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It's been exactly seven years since I stepped on that airplane to France. I was so frazzled that when I arrived, I slept for 24 straight hours.  

Selling everything you own, saying goodbye to everyone you know, especially your Mom, and then taking a one-way flight to a new life is exhausting. 

Particularly when there's nothing waiting for you on the other side. 

It takes faith in the invisible to be an artist. Think about it, we're always working with ideas that are unseen until we create them and make them real. 

Only this time, I was doing it with my life.

Luckily, when I jumped the universe caught me. Several times, actually.  

And over these past seven years, I've learned a lot. About life. About art. About business.

But you don't have to run away to France to learn these lessons. 

I'm just putting the final touches on a very special new workshop. It's called The Working Artist Manifesto: Making Sense of Art, Life, and Time.  

These are the lessons I've learned from life inside the art world and what it means to be an artist. It's the hard won knowledge about our relationships with time and money and with our work.

But this workshop's not really about me. It's about you. 

Because by the time you finish it, you'll have created your very own Working Artist Manifesto. 

The Working Artist Manifesto will be released next week. I'll be sharing this powerful new workshop for FREE. But only for a very limited time. 

Because on November 16th, I'll be opening the next session of The Working Artist! (cue applause) This new session will be bigger and better than ever. 

So watch this space!

It might just change your life.

Be sure not to miss it! Sign up here and receive my FREE ebook too!

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Do You Hear That? It's Life Asking You A Question.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Do you think we ever stop asking ourselves that question? It seems to be one of life's great mysteries.

When I was young I yearned to be a child prodigy. It seemed an easy way out. Let fate and genetics take the wheel, it was exhausting trying to sort life out on my own. It still is!

When my natural talent failed to reveal itself, I thought about other career options. I tried to imagine what sort of tasks I would do. And more importantly, what would I wear?

I carefully considered every job I saw portrayed on TV and in films. I thought I might like to be a detective, like Kelly Garrett, the sensitive one in Charlie's Angels. But I try as I might, I just couldn't run in high heels.

Dismayed, I looked to my parents and their friends for career inspiration, immediately turning away with a shudder.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

This seemingly innocent question carries a false implication -- that what we do determines who we are. The truth is, we're better served by letting who we are determine what we do.

When faced with any decision, particularly life decisions, I like to begin at the end. So picture yourself at the very end of your life and look backward.

What do you want your life to have stood for? What do you want to leave behind? What kinds of experiences would you like to have had?

Dream big! Why not?

The point is to have fun with it and see where your imagination takes you.

Thinking about your heroes also reveals a great deal about yourself. Who are the people you admire most? What qualities do they have that attract you? Are these qualities you hope to cultivate in your own life?

What about your favorite fictional characters? Are they clever, adventurous, funny, or artistic? What challenges have they overcome? Can they run in high heels?

My friend Guy had the luxury of knowing that he wanted to be an architect from the time of his first Lego set. But many, many years later, ready to retire after a full career as a high-school English teacher, Guy was a sad figure.

As I sat amongst the dozens of architecture coffee-table books in his library, and moved aside those piled upon his coffee-table so that I could find a place to actually put down my cup of coffee. 

I asked why Guy he never became an architect? He obviously still loved the field.

He replied with a shrug, "My math skills are weak." I was shocked. Guy may never be a physicist but certainly, with some hard work, applied thinking, and maybe a patient tutor, he could have improved his math skills.

Guy chose not to attain his dream but to spend his working life in a career he admittedly wasn't suited for, because he did not give himself permission to learn.

As your own dreams whisper to you, remember that we never really "grow up." We never stop changing or dreaming or grasping toward new experiences -- until we die.

Or decide to stop.

So as you reach for your dreams, don't let ignorance or fear stop you from attaining them. Yes, sometimes learning is awkward and uncomfortable and even difficult. But it's always possible.

What matters most is that once you choose a path to walk, you begin to take the steps toward your goal. Even if they're baby steps.

And I promise you that in no time at all, you'll be running in high heels.

