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I'm just back from Art Expo New York and it really hit home for me how important these events have become.
FACT: Did you know that more art is now being sold at art fairs than bricks and mortar galleries? Overall, artists are now reporting nearly half their income is derived from art fairs.
But you don't have to be an exhibitor to get the benefits of attending a fair. It's so important to see what other artists are doing, what galleries are showing, and finding work that inspires.
This was the second year that I’ve been invited to speak at Art Expo New York. It’s a tremendous fair, hosting over 1000 artists and galleries.
This year I decided to shake things up a bit.
I hired a film crew so that I could interview exhibiting artists about their art fair experiences. I am so grateful for the wisdom bombs they dropped.
Here’s just a sample of what they shared:
Kristina Kossi stressed the importance of putting in the research first. She herself did a tremendous amount of work in preparation. In fact, I ran into Kristina as I was leaving last year’s fair and she was arriving to check it out.
This year she invested in a booth and spent months planning every detail. It showed, her booth looked fabulous.
Michael Joseph agreed that research is an important component of doing art fairs. He advised getting organized and creating a system to make sure all the details are covered.
His booth was utter chaos when I showed up to interview him. The art had just arrived and crates were everywhere. But he confidently predicted that the whole space would be completely transformed within two hours. And it was, beautifully.
Socrates Marquez mentors a lot of younger artists in his Harlem neighborhood. He loves to share the lessons he's learned about showing and selling work.
Socrates explained the importance of branding at art fairs, it’s all about consistency and authenticity.
Crystal Lockwood's been doing the art fair circuit for 36 years! She understands the importance of following up on all leads because the best sales often happen after the fair.
That’s why it’s so important to always stay positive even if things don't appear to be going your way.
Kris Gebhardt spoke about the other benefits of exhibiting at art fairs, because they can be about so much more than just sales. Art fairs are also helpful for building relationships – both with an audience and with other artists.
Art fairs breed stronger artist communities.
I met so many wonderful, creative artists who are doing really interesting work, and I left Art Expo New York feeling connected and inspired.
As you probably know by now, these interviews and my frequent trips to art fairs are all preparation for my new workshop Art Fair Essentials, which will be released this fall.
But even if you don’t have any plans to exhibit in an art fair yourself, I urge you to visit art fairs whenever you get the opportunity.
You will always find something to learn, someone to meet, and something to see.
There are several definitions of artists that I personally subscribe to, but my favorite is this: artists are alchemists.
During the Middle Ages, an alchemist was known as someone who could transform base metals into gold.
I believe that as artists, we turn everything into gold.
Think about it.
Through an artist's touch, a blank canvas is transformed into a work of expression and beauty. A dilapidated neighborhood wall becomes a visual message of hope and community. A lump of clay becomes imbued with meaning.
Everything we touch turns to gold.
And our work doesn't end in the studio.
For it requires faith to be an artist.
- Faith in the whispers you hear in your heart.
- Faith in the visions that play in your head.
- Faith that your work is leading you on your soul's journey.
- Faith in success -- and even faith in failure.
Faith in failure?
Yes, for an artist is an alchemist -- remember?
And everything you touch turns to gold. Even failure.
This is a mantra worth repeating. Try it now:
Everything I touch turns to gold.
Here's an example:
A few weeks ago I attended the Scottsdale Arts Festival with a film crew in tow. I wanted to interview artists for a new workshop that I'm creating -- The Working Artist's Art Fair Essentials.
I had to hit the ground running because I'd only just landed the day before, after a grueling 14-hour flight from South America.
I scared away the jetlag with coffee. I memorized my questions. I was having a good hair day. I was ready to do this!
But when we arrived at the festival, I realized that I'd chosen the wrong day to shoot. The artists were setting up their tents, not their displays.
They wore work gear and were focused on the tasks at hand. No one wanted to be interviewed.
It was a disaster. I had to re-book my film crew to return again the next day.
I was terrified that my new workshop was failing before it ever began.
So I repeated The Artist's Mantra: "Everything I touch turns to gold."
And in spite of the trouble, the time and the expense, shooting the next day actually did work out better.
We knew when the light would be best. The artists looked great and confident on camera. I myself had gotten a proper night's sleep and was able to relax and have fun.
Two weeks later, I hired the same film crew to shoot the "meat and potatoes" of Art Fair Essentials, the actual tutorial itself.
It took hours of set up, concentration, and patience as we shot take after take.
But when the director uploaded the video the next day, we found that there had been a small spot on the lens. It was barely discernable but once we saw it, we couldn't stop looking at it.
We had to reshoot. The whole thing. Again.
I desperately chanted The Artist's Mantra, trying to convince myself as time and resources spiraled out of control.
But do you know what?
