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When I worked in the art business I talked on the telephone constantly. So much for the glamorous life, who knew that cauliflower ear was an occupational hazard for art dealers?
But I was moving and shaking baby! I needed to be on that phone. I couldn't be disconnected! My phone defined my life.
I recently read a study suggesting that our iPhones have become extensions of ourselves. When separated from them we get anxious; our heart rates increase, blood pressure soars, and we get all antsy.
That was me.
But I finally did disconnect when I moved to France. There, I still found it difficult to stop checking my phone but now it was always the same answer. Nothing.
For someone who'd made a living from talking to people, it was strange to find myself with no one to talk to. But my days of wheeling and dealing with gallerists and collectors were over. And without the phone at my ear, I was forced for the first time to listen to my own thoughts.
Eventually, I would hang up my phone and learn to embrace the peace of living alone in the French countryside. And this is how I fell in love with the sound of silence.
Today, with my return to civilization, people expect me to be married to my telephone again. They get alarmed when it takes me a few days to notice a text or check my messages. I constantly leave my phone at home and don't even notice.
I understand that it's time for me to connect now. I have responsibilities and decisions and deadlines. We live in a dangerous world and phones can help us stay safe.
But my feelings about the telephone have remained on hold. I can't bring myself to start jumping at its ring again, or allow it to sabotage my attention.
We don't define artists by their tools, for tools are only there to serve the message. Art is communication. And real communication comes from the heart. That's the only call I want to answer.
Jack was 90 years old and still the town rascal
I first met Jack when he came to my rescue in the pub. I had just moved to England, to Tunbridge Wells, a small town outside of London.
Hearing my American accent, the Brits were having a go at me about the war. World War II that is. I was trying to hold my own against disgruntled Englishmen still angry that they had to fight the Germans on their own for two years before the Americans swooped in. “And saved you!” I explained. But they weren’t having it.
Suddenly an old man slammed his beer on the bar and shouted “I was there!” and all went quiet. That was Jack.
Jack loved Americans. He loved us because, as he said, England was losing the war and the Americans made all the difference. He remembered how terrifying it was to be so close to defeat, and he pointed his finger at each of the geezers in the pub as he told them how he’d always be grateful to Americans for the victory. Then he bought me a beer. And thus our friendship was born.
Over the years I often ran into Jack. Sometimes at the pub, other times I’d see him toddling out of the bookmakers after placing a bet, or shooting billiards with the local sharks. On weekends he was known to visit the nightclubs and dance with the kids. And every Tuesday night you could find him at The Guinea Butt pub for Karaoke Night, where he’d sing his song, “My Way.”
Jack was always surrounded by a harem of (relatively) younger women as he made his rounds. I never did find out their relationship to him but like a uniform, they all crossed their arms and wore the same disapproving frown as they followed him from one vice to another.
The last time I spoke with Jack he told me a little bit about his childhood and what life was like in England 90 years ago. At first, he waxed nostalgic but after a few beers, his secret came out.
When Jack was 11-years old, he won the big swimming meet. “Your parents must have been proud,” I said.
He nodded, his face aglow with beer and memories, and for a moment I could see him as an 11-year old boy again. “The newspapers wrote about me. They called me ‘Boy Wonder Swimming’.” He bragged.
Then suddenly his expression turned dark. “But I was a fraud!”
He explained, “There was another boy, Bob Osbourne, he was a better swimmer than me. He could have easily won that swim meet. But he had mastoids, see? And so his parents pulled him out of the water. And I won the swim meet. But Bob Osbourne could have beaten me. I knew it then and I know it now. I was no ‘Boy Wonder Swimming’. No matter what they said.”
I often think about Jack and his shame over being Boy Wonder Swimming. I think about him when I meet artists who tell me that they’ve won an award, made a sale, or been accepted by a gallery, only to have them then belittle their own achievement in the next sentence. “I didn’t really earn it.” “It’s not very much.” “It’s not important enough.” And I’m saddened that these small moments of glory cannot be celebrated, that blessings are cursed. Like Jack did with his swimming award.