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The Day The Paparazzi Chased Me

It was a Monday morning and I trudged to the gym in the London drizzle.
 
I was wearing no make up and my hair was piled atop my head. I was wearing baggy sweats and a mighty fine hangover. Let's just say it wasn't my best look. But hey, I was only going to the gym, who's cares?
 
Suddenly, the sidewalk got crowded. Someone motioned for me to GET BACK but I ignored him. I just wanted to get this workout over with, I didn't have time for tourists.
 
But then there were people all around me and I found myself in the middle of a very strange crowd. Who were all these people? Why were they so thin? What were all those lights? And why were those photographers taking my picture?
 
Oh my God! I'd wandered onto the red carpet of London Fashion Week.
 
And I couldn't get out!
 
It was mobbed with models and designers and other fashionistas in very nice shoes. AND ME! In my sweats and ponytail with no make up! I struggled to find my way out of the sea of well-dressed skinny people holding poses.
 
Photographers stood behind ropes, snapping away while screaming at me, "Get out of the picture!"
 
I was mortified.
 
It took ages to escape. I looked a fool out there. As I stumbled down the walkway toward the gym I wondered what kind of God would allow me to leave the house dressed like this?
 
Suddenly, a small band of photographers ran right in front of me, crouched down, and start snapping like mad. "Are you kidding?" I screamed at them.
 
Then I realized that there was a very tall skinny girl walking behind me. The photographers were trying to shoot around me but it was like she was using me as a human shield. And I couldn't shake her!
 
I ran, serpentine, to escape the model and her paparazzi. I ran as far away from London Fashion Week as I could. As I ran I thought of all the nice clothes I had at home and why couldn't I have been wearing those? How had I let myself become a Glamour DON'T?
 
So what's this harrowing (and true!) story go to do with being an artist? I'll tell you.
 
Be prepared!
 
You never know who you're going to meet or when opportunity will arise. No matter if you're going to the gym or an art gallery, always have business cards on hand and for God's sake always dress the part. I don't mean you have to be ready for the red carpet, but do represent yourself.
 
Because take it from me, you never know when the paparazzi are going to chase you!
 

 

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The 8-Year Old Artist's Message

It was Day 16 of my crowd-funding campaign and I had only cried in public once. Twice. Online crowd-funding is not for the faint of heart.
 
This was a few years ago, when I was raising the funds to create The Working Artist. It was my dream to create an online business school for artists and photographers. I'd spent years working with blue-chip art stars and introducing new names to the market. I wanted to share what I'd learned from my career in the art business so that others could succeed too.
 
The launch party for my fundraising campaign was a huge success and I exceeded my initial goal in terms of donations. The next two weeks were a whirling dervish of emotions and bloody hard work. I was glued to the computer constantly posting, tweeting, imploring, and pleading. 
 
And when I wasn't at the computer I was out on the streets handing out promotional materials, chatting up artists, and speaking to every art and photography group that would let me in the door. The month, it seemed, would never end.
 
And thus, Day 16 began. I was halfway through the campaign, I'd begged every friend, relative, and ex-boyfriend I knew and had raised just over half my goal.
 
Now what? I was exhausted, and feared I was having a crisis of faith. 
 
On my bicycle whizzing down a hill under a bridge when something caught my eye. A little boy was drawing with chalk on the concrete wall. 
 
My camera was at home with a dead battery. But I have a phone, I reminded myself. I hate photographing with a phone and I don't photograph children but something told me to turn back. 
 
I asked his mother if I could take a picture. I tried to get a shot of him as he drew, apologizing for not having my good camera. "So do you just ride your bike and take pictures of things?" he asked. 
 
Yes, that sums me up pretty well. He looked impressed, "I want to be like you when I grow up." 
 
What's that? "An artist," he smiled.
 
He showed me some of his other, earlier, chalk drawings. There was a large piece called "People Pasture" of a unicorn eating people. I moved to shoot a picture of it but he stopped me, "I don't think that's my best work," he said gravely. 
 
His name was Harrison and he was 8 years old. His drawings filled the walls with their childlike graffiti, he'd even written poetry. "Faith. Justice. Believers matter," he wrote.
 