By studying the footage, I was able to pinpoint other issues to improve -- the script could be tighter, my outfit wasn't working, the set looked lackluster.
We did shoot the whole workshop again, this time in a much better location - a letterpress studio.
The result was gold.
Today, I'm writing this message to you from New York City. I'm here to speak about The Artist's Journey at Art Expo, a huge international art fair with a 39-year history.
Once again, I've hired a film crew to follow me around the fair so I can interview artists about their experiences exhibiting in art fairs.
What could go wrong?
Because I know The Artist's Mantra. So even if it goes all wrong, it will be alright.
I'm just getting dressed now, and I leave for Art Expo in a few minutes.
Wish me luck in my quest for gold! I have a feeling I'm going to find it.
Because I know The Artist's Mantra. And everything we touch turns to gold.
Jaune Quick–to–See Smith is an internationally renowned artist with a seriously impressive bio:
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is one of the most acclaimed American Indian artists today. Reviewed in most art periodicals, Smith has had over 100 solo exhibits in the past 40 years and has done printmaking projects nationwide. She has lectured at more than 200 universities, museums and conferences internationally, most recently at 5 universities in China. She's completed several public art works and won dozens of prestigious awards from all over the world.
Ten years ago I was working in the art business, running the esteemed Segura Art Studios. I invited Jaune Quick-To-See Smith to come into the studio to create an original lithograph with us.
This was the best part of my job – being able to work with my art heroes.
Over the years, I’ve worked with so many of my art heroes but Jaune Quick-To-See Smith was special. Her work touched me deeply, her ideas insightful and wise.
Whenever a visiting artist was in town to work at the studio, it was customary for me to take them to dinner.
That evening, the conversation with Jaune Quick-To-See Smith was utterly fascinating. Her unique insights into American culture, her understanding of history, and her own experiences in the art world had me riveted. I didn’t want the evening to end.
So the next night, I invited her to my home to continue our conversation.
At that time, I was at the top of my game professionally. I was an international art dealer who’d placed work in nearly every major collection in the USA. I traveled often, had closets full of little black dresses for all the big openings I went to. I hobnobbed with celebrated artists and notable collectors.
People used to threaten to kill me so they could have my life!
But Jaune Quick-To-See Smith was quick to see that this glamorous life wasn’t a true reflection of my soul.
As I prepared the meal, she slowly circled my house peering at the art on my walls.
Out of all the pieces displayed, she’d point out the few photographs that I myself had taken. “Who did this?” she’d ask.
“I did.” She’d look at me through narrowed eyes and continue her tour.
As we sat down to eat, she fixed her direct gaze upon me from across the table, I was quick to see that she was serious.
“Your home reveals a lot about you,” she began. “There’s more to Crista than the job you now have.”
“What is it that you really, really want to do?” she asked me.
That was the very question that I’d been too afraid to ask myself. This was the vision I kept my eyes closed to.
Because privately, a part of me was dying.
I’d graduated from art school years before, but somehow life had swallowed me up and pointed me in a different direction.
I secretly yearned to be an artist again: to chase my own creativity.
“You need to,” she said. “Anyone can see that.”
It all spilled out; the secret desire to move to Europe, to start a new life as a writer and photographer, making art and helping other artists.
But it was just a silly dream, impossible! There was no way it could ever actually happen.
“I can see it,” said Jaune Quick-To-See Smith.
And when I dared to look into those wise eyes, I could see it too.
Several months later, all of my possessions were sold. Everything I owned now fit into the suitcases that I carried on that plane taking me to France.
I didn’t know what lay before me.
But this remarkable woman had been quick to see what lay inside me. And I held tight to that image.
That was nearly ten years ago.
And my friend Jaune Quick-To-See Smith has continued to hold that vision for me. She’s encouraged me as I’ve created my own path as an artist and I’ve built The Working Artist to help others.
I am so blessed to have a friend who’s not only talented and wise, but Quick-To-See.
So now I ask you, is the world blind to your talent? What parts of you are still hidden?
Isn’t it time that we all see?
Have you ever noticed how people talk about selling art online as if it's easy?
Post it, pin it, tweet it or link it and VOILA! The sales! The acclaim! The thousands of followers!
But it’s quite not that easy, is it?
I am here to tell you that just because selling art online is difficult, does not mean that selling art online is impossible.
The fact is that this is an exciting time to be an artist. But you’ve got to do the work.
Listen, it wasn’t that long ago that a handful of galleries decided an artist’s fate. And just because you had a gallery didn’t mean that the gallery would promote you. It was a relationship always charged with tension because you counted on the fleeting favor of that gallery with your entire career!
But now, armed with the power of the internet, you’re in control over your career. You have the ability to share your work with a wider world, as wide as you want to make it.
You own the power of your voice and you have the opportunity to sound it as loud as you wish.