Recently, I returned to Tunbridge Wells and went to the pub looking for him. But the locals just shook their heads. Time finally caught up with Jack and he’s gone now. Tunbridge Wells will never be the same.
But Boy Wonder Swimming or not, Jack lived a good life. Not many 90-year olds can carry on as a teen-ager. Jack did it his way.
My wish for you in 2015 is that you do it your way. No apologies. No playing small. And celebrating each and every success.
"For what is a man what has he got If not himself then he has not To say the things he truly feels And not the words of one who kneels The record shows I took the blows And did it my way"
I think it's in an artist's nature to have faith in the unknown, to deal with intangibles. After all, we work from nothing more than an idea and a dream. It takes faith to actualize the invisible.
But times are tough for dreamers, and faith is hard to come by. That's why I love the Christmas season, because it reminds me of those days when magic was truth and belief resolute.
I was 4-years old; and my cousins and I were spending Christmas at Grandmother's house. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus came to visit, as he did each year. He collected my lengthy list, asked pointed questions about my behavior, and left me with a candy cane. "There you go, Pesta," he said as I crawled off his lap.
Pesta was my uncle's nickname for me, a cruel but apt derivative of Crista. But how did Santa know that? Surely "Uncle Skunkle" hadn't told him?
There was something familiar about Santa that year. He sounded an awful lot like Uncle Skunkle, and laughed like him too. I looked around the room of grown-ups, each tipsy on hot cups of Tom and Jerry, and I noted that Uncle Skunkle was not amongst the tippled. Something was up.
After my cousins and I had all been put to bed with promises of Santa's return, I tip-toed back downstairs. Uncle Skunkle was alone by the Christmas tree, drinking a beer. "You're drinking Santa's beer!" I screamed accusingly. I'd left that beer out specifically for Santa, just as he'd requested.
I started to put the pieces together, listing all of the inconsistencies I'd witnessed in Santa over my four short years. And then I drew a horrifying conclusion, "Maybe there is no Santa Claus. Maybe you're Santa Claus!"
Uncle Skunkle sighed as he looked out the window and considered the appropriateness of my nickname.
"There!" He pointed toward the night sky where a radio tower blinked off and on in the far distance. "Do you see that? It's Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer. He's leading Santa's sleigh. And Santa's going to be very angry to hear that you don't believe in him."
I peered into the darkness and saw the faint red light. My heart pounded. Rudolph! He's coming! I could see the outlines of the other reindeer behind him. Santa Claus was on his way.
And today, each time my eyes happen to fall upon the red lights of a radio tower, I still see the red nose of Rudolph flying toward me.
I still believe.
When I had a gallery, I would receive dozens of emails each day from artists with a link to their site or a folder of jpegs, “Here’s my work, will you represent me?” I am ashamed to say that I used the delete button quite liberally. I didn’t have time to interact with people who didn’t understand how to submit work in a professional manner.
And several times throughout the week, artists would arrive at my gallery, unannounced, dragging a portfolio, “Here’s my work with you represent me?” And I’d gently explain that this was not how galleries make their decisions as I led them to the door.
Running an art gallery is extremely intense and high-pressure work, it is not right to expect a gallerist to stop what they are doing to look at your work, no matter how brilliant you are. There are one-thousand other artists out there who are just as brilliant as you, and who do understand how the business works and what makes a successful submission.
One day a man came into my gallery; I never forgot him. He was dragging a portfolio of works that were completely outside the milieu of what I showed. When I told him that this was not how I chose my artists, he began to cry.
Tears of frustration fell down his face. He wanted to be an artist so badly, but he didn’t understand how to get his foot in the door. “Where can I go?” He asked, “Who can help me?”
I was haunted by his visit and it began my own investigation into what artist career information was available. I went to the library and read every book I could find on the topic. I bought more on Amazon. I googled “artist career information” and combed through the countless articles online. And I was stunned by what I found.