"Sometimes," he confessed, "I have doubts about my work." Harrison wanted to be a famous artist.
 
We spoke for a long time. He told me how it hurts when people don't like what he does. I pointed him back to his own words, "Believers matter."
 
I told him what it is to be an artist, how it's important to always take chances, to make your life an expression of your work, of your self. I spoke of integrity. 
 
He drank my words in thirsty gulps. I told him how fame is a false prophet and how his life's work, as an artist, is to work hard to develop that which lies inside and to always look for ways to express it, leaving everyplace he ever goes more beautiful for him having been there. "Like you do with these walls," I told him.
 
I told Harrison about my crowd-funding campaign and he encouraged me not to give up. "Look how much you have helped me today," he said. "Crista, this is your work." 
 
He added, "It's so good that I met you." But it was I who was blessed. This 8-year old artist had given me faith again.
 
I asked to take his picture with my phone and he made me wait so he could put on his glasses. He posed proudly.
 
As I left, he told me that he would be back tomorrow, making another drawing, should I want to visit him. "I will photograph you again," I promised.
 
"Bring your good camera this time," he said.
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What Will Become of You?

I found myself at a crossroads when I was eighteen years old.
 
I'd grown up in a family where science and mathematics made proper courses of study for university. But my behavior gave my family reason to pause. We didn't have the vocabulary to understand what was wrong with me, why I was different.
 
I wrote poetry, took pictures with the camera tilted at a jaunty angle, and added purple food-coloring to the mashed potatoes at dinnertime.
 
The word "creative" was not part of my family's lexicon - but the word "strange" was.
 
"What will become of her?" they nervously asked one another. I wondered that myself.
 
Unable to envision a career path that didn't reduce me to tears, I would put off university for several years. Instead of focusing on what I would do for a living, I decided to think about the experiences I wanted to have. What did I want my life to be about?
 
Adventure and beauty became my calling. And this search would eventually lead me to college, to study art. I just took my own way of getting there.
 
Is your life's journey a true expression of your self?
 
 
Many people don't realize that we create our own lives. Instead of color, texture and line, we use our choices to paint life's canvas.
 
Choice. The word is deceptively simple.
 
But if, like me, life has sometimes found you putting your fate in a tossed coin, you know that making decisions can be difficult, especially if one is creative. Our interests are usually a little wider, our dreams a little larger, thus the risks a little greater.
 
And putting off decisions is a long-cherished pastime of creatives. We would much prefer to continue mulling the possibilities, perhaps begin a new project, or even watch paint dry -- literally.
 
This is where courage is called upon.
 
Our creativity is the most authentic part of us. So why do we often let our fears dictate our decisions? Why not trust our creativity to lead us? This doesn't mean that you're at the whim of some vague, artsy-fartsy fancy, it means you're living with authenticity.
 
Ask yourself, "What do I really, really want?" Then engage with your creativity and listen to where the work takes you.
 
If you find yourself hesitating to make an important decision, remember poet Rainer Maria Rilke's words, "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves."
 
Choosing to love the questions instead of scrambling for answers begins a journey toward real creativity.
 
And though it's scary as hell to take the road less traveled, it's this journey that will bring you more adventure and more beauty than you ever dared imagine.
 
Every moment holds the promise of being a defining one.
 
It's your choice.
 
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How To Get Into An Art Gallery

Emerging artists with little sales and exhibition experience often struggle to find doors that will open. It's difficult to break into the art business!
 
In a recent interview with art superstar William Wegman, I asked him how he was able to get into an art gallery when he started out? He said, "Other artists recommended me to their galleries. I didn't really go around with my portfolio; that was kind of a sad sack situation and pretty much a dead-end, I think. And if you want to be discouraged, just start doing that."
 
Exactly! Showing up at a gallery, unannounced and uninvited is a fast track to nowhere. 
 
Even worse is sending out emails with links or attachments when no one asked to see them. Do you know what happens to unsolicited emails to galleries? Delete! Delete! Delete!
 