If you want to monetize it, you can. If you want to share it with a different intention, you can do that too.
The first rule of selling art online? You write the rules.
You decide what defines success for you.
- Maybe you have a creative idea that you want to monetize?
- Maybe you’re looking for new avenues to show your art?
- Maybe you want to crowd-fund an idea and need to build your network?
- Or maybe you aim to create something for online consumption that might go viral?
As we look at what’s involved in selling art online I want you to be honest with yourself. Is this something that you really want to commit to?
Because online art marketing is a commitment.
It takes time and resources to set up, and in order to work you’ve got to feed the monster. You’ve got to create a schedule and stick to it.
It’s not a huge amount of work, once you start setting systems into place. But it does take a chunk of time to get it up and going.
I always say that an art career is a marathon, not a sprint and nowhere is that more true than in selling art online.
Just because you post your work doesn’t mean that the buyers will come. They’ve got to be courted, it takes time to build the relationship.
Do you want to learn how to build relationships in the art world? Join my mailing list and never miss a post:
Be patient yet persistent.
If you read this article and decide that it’s really not for you, that you prefer to have a static website that acts as a portfolio and not promote it, that’s okay. There’s no shame there.
But learning how to sell art online is a powerful career-building tool and an incredible way to build an audience.
It also allows you to engage your fans while maintaining your own power and not relying on the favor of galleries.
Many of today’s artists have built online profiles because having an audience, an online following, is a powerful new currency. Social media art stars are now naming their terms. The tables have turned!
And it’s a sign of the times.
In the 19th century, art sold through the salons. In the 20th century, it was commercial galleries that drove the market. Now all signs are pointing to the internet because the numbers behind online art sales are exploding. According to the Hiscox Report, this market is projected to be worth $6.3 billion by 2019!
That said, selling art online will never replace the old-fashioned face to face. Why?
Because buying art is an aesthetic and emotional choice and it’s very difficult to make those kinds of connections through a computer screen. Also, most buyers prefer to inspect the work in person before opening their wallets.
But don’t dismiss selling art online simply because it’s a lot of work, most good things are. I promise that once you start building it, it becomes much easier. And very rewarding.
So you’ve got your website. Right? Because that’s kind of important if you want to sell art online.
Some artists only show their work on online art galleries. They don’t have their own website. I think they’re missing a trick.
Having your own website is a sign of professionalism. I know that I would never buy an artist’s work online without checking out their website first. And I’m pretty sure that most other buyers feel the same.
So have your own website, even if you have to share it with your other endeavors. Unless there’s a great divide between what you do in your art life and what you do in your civilian life, try to have just one website.
But what’s your address? If you are using a free site like wix or weebly, and you didn’t pay for the upgrade, your web address is probably something really funky.
It's well worth the investment to buy a domain name.
If you can buy your own domain name, that’s great. Some names are already taken, others are expensive. If you can’t afford your name at .com, for example, cristacloutier.com, then consider buying the lower priced .me address. Cristacloutier.me. Or even add the word art or artist to your name or use the name of your studio. Just as long as your domain name is memorable, easy to spell, and simple to find.
I talk a lot about artist websites in The Working Artist Masterclass. Join my mailing list and be the first to know when doors next open.
A lot of artists show their work on online portfolio sites such as Saatchi Online. I don’t see a problem with that.
However, even if you aren’t interested in selling art online, I still believe that you need your own website. It shows that you’re invested in this business. It makes you easier to find.
And anyway, why would you want to send clients to a space where all the competition lives?
So show your work on other sites, by all means, but don’t stop there.
When building your website, remember that it doesn’t have to be a “Museum to You.” You don’t have to show everything you’ve ever done since you first picked up a crayon.
Like I said before, think of your website as your portfolio. Your personal gallery. It’s your space, be creative.
But do be sure to have an About Page.
Your About page will be the 2nd most visited page on your site after your Homepage. It will house your bio and maybe even your artist statement, though a lot of artists use their statement on their homepage.
Keep the whole website 'on brand'.
So if your work is whimsical and fun, your website should reflect that. Use your colors, fonts, and navigation tools with intent.
As an artist, you will want your website to have gorgeous images, a lot or little, it’s up to you. But your site should be a visual reflection of your work. Again, if your work is whimsical, you wouldn’t want a site that uses heavy fonts and dark colors.
A lot of artists tell me that they’re afraid to put their images online for fear that someone will steal them. I have to confess that I initially laughed off this fear. By the time an image gets online it’s already been reduced and condensed so much that it would make horrible reproductions. And why would an artist want to steal someone else’s work?
Well, I was wrong.
One of the Working Artists in my course had a harrowing experience with the theft of her online images.
And recently my own work has been stolen.
It’s really difficult to protect our online imagery. But online theft of images is real. And, it’s a huge hassle when someone does steal your work.
