when he was alive. Everything turned out pretty well for him all the same.

Agreed, no one reading this is in Picasso’s league. Nevertheless, everyone reading this has the power to control their own branding. If you choose to take control of the “spin” on your career, it puts the power in your hands. Doing so is taking the step to pick yourself. When you take the responsibility for your career and back it with appropriate actions, you become the master of your reputation. Act with integrity in all you do and let the naysayers squirm in the wake of your positive, commanding actions.

Let’s be frank; you cannot bullshit your way to success.

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When you choose to take the power and choose to pick yourself, you have to have the goods to back up what you say about yourself. When talent, self-belief and proactive career positioning intersect, you have success. Waiting for someone else to determine you are successful is a prescription for failure.

  1. Fail to adequately market your business –

Understand that you need to sell you and your ideas in order to advance your career, gain more respect, and increase your success, influence and income. – Jay Abraham

If you know from experience your art sells well when exposed to the right buyers, and you are not moving inventory, you are failing to market your work. Selling art is a competitive business. You cannot expect to have success if you do not do enough marketing to make it happen.

We have talked about choosing success and picking you. Art business success comes down to selling your art, preferably all, or almost all of the work you make. Successful artists know where their collectors are. They learn how to network with them in person and digitally. They continually refine their marketing by studying and measuring to learn which of their tools and messages are most effective.

It is simple. If you are not getting better, you are getting worse. There is no status quo. In a competitive market, the smart and eager to succeed behind you are working every day to improve. If you fail to keep pace with your marketing, you lose ground and you will eventually fall further behind.

This blog has more than 500 posts, almost all of which are devoted to helping you succeed at the business of art. It is a great place to start finding practical ways you can use to market your art effectively.

Using efficient marketing is a core ingredient of a successful art career. I would fail as a good marketer myself if I did not mention my Guerrilla Marketing for Artists: How 100 Collectors Can Bulletproof Your Career book is available from me, on Amazon and on Kindle. Putting my own spin on it, I will tell you it offers the knowledge you need to tailor a marketing program that fits your needs.

  1. Fail to know how to sell art –

Sales are the most important aspect of small business, no sales, no company. – Mark Cuban

We are all salespeople. We are born to sell. We get good fast. We start with our parents. I want another cookie. I want to go camping. I want to take the car this weekend. We move on to friends, lovers, and employers. You only get what you really want by selling the idea to someone else.

In every case, you have to ask someone to buy. Asking may not always be a direct question, “Do you want to buy this art?” It can come in many forms. There are numerous posts in this blog on how to sell art. I have aggregated many of the best and published them in an e-book: The Zen of Selling Art: Essays on Art Business Success.

Somehow, we fail to realize we have natural sales abilities when it comes to selling our own art. We become shy, or afraid. We project failure before we begin and don’t even try. Overcoming your poor perceptions or fears is necessary to succeed in selling art. Jason Horejs has authored the definitive book on the subject: How to Sell Art: A Systematic Approach to Creating Relationships with Collectors and Closing the Sale.

  1. Fail at making art people want to buy

What causes people to be poets instead of bankers? When you put that into products people can sense that, and they love it. – Steve Jobs

If you subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine, you will find an article in the current July/August 2014 titled, “Finding That Sweet Spot”. It is adapted from my Guerrilla Marketing for Artists book.

The gist of the article is about finding a theme, topic, or style that has enough appeal to potential buyers – and that you can feel passionate about as an artist – and you’ll have the basis for a successful career. It gives examples of artists whose work varies from nature and wildlife with Robert Bateman to Ron Burns whose specialty is painting colorful dogs, to Thomas Arvid, who paints realistic vignettes involving wine, and others.

Find the sweet spot.

The idea is simple. Create art people like to buy and then make some more art people like to buy. If making such art overlaps with art you like to make, you have hit the sweet spot. Unless you are independently wealthy, you want your art to pay. Having a consistent style is a key component for your success.

I am amazed at the amount of pushback that I get, that my friend Jason Horejs and others get who extol the virtues of making pushbacks consistent and recognizable. You are free to make art from the heart, but if it does not find a welcome home with buyers because it does not appeal to them, you have a hobby not a career.

You are not a sell out. That is ludicrous.

To make art you like that you know will also appeal to your collectors is not selling out. That is such a lame idea. Think about it. Who makes the decision you have sold out? Some art critic? Some gallerist? Some museum curator? Are you kidding? These people can be important, but none of them are sending you checks to pay the bills.

You can have it all.

I believe you can have it all. You can enjoy commercial success with your art and you can enjoy critical success. You can have prosperity and posterity in the same career. As mentioned above, when you take control of your brand, you stop leaving how you are portrayed to others.

There is no single person who can take down your career. Sure, some gatekeeper or another tin god might block your inclusion to a museum. Some professed art critic might look to take you down, but these people cannot control your future. What they say or do will have little effect on your career over the long haul. They without doubt are not worth any worry or wasting time trying to please them.

Learn to make art that you like to make and that others like to buy, market it well and consistently, sell it like you mean it, and you will own your success.


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art business, art careers, Art Selling, Guerrilla Marketing for Artists, Selling art

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  • I like your no nonsense advice, I’ve been in the business a long time and have sold others artwork in a gallery too. You are spot on!

  • Karen LeGault says:

    Love it, core and to the point!

  • Nice one again Barney. I’ve been promoting artists and selling art for over 20 years, and this just goes to show that you can never stop learning….

  • Can’t count the number of times I’ve heard artists claim making art that matches or complements the fabric on a sofa is “selling out.”

  • This is great information and exactly what I needed to hear at this particular moment in time…. thank you, Barney Davey

  • Great article – I think point #1 applies to life in general, not just artists – I’m going to save this article to refer back to you in the future, as it’s good to have these concepts reinforced on a regular basis.

  • Excellent article! The choices we make determine our future and business success. Thanks for the reminder! I’m lovin’ it!

  • I would love the challenge of making art that matches fabric…and for a home or office…it is full of truly creative potential!

    thanks for the practical and direct points. Really great cause really straight
    and full of good sense.

    ciao for now.

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