So, how can artists get into an art gallery? 
 
Here's my list of the do's and don'ts.  
 
Do your research to see if the gallery is a good match for your work and level of experience.
 
When I had a gallery, artists approached me daily about showing their work. 
 
The problem was, my focus was on works on paper and photography. I also leaned toward work that made some sort of political or social statement. But sculptors, landscape painters, video artists, pet portraitists, religious iconographers, all submitted work anyway and seemed surprised when I turned them away. 
 
Gallerists are creative agents themselves, they have strong interests and aesthetics. Believing that your work is so good and so important that it will change the course of the gallerist's entire enterprise is egotistical and even a little bit rude. 
 
A gallery is not just a gallery. It represents someone's creative vision. Take the time to find out what a gallery is dedicated to showing before you even think of submitting your work.
 
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Do develop a relationship with the gallery.
 
The primary way that galleries choose artists is through relationships. That means that either someone introduced them to the artist's work or they met the artist first and then were introduced to the work.
 
If you've identified an art gallery that would make a good fit for you, develop a relationship with them. Go to their events. Sign up for their mailing list. Spend time on their website. Like their Facebook page. Get known within their community as a supporter. This is the best way to get on a gallery's radar. 
 
If you know someone who's already part of that gallery's community, all the better! Ask to join them when you go to events. Have them introduce you to the staff. 
 
Let the gallerist know how much you enjoy what they do, show them that you know who they are and what they're about. Then submit your work.
 
Don't approach a gallery before finding out their submission policies.
 
Finding out a gallery's submission policy is easy. Check their website and see if it's posted there. If not, call them - that's right pick up the telephone and ask. Or ask the gallerist while you're visiting -- because you should try to visit the gallery in person.
 
If they say that they don't accept submissions, then you have your answer. They don't accept submissions. Do not submit your work anyway. The best way to crack this nut is through an introduction. And this all goes back to becoming part of the gallery's community.
 
If they do accept submissions, try to follow their guidelines. If they ask for 12 images, don't send them 50. I know you're an artist and we're prone to breaking the rules, but submission policies are best followed to the letter.
 
Don't ask what the gallery can do for you, but what you can do for the gallery.
 
No, seriously. Artists are always wishing they had a gallery to "handle all of this business stuff for me." But what are you offering the gallery?
 
Instead of looking at galleries in terms of what they can give to you, turn that question around. How would your work add to their stable? What would it bring to them? How can you help them with marketing? Are there introductions you can make? Do you know how to build websites? Maybe they need some help with theirs. 
 
Giving an artist an exhibition is a very expensive gamble. And as any gallerist can tell you, demanding and egotistical artists are seldom worth the trouble. There's a long line of very talented people who would love to have an opportunity to get into an art gallery, people who are givers not takers. So be a giver.
 
Don't ever think of the gallery's commission as something they're taking from you, but of each sale as something they're giving to you.
 
Do you think it's expensive to be an artist? Try having a gallery! The overhead is tremendous. And don't even get me started on the price of art fairs.
 
Artists often complain to me about galleries who take 40, 50, even 60%. True, if you're paying that much you have a right to expect a lot in return. But don't deny the gallery their commission. They aren't taking anything from you. They are giving you a sale that you otherwise wouldn't have had.
 
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Do be prepared to talk about your work.
 
I've asked many artists to tell me about their work over the years. The ones who mumble, "My work speaks for itself" are wrong. If it did, I wouldn't have asked. 
 
Trust me, being reticent about your work is no way to get into an art gallery. But being interested enough in your own work to engage others is the best sales tool there is.
 
Do develop an audience before approaching a gallery. 
 
For example, having an engaged following on Facebook carries weight. It shows the gallery that you understand how to promote and market yourself. 
 
Too many artists put this off saying that it's a gallery's job. It is not. It's your job to build and maintain your audience.
 
There's no hard and fast number of fans you need. But being able to tell a gallery that you've got a loyal following will give them a sense of security. They'll know that you understand marketing and that you can fill a gallery with people come opening night.
 