Luckily, these stories are rare. I don’t think that this is reason enough to not have a website or to be frightened away from selling art online.
What you can do is schedule a monthly image search. Consult Google as to how this is done.
Another thing you can do is to digitally watermark your images through a site such as Digimarc.
Now back to your website.
One of the most important tasks of your site is to capture the email addresses of your visitors.
Because selling art online works best through your email list.
Not through an RSS feed, not through Facebook or Instagram, but on the one thing that you have 100% total control over, and that is sending a newsletter directly to your list.
That’s why, in selling art online, building your email list is of paramount importance.
How do you do it?
You ask. You ask your friends, family, and people you meet if you can add them to your mailing list. When someone gives you their business card you ask whether you can add them to your mailing list.
But you never simply add people to your list without their express consent. It’s illegal and unethical.
One of the most popular ways to build your email list is create what industry insiders call an “ethical bribe.” You might know it as a gift. I’m sure you’re familiar with this model.
We’ve all clicked a link to receive a free download of a report or an e-book or something and had to give our email address before we could access it. That’s the ethical bribe. And it works.
So what could you offer?
Well that depends upon your work, your audience, and the direction you want to go.
- It could be a small PDF catalogue of your images.
- It could be an image that can be used as digital wallpaper.
- It could be something that pertains to art history, or art techniques, or your work specifically.
It doesn’t matter, as long as it somehow makes sense and fits into your greater marketing plan.
So again, if your work is whimsical and light, if you create art that would fit really well in children’s rooms, you wouldn’t create an e-book about Medieval art history.
But you might partner with a writer to write a short children’s story that you could give away. Right?
So what makes sense for your audience? For the people whom you want to visit your site?
Branding doesn't have to be cheesy. Join my mailing list and learn how authentic branding connects you with your audience.
Once you set up your website for selling art online, you want to make it sticky. That means that you want people to come back to it again and again.
What are some things that can make a website sticky? A blog is one of the most popular ways. And if you have a blog, this would be what you would send out in your newsletter.
You can post the whole blog within the newsletter, like I do for the Working Artist’s blog, Jump, or you can write a teaser and then link to your site.
Here are some other ideas to get you thinking:
- When I sold art I offered special prices on Mondays, certain works would be discounted on that day so people would show up to the site to see what that was. I’d use social media to send out teasers and riddles to drive their curiosity.
- I know an artist who keeps a live video feed in his studio and you can go to his website to watch him work. His studio is also set up in a shop window so passers by can watch him too
- In fact, there’s a lot you can do with videos, you can create how-to videos, you can create short videos that talk about a work of art that you’ve made.
- If you are an avid Twitter-user, you might have a live Twitter feed on your site.
Use your imagination. You are making the rules, that’s the exciting part. And yes, it’s terrifying too.
Always keep your ideal customer in mind. Who are they? What interests them? What would make them come back to your website?
Now let’s get back to your newsletter. If you blog, this will be how you send it out, through your newsletter.
Again, don’t rely on RSS feeds or social media to get people to read your blog. Send them the actual post or the link via your newsletter.
If you choose not to blog, your newsletter could instead feature news from your studio, upcoming shows, new work created, grants won, anything that would interest your ideal customer.
How often do you send something out?
It doesn’t matter how often as long as you’ve got plenty of good content and keep to your schedule.
Consistency is key when selling art online.
The best way to maintain a schedule is through an editorial calendar. This is how you manage your time when selling art online, you schedule everything.
The aim is to never have to scramble or stress. Try to avoid that at any cost.
So what do you send? Again, this depends on a lot of different variables so I can’t tell you definitively.
Outside of The Working Artist, I do write about other topics, but for my blog I write about being an artist. Because that’s where you and I intersect.
So now I want you to think about where you can intersect with an audience.
The Working Artist Masterclass is all about connecting your work with your audience. Join my mailing list to learn more.
One thing to understand about selling art online is that not everyone is going to like your stuff all the time.
When your work is hanging in a gallery, people will generally be very kind when speaking to you about it.
But when the anonymity of the internet is involved, people can be unkind. They can post unthoughtful comments, or send emails that read less than supportive.
Get over it.
Deal with criticism as directly as you can and keep moving. Don’t hold grudges or weigh yourself down by someone else’s response to your work. Take what part of the criticism you can use and keep going.
People will opt-out of your mailing list. All the time. Even people you care about. Possibly even me. It doesn’t mean anything.
More than likely, it means they’re overwhelmed and cleaning up their inbox and putting up a wall for a little while. We each go through that and it’s something that should be supported. Not taken personally.
You’ll know that they opted-out because you will be using a platform such as Mailchimp to manage your list and send your newsletters.