The information was there, but it was mostly couched in thick language and small font. I’ve worked with artists throughout my career. I spent a decade running a large collaborative studio. I know how artists learn and how they assimilate information. I’ve observed artists and worked with artists, and I know that this is not the best way to communicate with them. For the most part, the artist career information that I found wasn’t created by artists, but by people who don’t speak our language.
Don't Stop Learning
This is why I created my program, The Working Artist. I created it for that man who came into my gallery wanting to know where to turn for help.
From working in the art business for so many years, I knew my stuff; over the course of my career I’ve sold over ten million dollars worth of art to museums, galleries, and collectors. I wanted to share my knowledge and understanding of the art business. And I knew that it could be presented in an artist-friendly format, appealing to the creative part of the artist’s brain as well as the informative.
There has suddenly been an explosion of people who offer artist career information online. It’s like anything; some of them are excellent, many are not. You’ve got see what resonates with you. It is about the information, yes, but it’s also about the message and the voice of the instructor. You want to learn from someone who is speaking your language.
I believe that it makes no difference where you are in your career, continuing your education to include fresh ideas about marketing, social media, and other career decisions will only help you continue to grow your own business.
And it is a business! Yes, art is a calling. It runs so deep that it is part of who you are, the very fabric of your being. But taking it seriously does not mean that you have sold out. Just the opposite! Willfully refusing to learn how to build your art career as a business, large or small, is a cop out.
Selling Art is Not Selling Out
Art is communication. Art needs to be seen to be art. Otherwise it’s just paint on canvas. So part of your job, as an artist, is to get your work seen, to get your work engaged in that conversation.
Whether you want to make a financial profit from your work or not is a personal choice. But if you are going to call yourself an artist, then you need to get eyes on your work. And when it comes to strategizing how to do this, planning works better than hoping.
Try using your own creativity to plot your career. But DO plot your career – don’t just keep sending the same feeble email to galleries and hoping for the best. If something didn’t work for you, use the energy that you might normally spend beating yourself up or cursing the art world to ask yourself why it didn’t work, and then do better the next time. Use every setback as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Refuse to feel shame, it will only hold you back. Shame and creativity make a lethal cocktail. Name a good idea that’s ever come from shame? You can’t. I always say that ideas are an artist’s currency. The same way that bankers deal in money, that’s how artists deal in ideas. So you cannot afford to feel shame. It will shut your imagination right down. So when you fall down, wipe your knees, figure out why you fell, and get right back up again.
Try to think outside the gallery/museum mindset. That is such a narrow road, and it’s very, very crowded. I’m not saying that isn’t available to you, but I am saying that there is a bigger world out there for your art if the old-fashioned way isn’t working. There are all kinds of ways to make a living from your creativity. There are all kinds of ways to engage your art with other people.
Look at your work and ask yourself, “Who is my ideal audience? Where will I find them? What do they read? What do they watch? What are their passions?” And brainstorm ways that you can market your work directly to them in a different way.
Maybe you can blog about collecting art, and draw potential collectors to you that way? Maybe you can work with a charity whose members share an interest in an issue that your work addresses? Maybe you can visit interior design studios and offer to bring the staff lunch, and feed them as you give a presentation of your art?
The point is that you don’t have to just listen to the experts, you can let your own imagination be the source of your art marketing plan. After all, you know your work better than anyone else.
A Community of Artists
I think the very best source of artist career information is going to come from other artists. Other artists are not your competition. Other artists are your very best friends. Other artists will know how to solve your technical challenges. Other artists will understand your frustrations and cheer your accomplishments. Other artists will fill the gallery when you have a show because they are the only ones who will really understand how much work has gone into each piece. Other artists are more likely to know people or situations that can help you. Other artists are going through the exact same career challenges that you are, or they have in the past, or they will in the future. Be as generous as your can with your colleagues, and you will reap the rewards tenfold.
To Go To Grad School Or Not To Go To Grad School
A lot of artists ask me about graduate school. They ask as if grad school is the ticket to success? It is not.