If you absolutely hate social media, don't worry about it. You don't have to engage online. But it's a very powerful tool for artists if they're willing to embrace it. 
 
If you are going to engage online, I'd suggest you choose one platform and rock that. You can have a presence on the others and even push notifications out to them, but you don't have to be everything to everybody all the time.
 
And if you decide to opt out of the social media scene, then think about how you will engage your audience? Do you have a mailing list of people who have visited your studio and bought from you in the past? Start now!
 
Even if you have a gallery who handles client relations for you, you'd be best served to have some control over your audience. What happens when the gallery closes? Don't shrug, I've seen it happen many times before. And artists who had been selling consistently have found themselves starting over from the beginning.
 
These tips will help to open doors for you. I've seen it happen again and again. But it's your work that will seal the deal. Make sure that the work is ready, that you've honed your craft and are showing the best that you can do. 
 
It looks easy, but I know that it's difficult. Hang in there and DON'T QUIT.
 
Because this is how you DO get into an art gallery!
 
 
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Does your art suck?

Has anyone ever told you that your creative work sucks?
 
If not, just wait. It'll happen. And when it does, avoid the urge to hide in a hole. Instead, consider it a rite of passage...
 
I've been told several times over my career that I'm not a good writer. And my photographs have been dismissed as well. Like most artists, I internalized those hurtful comments and even believed them.
 
But I never let them stop me.
 
Well, for awhile I did give up my dreams and got a "real" job selling other people's art. But I pulled late nights and early mornings to write the scripts, essays, and books that haunted my spirit and demanded to be given voice.
 
I never stopped writing or taking pictures. I just couldn't. 
 
It took a long time to realize that "they," my critics, were simply wrong. Everyone brings their own experiences, aesthetics, and stories with them when they look at art. Just because someone doesn't like something, doesn't mean it's "bad."
 
But more importantly, no one is born a brilliant artist. It takes time and dedication to a consistent practice to get to the good stuff, to develop your craft and find your voice. 
 
A few years ago I was at a dinner party with the gorgeous artist Kiki Smith. Kiki's had massive success in her career, the kind most of us only dream about. We were talking about our journeys as artists. 
 
A curator quipped in, "I studied fine art in college, but I realized I wasn't a good enough painter to make it. So I became a curator instead."
 
Kiki caught him, "No," she said, "that's not why you quit. You quit because you aren't an artist. An artist wouldn't have quit. An artist would keep making art because he couldn't help himself."
 
It's that simple. It's not about whether you're good or bad, it's not about how much money you can earn. It's about owning who you are, giving voice to your ideas, doing the work, and not letting anyone stand in your way.
 
The difference between artists who succeed and artists who fail? Purpose and dedication.
 
Never quit.
 
 
 
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Overcoming Overwhelm

I recently suffered a crisis. My relationships weren't connecting, my creativity wasn't flowing. I was overwhelmed and overwrought. It felt like the work was stagnant and it became a battle to get through all the stuff that needed to be done. 
 
Have you ever felt like this?
 
In times of crisis, I look for those wise teachers in my life so I turned to Andrew David Smith. Perhaps you'll remember Andrew as I've written about him before? Andy is not only a talented artist, he's also a blind visionary and one of the most profound spiritual thinkers I've met.
 
I shared my angst with him, pouring out all of my frustrations and fears.
 
"It sounds like your be-ing is coming from your do-ing," he responded calmly.
 
My what?
 
"Your be-ing is coming from your do-ing. You have it backwards. For your do-ing should always come from your be-ing."
 
I was so moved by his words that I wrote them down. "My doing should come from my being." 
 
But what does that mean?
 
It means that the work you do, hell, everything you do, should come from the essence of who you are. It should tell the truth, be authentic, reveal your vulnerabilities, celebrate your strengths, share your story. And as artists, this is where our best ideas come from, this is where we encounter the flow. 
 
Too often we get hung up on productivity and results. We stubbornly cling to the timetables and outcomes we want. And we forget that it's all about the process.
 