You’ll use a platform such as Mailchimp because you don’t want to be sending group emails through your private email or you might be tagged as a spammer. You’ll also do it because it looks more professional.
And you’ll do it because you’ll be able to track how many new subscribes you’ve had, how many unsubscribes, how many people clicked the links and you’ll know what your open rate is. And these are all things that an online marketer does.
You can't improve what you don't measure.
Now you are going to be disappointed in your open rate, that means how many people actually open your email. You’re going to be disappointed by a lot of statistics in online marketing. But you cannot take this stuff personally. And you’ve got to understand that this is why we focus on building our mailing list.
3% to 6% is considered an average open rate for most newsletters. So if you’re getting a 20% open rate, don’t you waste one minute cursing the 80% who didn’t open it, bless the 20% that did. And cater to them. Find more like that.
Most people include social media buttons on their website and that’s fine, though I struggled over whether or not to add them to mine. I don’t like having any links on my site that takes viewers away from my site, so that’s something to think about.
And though I do use Facebook quite heavily, I don’t recommend that you rely solely on Facebook for selling art online.
Here’s the deal. Facebook has changed their rules, again. If you are using your personal page to do business and show your work, they may well close you down.
But if you get a business page, very few people will see your posts unless you pay to boost them.
This is the sad truth and that’s why I say that the best way to sell art online involves focusing on your mailing list, building it up via social media and art events, and then sharing your work through a newsletter.
Social media has its place, and it’s an important place, but it’s probably not sales.
Social media is for engagement, building your brand, and for audience building. It’s how you drive people to your website to sign up for your mailing list. And then your newsletters are how you’ll build that relationship, nurture it, and make your art sales.
So now you’ve got your website and you’ve got the domain name. You’ve designed your site. You’ve written the perfect About Me page. You’ve created a mailing list. You’ve created an ethical bribe to tempt people to sign up for your list. You’ve got a plan for making your page sticky. You’ve scheduled your newsletter and created an editorial calendar around content.
Now I want you to consider a tool such as Google Analytics or Statcounter to track how many people come to your page.
Google Analytics is well beyond the scope of this article but remember, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. So at the very least, measure how many people are visiting your website.
The last step to take before implementing your plan for online art sales is to make sure that all links and contact forms work. Test them across all devices. Try every link on a PC, on a Mac, on an ipad and a phone. Try the links in different browsers.
I know this is a pain in the butt and not much fun – but better that you don’t have fun than have a potential client unable to get your link to work.
Testing is a professional step for artists who want to sell online.
You can supplement your online art marketing campaign by showing your work at online galleries such as Saatchi or Fine Art America or one of the other gazillion online art sales sites that have popped up over the past few years.
You can also supplement it by creating a social media strategy, and through using other sites such as Amazon, eBay, or Etsy.
But remember, as online galleries come and go, as social media continues to change the rules, and as other sites are outside of your control, your true power will come through growing and managing your own mailing list.
This is the true secret behind selling art online.
Now go forth and post!
There I was, up the Petrohué River.
Luckily I had a paddle, however much good it did me.
You see, last week found me white-water rafting in Chile.
Am I a white-water rafting kind of girl? Absolutely not.
I was terrified when we signed up for this thing. I was terrified as we drove to the river in the van.
I was really terrified when we received the complicated safety lesson.
Why did I ever sign up for this thing?
Because I’m a firm believer in using fear as a remedy against feeling stuck.
Whenever I find myself going in circles over a creative project, unable to take the first steps toward a dream, or striving for perfection instead of completion, I know that I’m stuck.
And I'm stuck! I've been working on releasing a podcast series for too long now. I've gotten all tangled in perfection, instead of completion.
Have you ever started going in circles over a project or a dream? It happens to artists all the time, an occupational hazard.
Whenever I'm stuck I know it’s time to do something that scares me.
Selling all my possessions, moving to France by myself, shark-diving in Cape Town…It’s always worked a treat.
So I hoped that facing my fears would once again do its magic. That I could use this energy to overcome the challenge that I’m facing now. Get past my fears surrounding the podcast series so I can share it with you.
This was my intent as I lowered myself into the tiny inflatable raft on Category 4 rapids in a foreign country. There was no going back now!
Each time Captain yelled, FORWARD! we all rowed like the dickens.
As we approached each roaring rapid, Captain ordered GET DOWN! and I assumed the crash position as I wailed for my mother.
Others high-fived each time we made it through alive, but I just wanted to go home.
I wasn’t the only one who was scared.
But I was the only one who was still screaming like a banshee well after we'd got through the rapids.
I was gritting my teeth through the whole experience, absolutely miserable.
And then I saw a crow standing on a rock jutting out from the swirling water.
The crow locked eyes with me as it cawed, “Smile.”
So even though I was having what I would describe as a very bad day, I smiled.
