July 8, 2021 | Alyson Stanfield

Are You Playing It Too Safe in Your Art Business?

We are hard wired for self-protection.

The moment we smell risk, our physical bodies start preparing for the encounter. Our mental faculties begin telling us how we can avoid it or, short of that, deal with it.

Heather Haymart painting of the abstract blue waterscape | on Art Biz Success
©Heather Haymart, Bridges Connect. Acrylic and texture paste on wood, 8 x 8 inches.

This is a convenient human feature you were given. It keeps you safe. But it can also keep you small when you give it all the power for decision-making. It can hold you back from becoming the person you dream of becoming and the artist you were meant to be in the world.

Playing It Too Safe

I want to share some of the ways you might be allowing your built-in sensor to rule your life and impede your growth. See if any of these ring true.

You enter the same exhibitions year after year.


When you just started your art business, you began entering juried shows. You found one that was a good fit. You got in. Yay you! That wasn’t so bad. So you enter again the next year. And then the next.

Juried shows are a natural first step for artists, but what I’ve witnessed is that many artists use them like a crutch. They’re easy and comfortable.

You maintain membership in a group whose members are not growing. 


Nancy Lilly pastel drawing of mission san jose rose window | on Art Biz Success
©Nancy Lilly, Mission San Jose Rose Window. Pastel on paper, 30 x 20 inches.

This is similar to sticking to the same shows year after year. You’re comfortable with the people you already know, so it’s easy to stay involved. The problem, of course, is that you get frustrated because the group members aren’t thinking at the same level you are. You become angry and resentful about the time it’s taking up.

There’s no reason to get mad. You can’t expect a large group of people to suddenly change their ways. It’s you who is growing. It’s your responsibility (to yourself and to other members) to move on.

You stick close to friends at art openings rather than meeting new people.


We are all guilty of this. Art openings aren’t a natural place to walk around introducing yourself to new people. But leaving at the end without meeting a single new person is almost a waste of time. Because we all know that nobody attends openings to look at the art. You can always do that later.

You promote your art in the same way, day after day, month after month, and year after year. 


There is much to say for consistency. You have to promote consistently for months in order to gain traction. But how do you know if you might get better results from a different approach if you don’t try? If you don’t tweak your strategies every now and then?

If any of these sound familiar, I challenge you to get a little uncomfortable with your art, with your marketing, and in your life. I challenge you to take more risks.

Listen to this on the Art Biz Podcast


Music by Wildermiss

Growth Demands Risk

Let’s face it. You take a risk whenever you get out of bed in the morning. You don't know what ominous messages are in your inbox or what the rest of the day holds for you. It’s much safer to stay under the covers.

You take a risk every time you put a batch of pottery into the kiln. I hope they all come out right and nothing explodes or breaks.

Or point your lens to snap a shot. I have one chance to capture this moment.

Or start applying paint to that spendy extra large canvas you wanted to tackle. Here I go!

Karole Nicholson mixed media painting of landscape | on Art Biz Success
©Karole Nicholson, Changing Planes. Mixed media on canvas, 13.5 x 13.5 x 1.25 inches.

You take a risk signing up for a new course by an unknown-to-you teacher. It sounds great and, fingers crossed, it will give you exactly what you need. Until you realize that you actually have to do the work. There is no guaranteed transformation and zero chance of growth until you do the work.

I see hope fizzle all of the time with our students in the Art Career Success System. They start out gung ho and then it gets hard. No way no how do I promise a magic pill.

What I do promise is an art business system that is customized to what they need now, but they’re going to have to create it using my lessons, forms, and worksheets. They have to carve out the time to learn in their schedules, face the content one lesson at a time, and show up for our strategy sessions for added support and answers.

It’s a risk that only the most dedicated of artists accept. If you’re willing to do this, I hope you’ll check out our art biz system.

Growth demands risk.

Mel Williamson oil painting of seated figure | on Art Biz Success
©Mel Williamson, Waterwings. Oil on canvas, 7 x 7 inches.

Levels of Risk

Life is full of risks, and nothing is certain. But some things seem to be riskier than others–like leaving a day job to devote time to your art. This is on the extreme end of the spectrum because your livelihood is at stake.

Wait. Maybe leaving a day job isn’t as extreme as it sounds. Uncomfortable moves in your art business that could affect your livelihood—positively or negatively—await your decision every day.

