Most artists are interested in selling their art. And moreover the goal of some artists is to be able to gain enough through sales to earn a living to not only support themselves but perhaps to support a family. Hence the question an artist may ask is, "is it really possible to earn a living as an artist"? And then if one answers "yes" then the next logical question asked is "how do I do it".
First you have to believe
you can earn your living as an artist. Sometimes this is not easy to
do. Most likely you will look around for other artists to see if any are
doing it successfully. You may simply need them to convince yourself it
is possible. And then if other artists appear successful you may want to
ask them how they did it. What are the actions or tricks for success as
Now I don't mean just knowing of artists
who are making sales, as most dedicated artists who really try can and do
sell some works. But it is sporadic. What I am referring to are artists
who have successfully established an art business (refrain from
cringing at the use of this term). Not only are they productive artists,
but they know how to put their work out there to be seen, put it in
venues that promote sales, and know how to negotiate a sale
successfully. And these artists are able to do this continuously, not
just now and then.
The result is that these artists
make enough income to not only be able to pay incoming bills but have
enough surplus for all living expenses and even some extra. But it
should be understood that this is not like having a regular job that
provides a weekly paycheck of the same amount coming in, the income
varies month to month. But as long as artists are selling, more in some
months, over the long run it can all balance
The bottom line however is that it is still up to
you. Artist coaches are springing up everywhere these days who can
advise you on some possible paths to follow, help you establish a plan
of action, give you useful ideas, but in the end it still comes back to
you to actually do it.
So why are some artists better at making a consistent living than others? Why do some just seem to have the knack for it? Here are some possible reasons why and considerations to ponder.
THE ARTWORK. Let's be honest, on one hand some art is just stronger and better conceived and popular with the general public and will be better
received than other art and hence more salable. Now don't get me wrong, as artists we all have to start somewhere and we are not born innately knowing how to make outstanding and salable art, we have to develop our skills and ideas and visual language over time with a lot of effort. Some artists have spent a lot of time getting
educated about art and learning their craft and developing a style and
point of view that shows quite clearly when their work is compared with the work of other artists. And most times they then get a stronger and more positive response from a viewing public. On the other hand some art thematically and stylistically seems also to be more popular with the general public and hence easier to sell. I don't support picking subject matter because it is easy to sell as a goal, but it seems there is clear indications some subject matter or styles sell better than others. But one way or the other an artist has to make peace with pleasing the public taste or pleasing oneself.
MARKETING. A common refrain I hear a lot from artists is "I am not good at marketing, I would
rather just stay in my studio and paint...". Of course they may not be
good at marketing or like to do it but most likely it is because they have
never spent time at it and actually know nothing about it. Of course an
artist may be unsuccessful at marketing if they start with a negative
attitude and avoid it. But it seems quite obvious that successful
artists are those who master how to present and market their work. Some spend as much as 50% or more of their time at marketing and I have even come across a few artists who spend as much as 90% of their time on it. They know how to
present their works publicly, how to talk with viewers either in their
studio or at a show about their work, and especially how to sell to an
interested potential customer. If you can't do this then chances are
good your success as an artist will be limited. But the good news is
that this is a skill and can be learned, if you try.
3. THE LONG HAUL. Some artists do not consider the long hall. A successful artist is one
who has slowly built their career over a longer period of time. Some
young artists early on have a really successful first or second show and
think they are on the way to fame and fortune. Then things slow down,
they have fewer shows, their gallery loses interest and drops them,
people seem less interested in their work. Also they don't really have
the sales they first had, bills are harder to pay and cause them to
consider getting a 9-5 job, and maybe they marry and start a family with
new demands for time and income. Successful artists seem to hang in
through all of this, continue to make art, keep working at getting their
work out on display and in shows, continue to market and sell their
works. They are in it for the long haul. So by the time they reach mid
career they have a sustainable life style as an artist and can continue
progressing, making better and more interesting art, building a career, getting better known, and selling work. This is
not always easy to do but some artists not only master their art forms
but also learn to master their life as artists.
4. AN ADDITIONAL SOURCE OF INCOME. If an artist chooses to be in it for the long haul then it probably means finding one cannot just spring into being totally self sustaining through art sales right at the beginning, unlike with other professions like architecture or engineering or law or medicine. Most times building an art business takes creating a body of work and seeking out sales over many years and during those times an artist may need another source of income. So the goal of the emerging artist might be to find something else besides sales of work for income that sustains one, and maybe is also something that one enjoys doing, all the while making art and getting it out there and building a following and increasing one's reputation and hopefully sales. There are of course those occasional exceptions where some artist just seem to rise out of nowhere to achieve prominence and get a flood of sales but the norm for a majority of artists seems to be gradual small steps to build an art career over years, maybe even a lifetime. So the best strategy for an artist is when building a career and business to have other sources of income available and choose income producing activities that one likes and feels good about doing.
5. A BROADER VISION. As I get older I now think more and more about what has been and is most important in my life as an artist. Certainly selling artwork to earn a living can be an important goal but then I don't think it should not be the primary goal for an artist. In the long run I believe all artists will want to look back at their artist career and value what they created more than what they sold. Earning a living is important on a day to day basis but in the long run artists will want to be remembered for what their creative accomplishments have been, what their legacy as artists will be. And if earning a living pulls them away from that then perhaps it is time to reevaluate and refocus on art creation over the selling of our artworks.
The bottom line is that being a creative artist demands a lot of time and energy and life balancing. First you have to really commit to it and believe it is possible to have any chance of success.You also have to create some plan or strategy for how to go about it, what steps to take to achieve it, which of course varies over time. And finally you have to be willing to dedicate yourself for doing it consistently and over the long run. This requires momentum which happens gradually over time, not overnight. Those big names you see at prominent shows did not jump into it suddenly, they built it slowly over many years of shows and small steps, and keeping at it, both in terms of making art and marketing it. And in the end they will be remembered for the works they created, not what sale prices their works went for.
So the question is, are you up for the task?