I still wasn’t feeling it to be honest, but I kept that idiotic smile pasted to my face anyway.
And then suddenly, it was real.
By the time we hit the next rapids the experience felt real; the stunning scenery, the relentless waves crashing over us, the teamwork, the determination, the beauty of that wild river.
My smile was real.
Because even though it was hard, even though it was scary, I was having fun. In fact, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Back on land, hot empanadas and cold beer (Crista Beer!) was how I celebrated my survival.
And I knew that once I got back home, I would no longer be stuck. I felt confident that I could untangle my to-do list and release the podcast this Spring.
Because I learned that any challenges standing between us and our dreams can be overcome. No matter how scary.
All we have to do is look each challenge in the eye and smile at it.
The rest will be fun. Trust me
Last weekend I dragged a film crew to the Scottsdale Arts Festival. The cameras followed me as I collected wisdom from exhibiting artists.
I wanted to capture the artists’ stories, learn tricks of the trade, get their insights into how this whole art fair thing works for them.
After all, sales at art fairs are exploding. More art is now being sold at art fairs than at bricks-and-mortar galleries.
I asked for consent to film our interviews. Everyone agreed, all were eager to share their knowledge and their web address so I could promote their work.
But one artist said NO.
Sure, he’d talk about art fairs, but there was no way he was going to let other artists see his work.
Why? Because other artists will steal his ideas.
I’ve seen this before.
When I first moved to England a few years ago, I found myself in a small town that was teeming with artists.
But there was no arts community. No exchange of resources and information. No conversations about ideas. No real connection amongst the local artists.
I endeavoured to change that, and organized a monthly meet up of artists – at the pub, naturally.
It was so cool! People reported feeling more connected. Not only to other artists, but to their own work.
Except for one artist.
She refused to even attend, stating, “Other artists will steal my ideas.”
This attitude always startles me because as artists, our art is our legacy.
If your work inspires another artist to create her own response to it, there is no greater achievement. Period.
Your art, your ideas, grow from influences – both inside and outside art. These are gifts you have received, so it's important to continue the cycle.
Because other artists are not your competition. Other artists are your professional colleagues.
Other artists are your warrior brothers and sisters on this unique path toward truth and beauty and meaning.
I believe that the more you help other artists to create and thrive, the more elevated your own work becomes in your community.
As an artist, you have so much to share. And when you share freely, when you open yourself up to giving, your supply of inspiration is endless.
So if you find yourself holding back from other artists, I urge you to resist that impulse.
Share your gifts and the world will present you with more.
I always learn something at CAA and this year was no different. In fact, I felt this information was important enough to share with you.
The session I attended was hosted by a New York organization working with of Columbia University called Art Cart.
Art Cart is dedicated to helping elder artists manage and preserve their legacy by archiving their life’s work. It’s truly a remarkable mission.
But what I took away from this CAA session was the importance for all living artists to keep excellent records.
A recent study of aging artists in New York City reveals that “artists are in many respects a model for society, maintaining strong social networks and an astonishing resilience as they age.”
However, 61% of professional visual artists over the age of 62 have made no preparation for their work after their death; 95% have not archived their work; 97% have no estate plan; 3 out of every 4 artists have no will and 1 in 5 have no documentation of their work at all.
Why does this matter?
Because research shows that the posthumous reputations of artists are linked to both surviving examples of their work and proper, thorough documentation.
In other words, most of the artists whose work we continue to celebrate after they’re gone kept good records.
But keeping thorough records is neither fun nor sexy.
Instead, like doing our taxes, it’s something we tend to put off. And then scramble like hell to cobble something together only when it’s needed.
Visual artists leave behind a body of work after they die. But because so few make plans for its continued survival, the sad fate for most this art is the dumpster.
Don’t count on your family. Don’t count on your dealer. Creating a proper record of your career and archive of your work is ultimately your responsibility.
And I’m not just talking to elder artists either. Let’s be honest, none of us knows when death will come.
So here are a few tips that I learned during that CAA session that I found valuable:
- Sign and date your work as soon as it’s completed.
- Save all of your submissions. Whether it’s for an exhibition, contest, grant or residency, save it all. This will become a rich resource that you can return to again and again.
- Create a database with all of the pertinent information. Consider enriching the information with details of where you were, what influenced you, materials used, any story that might inform future generations.
- Don’t count on digital records alone, keep hard copies too. Technology changes fast and a document you create today may become inaccessible in just a few years. (we’ve seen this many digital films – already lost forever)
- We’ve learned so much about artists of the past through their letters. With the fleeting nature of email, our own correspondence vanishes as soon as it’s sent. Print and save your most important emails.
Last year, I collaborated with Artwork Archive to create a free resource to help artists create a system for archiving their work. I am attaching it again here because it’s a great place to start.