For example … You’ve thought about it for awhile. Your work has matured and you believe it’s time to begin approaching galleries. This is a huge step, and the very thought of it makes you break into hives.

Or you are inspired to begin a multi-year project that is close to your heart and will require you to step out of the studio and get in front of more people. Yikes! But you can do it. Take a lesson from Eve Jacobs-Carnahan’s Knit Democracy Together project.

Or Marilyn Artus’s Her Flag project. As I record this, Marilyn’s flag is hanging outside on the building of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Both of those artists took massive risks.

But let’s lower the stakes. Even something as innocuous as sending an email to your list strikes fear in your soul when you have neglected staying in touch. This is a much smaller risk, but it seems enormous when you’re in the middle of it.

Amanda Rutland copper cuffs with water etching | on Art Biz Succes
©Amanda Rutland, Water Motif Copper Cuff. Copper, 6 x 1 inches.

Assessing Risk

When we talk about taking risks, we have to consider what is actually at risk.

It might be, as mentioned, your livelihood. Your income could plummet.

You might be risking rejection, hurt feelings (yours or someone else’s), jealousy, and even your reputation.

You might be risking opportunities that wouldn’t be available to you if you selected a certain path.

And … It must be said … You might also be risking a shot at more income, attention, a more prestigious reputation, acceptance, deeper connection, and new opportunities.

When looking at opportunities, try journaling about the situation. Sit with your cup of coffee and begin free writing about the decision at hand. Get it all out.

After this, you can organize your thoughts on a new piece of paper. At the top of the page, write down clearly what you’re considering. Then add 2 columns below.

Tiffany English painting of terrier | on Art Biz Succes
©Tiffany English, Gundie. Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 x 1.5 inches.

The left column is labeled What I Have to Gain and the right column is, you guessed it, What I Have to Lose. You know what to do next. Start building your lists.

Look them over. Analyze the advantages and disadvantages. Maybe there is a clear winner and you know what to do next.

Or perhaps, as is more likely, there is a clear winner and you are still filled with doubt. It’s probably because you are facing something new and different. There is a bit of fear involved.

You would, ahem, have to take a risk.

The Zone of Discomfort

In what I refer to as the Zone of Discomfort, you seek new ideas, knowledge, and clarity. You want to test what is possible. You want to innovate, improve, increase, enhance. You want to grow.

And, as I said earlier, growth demands risk. Don’t even think about moving up a level without being prepared to face a little risk.

If, after journaling and assessing the risk, you’re still not convinced that you’re ready for the challenge, ask yourself questions that I use in these situations.

What’s the absolute best thing that can happen if I put myself in this uncomfortable situation? How would that feel?

What’s the worst that can happen if I put myself in this uncomfortable situation? If this does happen, can I live with it?

One year from today, looking back, will I be happier if I took the risk or if I played it safe? If the best scenario could happen right now, why would I postpone the results?

Why do I want this? What’s my motive?

Jenny Hope Antes watercolor painting | on Art Biz Success
©Jenny Hope Antes, October-November 2020. Watercolor on paper, 45 x 75 inches.

I hope you see in these questions that I’m not asking you to take risks simply for the sake of taking risks. I want there to be meaning behind your risk-taking. Purpose in your steps.

Nor do I want you to take too many risks at once. Exercise that risk-taking muscle as if you’re in training. There is no need to stay stay uncomfortable for long, but you do want to be there long enough to stretch your potential.

You can do this. It’s the only way to reap the rewards you seek.

Related Episodes

Artist as Problem Solver with Michael Gadlin Calculated Risks, Guaranteed Rewards with Leah Smithson What Your Failures are Teaching You with Laura Petrovich-Cheney Swirly Yellow LineIf you are ready to risk success but don’t yet have the business structure in place that would support your growth and goals, please join me for the on-demand courses, community forum, and live connections with like-minded artists in the Art Career Success System

 

This post was first published on September 1, 2008. It has been updated and expanded with original comments intact.


Music by Wildermiss

2 comments add a comment
  • […] to this floor. I made a point to visit almost every table and talk to people. This is out of my comfort zone, but critical for […]

  • This spoke to me on so many levels – I have left several groups in the last couple of years and it allowed me to concentrate on my personal growth. Huge group shows just don’t work for me anymore. But – I have been playing it safe in other areas, so I’ve decided to really take some time to invest in myself for a change. I feel a makeover coming soon! I have decided to embrace ME for a change!

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