Graduate school is expensive and time-consuming. It may help you to develop your work faster than if you worked on your own. It will provide you with valuable connections and introduce your work to a broader audience. But very few art schools and very few graduate programs provide artist career information. They are much more focused on the work itself. So it is really a personal decision as to whether or not taking on the expense of additional education is worth it to you right now. It is important to clearly understand what you will be receiving and what you will not.
This is why my tagline for The Working Artist reads, “It’s everything they never taught in art school.” Because even if you went to grad school, you’re going to have to turn elsewhere for solid career information.
There Are Resources
A lot of good info can be found through your local arts councils and you should consider signing up for their newsletters and studying them seriously. There, you will find calls for submission for public arts projects, grants, and other opportunities. Your state may even have an artist registry, which is well worth looking into.
Another great resource for artist opportunities is the Foundation Center (foundationcenter.org). This is the leading online source of philanthropic information and they maintain lists of artist grants and fellowships. These are well worth your consideration, not only because of the apparent benefits of funding, but winning awards make fabulous lines on your resume and provide incredible networking opportunities
There is no end to opportunities for artists. We often use our imagination to create our work and then stop there. But let your marketing plan be creative too. Use your intuition and inner wisdom to guide you as you look for information and resources and encourage yourself to think outside the box and find new ways of using what you learn. After all, your creativity represents the very heart of who you are, why make it stop on the canvas? Invite it to guide your career as well.
Her name was Ruffian. And she was the fastest girl alive. They said she couldn’t beat the boys but I didn’t believe them.
Ruffian was a two-year-old thoroughbred racehorse who ran undefeated. In fact, no horse had ever run in front of her, she took the lead every time and refused to surrender it.
But no matter how many records Ruffian broke, they still said girls can’t run faster than boys. So they set a match race between Ruffian and the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Foolish Pleasure. It would be the race of the century.
As a young girl I was totally obsessed with horse-racing, in my imagination it held the magic of both beauty and adventure. Where other adolescents papered their walls with rock stars, mine were covered with jockeys. Where other kids went to concerts, I went to the track.
My parents looked at me aghast as I rattled off thoroughbred bloodlines (I memorized them), pored over the racing results in each day’s newspaper, and saved my allowance for the Trifecta. In ill-founded efforts to stunt my own growth, I carried a brick on my head and took up smoking.
Ruffian was my heroine, and I’d followed her career since her first race. Finally, a girl horse who could beat the boys. And anyone who didn’t believe it was foolish indeed.
They’re off! I’d waited all summer for the match race and was glued to the television. Ruffian once again refused to give up the lead. I jumped up and down shouting her name.
But at the final stretch, the unthinkable happened. Ruffian’s leg snapped.
I screamed when that big beautiful filly broke. But even then she kept running, even after her leg was thrashing wildly, her jockey was not able to control her. Ruffian wanted to win.
“Stop her!” I cried to the TV as she struggled on, but they couldn’t.
When Ruffian awoke from surgery, no one told her that the race was over. Though the terrified vets tried to restrain her, she flailed about until she smashed her whole body to pieces. She just kept running. There was no choice but to put her down.
I never did become a jockey, height and a sweet-tooth saw to that. But a part of me broke that day too. And I still weep whenever I hear Ruffian’s name. In fact, I’m crying now.
When they talk about the great racehorses, they say that they have “heart.” Ruffian taught me that it doesn’t matter if you're a girl or a boy, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, the only thing that really matters in life is that you run with your whole heart.
"I used to have a band," he told me.
He'd played lead guitar and sang. It was the 80's and he worked hard, toured the country, and started to gain a small following. But he never broke through.
When he turned 30, he got a chance to play one of the biggest music festivals in Britain. His brother ran the festival and had secured a spot for him. But it was too late, he'd already made a deal.
"It's ridiculous," he told himself, "to keep following this dream into your thirties. The music business is too hard. If it hasn't happened now, it's never going to happen." So he decided to go out with a bang, making the festival his last gig. He'd never play on stage again.