Note that I do receive a small commission should you decide to work with Artwork Archive. But you don’t need to make this investment, an archive is something you can create on your own.
The point is to create a system that’s clear, that’s consistent, and that’s accessible – both now and after you are gone.
Because your art deserves to live forever.
Jeannie Motherwell is an artist whose career has seen a solid, multi-layered path within the art field, in spite of the fact that she spent years hiding her true identity.
Jeannie studied painting at Bard College, then at the Art Students League in New York. Next, she pursued arts education, followed by a rich career at Boston University for the graduate program in Arts Administration.
She felt fortunate to be surrounded by instructors who were working artists themselves, and by the daily inspiration she gleaned from advising budding art administrators.
But every evening, like so many artists. Jeannie would escape her day job to the studio to paint.
Recently, Jeannie retired from her full-time role at BU. Before that, her gallery representation of ten years ended when the gallery closed, leaving her at a crossroads. Though she was reluctant about the time and financial investment of The Working Artist course, she was motivated to dive in. “I wanted to learn the most productive way to utilize my newfound time as an artist efficiently and I wanted to find new gallery representation,” she stated.
“Watching Crista’s promotional videos and hearing her own story encouraged me to seek the tools I needed to forge ahead with my career. When I began painting years ago, social media and other marketing aspects of the trade didn’t exist or weren’t as crucial as they are in today’s art world. Crista explained why they should be just as much a priority as making the paintings themselves.”
Jeannie’s previous experience in the art world provided a sturdy foundation from which to leap. It wasn’t until after she finished The Working Artist and decided to invest in a Personal Strategy session with Crista that things came full circle.
It was during their private session together that Crista realized Jeannie was none other than the daughter of iconic mid-century painter Robert Motherwell and that she’d first learned how to paint from her father and her stepmother, the illustrious Helen Frankenthaler.
Crista was astounded that Jeannie Motherwell had chosen to bury this fascinating piece of personal history—or barely mention it— throughout most of her career.
Jeannie confessed that it felt like cheating to divulge the information. “The best way I can describe what it was like having two famous artist parents while launching a painting career myself, is that it is akin to being the aspiring actress and the daughter of famous movie stars.” Jeannie mused, “It’s a hard act to follow if you really love what you’re doing. I’m not trying to fill anybody’s shoes.”
“Crista helped me shift my perception by explaining that the truth was an asset; that it’s part of my history, part of who I am and part of what I do today.” Jeannie explained.
Now, Jeannie treats the information as an icebreaker to conversations. “It has introduced me to a whole new global community of abstract art enthusiasts. I have new friends and colleagues who make art, and I’ve become a mentor to a younger set of abstract artists.”
In the year since completing The Working Artist class, Jeannie Motherwell has signed with two galleries on the east coast with solo shows scheduled at both. She’s also working with an interior designer who expands her audience beyond typical gallery reach and clientele.
Jeannie credits The Working Artist with enhancing her networking and social media skills. “I now have connections with people all over the world who in turn have brought me more customers, inquiries, sales, and new relationships.”
Jeannie Motherwell describes her paintings as “explorations of the three-dimensional energy that defines the space in my pictures… with mysteries of creation — like the oceans and skies in changing weather, Hubble-type images of the universe, and my own physicality during the painting process.”
Learn more and about Jeannie and immerse yourself in her beautiful work at http://jeanniemotherwell.com/
Every artist struggles with the work/life balance. Jeannie Motherwell shares her routine:
My daily routine starts with the tasks I can’t attain at the studio. I go to the gym, answer myriad emails, pay bills, do admin work, work on grant applications and make a to-do list of things I need to tend to that day.
I try to get to my studio by early afternoon so I can work several hours uninterrupted before heading home for a late dinner. In the event there’s a studio visit from one of my dealers, or a prospective buyer, or even a trip to a gallery or museum, I may arrive earlier or later in the day, but I prefer to stick to a routine so I don't get side-tracked.
My studio is located in a former print factory. There are 100+ artists in the building, which is open 24/7.
I’ve found there are two general 'shifts' when people are there. There are the 'day people' and the 'after work' people, who generally begin coming in around 7pm. I fall in-between since I arrive around 2 and don't leave until after 7.
On the rare occasion that I’m there in the later evening, I notice the focus is primarily on making art. There is little socializing, and I get a strong sense of being part of a community of people who are hyper-focused on just making art.
They've likely done all their socializing during their workday and are longing for the solitude of their sacred space found in their studios.
For me to be most productive, I need a routine. It may seem counterintuitive for a creative person, but I prefer to accomplish the things I can control, so I can let loose and be totally free when in my studio.
As artists, we are CREATORS.
And your life is your greatest creation.
In his brilliant book Negative/Positive, Bill Jay wrote that artists are people who strive to become actually who they are potentially.
