January 14, 2021 | Alyson Stanfield

Goals for Artists and What You Should Be Focusing On Instead

I teach setting goals for artists. It’s the first lesson in the Art Biz Accelerator.

I encourage all of my artist-clients to articulate their goals because they have to know what they want to achieve before I can support them.

abstract mixed media collage © Nancy Egol Nikkal
©Nancy Egol Nikkal, Dance with Me. Collage with washi, wood, assorted papers, and acrylic on panel, 12 x 12 inches.

And, yet, I know there is something far more important, and more difficult, than setting goals: Doing the work.

We just survived a year in which we lost control of so much in our lives and businesses. We lost control of whether a venue would be open for a show or whether a live workshop would go on as planned or be canceled.

But, in fact, we never had control of these things in the first place.

You will never be able to control results or outcomes, but so much else is in your command. Before we move on in the conversation, let’s first look at goals.

Listen to the Goals for Artists Episode


Music by Wildermiss

SMART Goals for Artists

I used to teach how to set SMART goals for artists, which is a system for articulating goals and deadlines—a system that was definitely not devised by an artist. The acronym stands for:

painting of a woman in a green dress with black hat at the train station © Deena S. Ball
©Deena S. Ball, Waiting for the Train. Watercolor on paper, 8 x 6 inches.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

The way I taught SMART goals to my clients and students was fairly rigid. Goals had to be articulated as an affirmation and include the due date: I will do [this] by [this date]. If my student or client didn’t write it to my standards, I made the necessary corrections.

While I understand this is a tested system that has been used by millions of people through the years, I have let it go. It doesn’t work for most of my artist-clients.

I think the reason it doesn’t work is because it’s too focused on getting the goal right. Who cares what the goal is if you aren’t taking action?

My new approach removes the emphasis on setting goals for your art business.

Stop Focusing on Artist Goals

That’s right. Stop focusing on goals.

As I mentioned, you need to have some kind of idea what you want, what your goals as an artist are (if you want to call them that) so you can start working toward them, but there is something far more important: Doing the work. It’s critical to roll up your sleeves and take steps forward—every minute, every hour, and every day.

Let me emphasize what I said previously: You cannot control outcomes. You can't control results. You can't control what happens in the world or what other people do (or do not do).

Staying tied to a specific goal or dream when the world around you changes dramatically is futile.  What is more effective is improving your mindset and, again, taking that consistent action.

Another Piece of Splendor 12x12" acrylic abstract painting of greens and pinks © Marli Thibodeau
©Marli Thibodeau, Another Piece of Splendor. Acrylic and drawing media on panel, 12 x 12 inches.

All of this month inside of the Art Biz Success community, we are focused on taking charge of our businesses, careers, and lives. We would love for you to join us for the discussion, community connections, and ongoing support.

So what are we talking about if we aren’t ultimately in charge of results and outcomes?

Taking Charge of Your Art Business and Life

I want to take a little time to talk about what is within your control in hopes it empowers you. You have control over all of the following.

  • What you make in the studio. No one is forcing you to paint that landscape, throw that pot, or accept that commission. You get to choose.
  • How you choose to spend the next 24 hours. Or subsequent 24-hour spans. You can spend some in the studio, some on your business, and the rest on taking care of yourself and your family. Or you can binge on Netflix, and I’ve done my fair share of the latter.
  • How you spend your money or invest in your business. You don’t have to buy the latest gadgets. You don’t have to enroll in every course, but I will always suggest the Art Career Success System when you are building a foundation because being around our community of forward-thinking artists can have a huge payoff.
  • The price of your art, and where you show and sell it. Granted, once you attain a certain level where you have a secondary market (meaning auction houses sell your work) you lose all control over your pricing. Until then, you’re the boss.
  • What and where you teach. You can teach in person or online or not at all. You can accept a gig at a local craft supply store for $15 an hour or you can mentor aspiring artists from your own studio or computer for $50 or even $100 an hour.
  • How you use social media (or if you use it at all). You don’t have to be on Instagram or Facebook. Really! And you don’t have to post a certain type of post at a specific time of day to catch up with the most recent change in the algorithm. It’s your life. Be the CEO.