When you start to define yourself by the results of your work, when you begin to believe the hype, or worse, internalize your failures and give power to your critics, you lose the way. Your be-ing has started to come from your do-ing. And this is when we find ourselves struggling.
 
Andy was right. The best work comes from within. Not from outside. "Center yourself," he said.  "And let your be-ing guide you as you move forward."
 
So now I ask you the question my teacher asked me ---                        
Is your be-ing coming from your do-ing?
 
Or does your doing coming from your being?
 
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Alumni Profile: Leslie Jean-Bart

“Becoming a working artist has literally saved my life.”

So admits Haitian-born photographer Leslie Jean-Bart. Now an avowed New Yorker, Leslie has spent the past few years as the sole caretaker of his mother who suffers from dementia.

But Leslie has always been an artist. His background includes a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, followed by an impressive photography career that took him all over the world. His commercial work has been lauded with accolades including award-winning books and photo-collage projects.

Yet despite the recognition, Leslie’s career was placed on hold when he had to shift his focus to his mother’s care. In looking for relief from his new, often challenging role, he began making regular treks to the beach near Coney Island. Never without his camera, Leslie began to discover inspiration and to document visual metaphor amidst the constantly evolving ebb and flow of the sands, tides, and reflections.

Leslie became possessed by the direction this exciting new work was taking him, but he lacked the confidence to take the next steps. In spite of his illustrious career as a photographer, Leslie admits, “I knew absolutely zero about navigating the fine art world before taking The Working Artist course.”

After completing The Working Artist Master Class, Leslie now has the tools to approach the art world with confidence. The course not only helped him create effective art career foundations – it also taught him the importance of cultivating strong relationships within the art world.

“The exposure I’m getting now is largely due to the relationships I’ve built. I would have continued to just focus on the work until Crista’s class made me realize how essential it is to be an active part of the artistic community.”

Along with newfound confidence and vibrant, active art connections, Leslie has observed that his entries and proposals for group shows and fairs are now being routinely accepted. What’s more, he’ll be featured in his first solo exhibition at Xavier University in New Orleans later this spring!

You can learn more about Leslie Jean-Bart’s beautiful work at http://www.realityimagination.com.

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Dancing With Haters

Artists often confide to me that they're afraid to put themselves "out there." Afraid of what other people will think. Afraid of what other people might say. Afraid of haters.
 
I get it. Both being an artist myself, as well as having an online business has opened me up to abuse. People can be mean. 
 
But we can't let the darkness hide our light.
 
Take Sean O'Brien, for example. Sean is not a svelte man; in fact, he's rather large. Out with his friends at a club in his hometown of Liverpool one night, Sean was moved by the music and started to dance. 
 
He knew people were laughing at him, and it hurt, yet he carried having fun with his mates. But the next day he realized that some idiot had filmed him and posted the video online. The comments it elicited were vicious and Sean wanted to hide under a rock and never, ever come out.
 
Sean had been shamed. And every artist knows, shame is most painful when aimed at that which comes from your heart.
 
Then a group of women in Los Angeles saw the video and its awful comments. They decided to give Sean's story a different ending.
 
First, they set up a campaign to find Sean. #FindDancingMan Then they invited him to a party in LA, held in his honor, and raised the money via crowd-funding to do so. 
 
1700 people donated to the cause and the opportunity to dance with Sean. All together, they raised over $40,000.
 
Imagine Sean's surprise when he found himself on a business class seat to Los Angeles. Imagine how he felt when he found that Moby had offered to DJ the party for him. When he found himself being interviewed on TV, invited to dinner by Monica Lewinski, and even throwing the first ball at a Dodgers game in front of a roaring crowd. 
 
The party itself was a massive success. Sean spent the whole night dancing with abandon, surrounded by love and acceptance. In the end, there was money left over to donate to anti-bullying charities in Sean's name.
 
Sean O'Brien wasn't afraid to dance that night in the Liverpool club. And the cyber-bullies who tried to shame him were never able to hide his light. For in a race between light and dark, the light wins every time.
 
So dance in your own light, let it shine for all to see, and never again be afraid of the dark.
 

 

 

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