To become actually who we are potentially, I love that.
Who are you potentially? What lies inside you?
People look at my life as a creative nomad and ask "how did you do that?" I travel all over the world, writing and making pictures, working with other artists.
Everyone says, “You’re so lucky.”
Let me assure you, luck had nothing to do with it. I created this life.
Am I grateful?
Every. Single. Day.
At first, it was difficult to overcome the limitations and challenges that were placed in my path. Nothing came easily. It took work.
But the truth is, my journey began when I overcame the limits of my own imagination.
My journey began when I decided to trust myself, and to believe that it is possible to become the person who was living inside.
My journey began when I stepped out of who I was potentially and took steps toward who I wanted to be actually.
And you can too.
If you create the game
Then you create the rules
And if you just be you
There’s no way you can lose
As artists, we’re all trying to get closer to the essence of who we are. Right?
Isn’t art the deepest, most true expression of who you are? Of that which lives inside of you?
I believe that your life can be art too. In fact, your life is your greatest creation.
So your ultimate goal in your art practice is to create a life that’s an expression of you.
Like the woman said:
And if you just be you
There’s no way you can lose
If you just be you. If you become actually who you are potentially, there’s no way you can lose.
Of course, the big question is 'How?'
How can you make a living? How can you attract what you need while also being true to who you are?
When I decided to use my creativity to make a living, I didn’t know what that was going to look like. I didn’t have any of it figured out.
But I did know that it would feel authentic and empowering.
So I created a mantra that felt authentic and empowering. And I repeated these 5 words all the time.
“I make money being Crista.”
It’s simple, but deceptively so.
Now you try.
“I make money being me.”
Think about who you are potentially and then repeat the mantra again.
“I make money being me."
If you just be you, there’s no way you can lose.
“I make money being me.”
How do these magic words work? I’m not sure I can explain it but I know that they do.
I know that when you align your heart, your intentions and your creativity to work together, you become truly authentic. And life conspires to bring opportunities to you.
So repeat this mantra often.
And believe in yourself as you create your greatest masterpiece – your own life.
Because for an artist, there’s no greatest aspiration.
This picture of me above is not the most glamorous, yet it’s my favorite.
Let me explain.
All my life I’ve been terrified of sharks. Truly terrified.
My fears grew so big that I became unable to go in the ocean, in lakes, and finally, I couldn’t even go into swimming pools. Seriously!
I know that sharks don’t live in swimming pools but this is how irrational my fears became.
This photograph was taken in Capetown – right after I finished a shark dive.
That’s right, I decided to face my greatest fear head-on and allow myself to be plunged into shark-infested waters.
Was I scared?
Hell yes! There were great white sharks circling my cage! I was so petrified that my teeth literally chattered.
When this picture was snapped, I had just emerged from the water. I felt absolutely triumphant. I had faced my greatest fear.
And from that moment on, I knew that I could do anything.
But what does fear have to do with artists and achievement?
I’ve worked with other artists throughout my career and let me assure you, fear is epidemic. It stops even the most talented.
And more than fear is overwhelm, the feeling of being stopped by external circumstances.
It was a spiritual teacher who taught me that when you’re stuck or unsure, the best thing you can do to shift that energy is to do something that scares you.
And it works!
After my shark dive, not only was I no longer afraid to swim in the ocean but the rest of my life blossomed as well.
My creative output expanded, opportunities exploded.
I’d been playing around with the idea of The Working Artist for a few years, but now it finally began to gain serious traction.
The point is that instead of feeling frustrated by my dreams, I suddenly became unstoppable.
What’s your greatest fear?
You see, I believe that if you can conquer an irrational fear, or even a rational one, you push the boundaries of who you are.
You break-through the inner blocks and the stuck-ness that often traps you and keeps you from attaining your deepest wishes.
Self-help guru Tony Robbins says that the purpose of your dreams isn’t really to achieve that dream. The purpose of your dream is to develop into the person you imagine you’ll be once you attain it.
Try it out. Imagine a dream or goal you hold close.
Now imagine who you’ll be once you’re there. What does it feel like?
That, that feeling, that’s what you want to aim for. And one of the best ways I know to fast track it is to do something that scares you.
No, you don’t need to jump into shark-infested waters.
But you do need to stretch yourself.
Are you shy? Challenge yourself to go to an art opening and initiate at least three conversations.
Are you afraid of heights? Jump on a ferris wheel.
Feel the victory!
Stop putting your energy into what you don’t have, what you’re not doing.
Instead, step into your next self, really experience it, even celebrate it. And show The Universe that you’re ready.
Listen, the world is full of sharks. It’s full of those things that threaten to hurt you or even swallow you whole.
But trust me, once you look a shark in the eye you’ll find that it’s not so scary after all.
So dive in, the water’s warm!