Adorned End Table 24x16" brass nail embellished end table from Bracelets and Bangles series inspired by African bracelet and textile design jewelry for your home© Andrea Lewin-Wendel
©Andrea Lewin-Wendel, Adorned End Table. Wood, glass, steel base, 24 x 16 inches.

You also have control over:

  • Your self-talk. If you continue to say you’re bad at business or hate marketing, guess what? You’ll never improve.
  • What you say or don’t say, and how actively you listen to others. Whether you’re writing an email, posting to social media, or participating in a Zoom meeting, you’re in the driver’s seat of what comes out of your mouth or fingertips.
  • Your self-care. It’s nobody else’s fault that you gained 20 pounds, lost muscle weight, or have bags under your eyes. You get to choose what you eat, how much you exercise, and how much (or little) you sleep.
  • What you read, listen to, and watch, and how you respond to each. If you are angry every time you watch the news or comedy shows that are riffing off the news, you have no-one to blame but yourself.

See? There is much that you are in control of (including many things that I didn’t even mention), and you can empower yourself by accepting 100% responsibility for each of these areas.

abstract painting of Lake Erie in blues and greens © Susan Snipes
©Susan Snipes, Platform between realms. Oil and cold wax medium on canvas, 24 x 36 x 1.75 inches.

Accept 100% Responsibility

Taking charge—controlling what you can—doesn’t mean that you do it all yourself. On the contrary.

When you are in charge, you are smart enough to know that you can’t do it all alone.

When you are in charge, when you are behaving like the CEO of your art business, you connect with and hire people who have strengths that you don’t.

You need to be around other artists to motivate and inspire you.
You need family to support your ambitions.
You need teachers and mentors to learn from.
You need assistants to help you with work outside of your genius zone.
You might also need coaches and consultants to hone your business strategies.

abstract painting with turquoise, black, and red © Tiffany Tuley
©Tiffany Tuley, Abstract No. 4. Acrylic on canvas, 58 x 35 inches.

Being in charge doesn’t mean you do it alone. It means you understand that, while you may have support, you are solely responsible for your success. Nobody else cares more about your success than you do. If you aren’t taking charge—if you aren’t leading the way by projecting clear and committed intentions—very few others are going to buy into your plans or buy your art.

I am forever grateful that I learned this early in my business—from none other than Jack Canfield, of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame.

In his book The Success Principles, Canfield’s success principle #1—the very first of 64 total—is that you must take 100% responsibility for your life and actions. This means giving up making excuses, blaming others for difficulties, and complaining without taking action to rectify a situation.

You will never achieve your artist goals without owning them. Without owning how you manage your time. Without owning your current actions.

Take Consistent Action to Achieve Your Artist Goals

Go ahead and set goals for your art business and life so that you have direction. But don’t dwell on the outcome or results. Make a plan and then get to work.

Commit to consistent progress every day and every hour. Ultimately, that’s what will move the needle in your favor.

How I Can Help

That’s why the planning process I teach is project-centered planning rather than goal-centric, and why we do it seasonally—so that you can check in with your projects, tasks, and actions and adjust them for the next season.

Join our community at the annual level right now and access the recordings of the planning sessions I led during the first week of the year. As a member, you have access to monthly group gatherings, Get It Done Days, business strategies and challenges, and more. Most valuable, I believe, are the connections you’ll make with ambitious artists all over the world.

Membership is open through January 18.

Listen to the Goals for Artists Episode


Music by Wildermiss

2 comments add a comment
  • I just listened to the podcast version of this and YES!!!! I LOVE this approach and taking away the SMART goal. It doesn’t work for artists, but I would argue it doesn’t even work in the business world for the same reason – so much is out of your control.

    I’ve been doing this unconsciously over the past year and Covid kind of forced me to move forward and I accomplished a number of things by just doing projects I’ve wanted to do for a while. I actually used my art as an outlet for my anxiety.

    I’m a lamp work artist and last fall I created a foundational jewelry collection. I did 30 designs. Now that work is in a local shop and selling. I now have a body of work for applying to different online venues I want to participate in. I could ramble on and on but yes, totally agree with this post.

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Jenn: I’m so happy to hear that this resonates with you. Congratulations on the new body of work and on doing things your way.

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