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Unique Challenges that Artists Face


female artist hanging artwork on the wall


Artists face a unique list of issues in their careers. When you go to art school you get a taste of how to navigate the many elements that go into becoming a successful artist. Art degrees are rarely just about how to develop your creative practice but also how to operate professionally in the industry. If you didn’t go to art school you have to find out about this whilst on-the-job. In this post I have identified a few of the big challenges and how to go about addressing them. 

  

Paying the Bills Without Selling Out


There are many advantages to being an artist based in a vibrant city such as New York, London or Paris. But there are also obvious disadvantages: the cost of living!

 

One of the most common challenges an artist faces is that they need to juggle a day job as well as have time in the studio and to do everything else that an artist needs to do to succeed.

 

For those that are able to work and live fully off their career as an artist there are other challenges. If a series sells very well and the demand for a certain style or type of work is still high, there is a temptation and sometimes a pressure (eg. from galleries that represent you) to keep making the same work. This issue prevents many artists from having creative freedom to move onto new projects and delve into different styles or ways of working.

 

There is a freedom to not be financially dependent on your artwork.


Gallery jobs or other relevant roles can feed you with knowledge, experience and a network that can benefit your career as an artist. Such a job can feed your creative career rather than exasperate it. Some popular day jobs that artists have include being: a technician, lecturer, archivist, art marketer, project coordinator, art teacher or workshop leader. 

 

Other day jobs, although may seem less productive, can also be beneficial and give you a mental break from your work and allow your ideas to develop. Sometimes the most productive artist isn’t the one in the studio all the time stuck in their own bubble. Some of my best ideas come when I am away from the studio, in the real world.  

 

Another popular route to take is to direct aspects of your creativity to more commercial means. Take a look at my list of passive ways to make money as an artist.


Building a Creative Enterprise as a ‘1-Man-Band’


Operating in the competitive arts industry requires your ability to either hire a team of experts to help you or if you are starting out and don’t have the ability to do this, you need to become a jack-of-all-trades aka a 1-Man-Band.


Business - You need to learn how to read contracts, write exhibition proposals and grant applications, set up an online store, compile sales certificates and present yourself professionally in meetings.


Marketing - You need to manage your brand online, in person and understand the more traditional methods of promotion as an artist.

 

Finances - Most artists are self-employed which means they have to organise and file their own tax returns. My advice is to learn how to keep spreadsheets of all incoming and outgoing expenses and get advice from the IRS or the equivalent in your country. You need to learn how to invoice clients and maintain a list of sales certificates of authenticity.

 

Logistics - This is a broad point that covers everything from appropriate storage of your art, packaging and safe methods of delivery of your work to galleries and collectors, hanging or displaying your work. You need to learn how to be a gallery technician and a project manager!


If you need detailed advice on any of these points I can recommend the book: How to Become A Successful Artist, by Magnus Resch, Phaidon 2021.


Introvert Vs Extrovert


It seems in many ways that our society and the art industry has created a world that is suited more for extroverts. From social media, networking in person to presenting yourself professionally in meetings, at exhibitions and events, introverts can often be hidden from view. History is full of successful introverted artists and creatives. There are many work-arounds so here are some of my top tips for operating in an industry and society that loves extroverts: 

 

Online presence – Having a strong online presence doesn’t mean posting your whole life on social media. It could just be a well-designed website with everything a galleriest or potential collector would need. By controlling your digital sphere, you won’t need to rely so much on your public persona.

Representation – Most artists want gallery representation at some point in their career because it takes a few of the pressures off. Galleries will handle most public facing sales and PR for the artist.  

 

Hire Freelancers – If you don’t feel comfortable promoting yourself and you don’t have representation, there are many professionals out there that can do the marketing and outward facing work for you.

 

 

Let me know if there are any problems that you are having as an artist or creative professional in the comments below.


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