It's been almost 30 years now. He's found success in the business world instead, though his heart hasn't been in it. He recently went to see his brother, whom he hadn't visited since the show. He first met up with some old friends who asked him why he'd quit? Why did he quit playing music just when he'd broken through? "What do you mean?" he asked.
They told him, "The show you played at the festival, it got rave reviews."
He asked his brother if this was true and his brother pulled out a tattered old music magazine, opening it up to a two-page spread announcing the singer that stole the show, the one to watch, the singer who was the best thing to come out of the festival.
Why didn't you tell me?" he asked his brother.
"I was jealous."
Never, ever, let go of your dreams. They belong to you for a reason.
His name was Henrik. He’d been an artist in Hungary until he faced the stark reality that there were no opportunities there. London has the biggest art market in Europe so, like many of us, Henrik came here. And this is where his journey begins, selling small paintings on a cold, gray London sidewalk.
For now, he sleeps on a couch in a friend’s squat that has neither heat nor water. He left his wife in Hungary but hopes to bring her to London soon. “I had to come here, I had to try,” Henrik explained. “Some times you just have to take the jump and follow your dream.”
His delicately beautiful paintings are priced at £10.
“Does this really work for you?” I asked, pointing to his makeshift gallery set-up.
“Some weeks I sell nothing, and I get scared and think it was all a mistake. But other weeks I get a commission to paint a mural and I sell some work and I might make £500. So I keep going.”
I spoke with Henrik about his plan. This wasn’t some lazy kid, trying to make a quick buck by avoiding work. Henrik was a thoughtful, accomplished, and dedicated artist with a burning ambition.
Recently he was offered an opportunity working for a large commercial firm. He could make art and be well compensated. Be able to afford a flat and bring his wife over. But he would have to paint subjects that he wasn’t interested in. He’d have to use a medium that held no charm for him, in a style that was totally unlike the one he’d spent years developing. “I have sacrificed so much,” Henrik told me.
Should he take this opportunity?
I know how Henrik eventually answered that question. But how would you? How much would you be willing to sacrifice for your work?
Launch. The very word made me queasy.
What was a launch anyway? And why does everyone have one but me?
“But didn’t you already launch?” ask well-meaning friends. Did I?
Fate intervened, as she does, and just as I was grappling with the very concept of launches, the launch guru himself, Jeff Walker, released his book titled… wait for it… “Launch.” I earmarked every page.
Newly inspired, I decided to create a series of videos addressing the challenges faced by all artists. To tell the truth, it wasn’t that difficult. Where ever I go, life puts artists in my path and the one question I always ask them is “What are your biggest challenges?”
So when I filmed the videos, I didn’t have to work to think up material. I simply repeated conversations I’d already had – conversations with artists about time management, about branding, self-confidence, overcoming fears, and about marketing.
Soon, I’ll be launching The Working Artist and I’ll start by sharing these free artist training videos. Be sure you are signed up for my mailing list because I think you’ll like them.
According to the dictionary, LAUNCH means: To set or thrust into motion. But to me, to LAUNCH means starting to fly! Thank you for flying with me!
p.s. This behind-the-scenes photo is from one of the video shoots. That's right, I was barefoot. I'm actually barefoot in all the videos. You can dress me up, but I'll always be a bohemian at heart.
It’s not about whether you succeed or fail as an artist. It’s about the kind of person you become as you do the work. Does it make you feel more authentic? Are you coming from a place of integrity? Do you share generously? Are you grateful? And most importantly, are you actually making art, good art?
As you move closer to your goal, you will suffer setbacks and challenges. It is what it is. And during those dark moments, ask yourself, “What do I believe in?” Because you can’t do your best work when you come from a place of fear.
Believe in yourself. And if you don’t, then do what it takes to get there. Don’t wait for someone else to believe in you first. You have to show them. This is your work. Let nothing and no one stop you.