When To Give Up On Your Art Business

[Note: The title of this post has been changed from “When to Give Up On Your Art Career.” Thanks to Charmaine and her insightful comment.]
I am not now, nor will I ever be, a cheerleader for everyone who wants to make a living as an artist.
Why? Because I don't believe everyone who is talented is cut out for the artists' life. And when I say artists' life in this instance, I mean the full-time, make-it-or-break-it artist who must make money in order to survive.

White Flag

You have to have thick skin and and iron stomach to endure the rejection and hard work that come with being an artist. Most artists weren't born with this gene, but many of you have adapted.
If you are missing the gene or haven't been able to adapt to running an art business, there is no reason to feel like a failure. Just because your best friend says your work is wonderful and “you should try to sell it” doesn't mean you should feel compelled to make a living as an artist.
It's okay to call it quits – to give up your art business – IF:

  • You find yourself making excuses around not making art or marketing it.
  • You keep breaking promises around your business.
  • You repeatedly get physically ill whenever someone criticizes your work.
  • You can't bear the thought of selling your “babies.”
  • You are consistently losing money year after year and aren't doing anything differently to make money.
  • You are resistant to personal and financial growth.
  • You think money is the root of all evil.
  • You can't say anything nice about other artists.

On its own, any one of the above is enough to doom your art business. If you can say “That's me” to more than one of them, it's time to reevaluate what you're trying to do.
Dig deep and ask yourself if you want to make money from your art.
If your resolve is strong enough, you won't quit. Instead, you'll start working on yourself. You'll adjust your expectations and identify your blocks in order to achieve better outcomes.
You'll read books, attend seminars, and work with coaches who can help you forge ahead. You'll do this because you are up to the challenge and your work has a strong message that deserves an audience.
There is no shame in making art for your own enjoyment and self-expression, but I'm pretty sure this isn't you or you wouldn't be reading my blog.

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89 thoughts on “When To Give Up On Your Art Business”

    1. I was a little nervous to read the list of “IF”s … but was happy to check off all 8 of them. Though my art biz isn’t truly up and running yet, it’s encouraging that I don’t generally struggle with any of those 8 stumbling blocks 🙂 I’m even more excited to move forward!
      ~ Jane

    2. I’m old. I’m tired. I still love painting, and have been a successful artist for 25 years (following another career of 30-odd years–do the math!). None of the reasons for quitting listed above apply to me, but I’m starting to think of quitting. It’s just so much to run a solo business and there’s simply no way I can see to just paint and forget the rest. You still need to keep inventory records, as well as financial records so you can pay your sales tax and taxes, frame and ship work to your galleries and shows, and do at least minimal marketing. I’ve quit teaching, quit the twice-a-year home and studio shows, and quit nearly all of the juried plein air competitions I used to do. Just not at all sure what’s next.

    3. Alyson Stanfield

      I don’t think you’re alone, Claudia. I really get it. What I ask artists is: How do you want your life to be? Follow that thread.

      This is a very old post and I’m curious as to how you found it and what you were searching for.

  1. Yes, yes this art business is not for sissies! Seriously…it’s another paradox of living in the real world. A kind, creative, gentle endeavor is usually served well by a hard and calloused attitude toward the lack of respect and unkindness of others. If it was easy anybody and everybody could do it…making money selling art that is!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Mike: We should have T-shirts made: “The Art Business isn’t for sissies”.
      Or “The Artist’s Life isn’t for sissies”.

  2. Very timely post, as I am sitting here pouting after finishing my taxes and filing away so much documentation I want to scream, looking hard at the numbers, pondering what changes need to be made, accepting that I need to dig a little deeper away from the studio work…..but right now I am going to mail tax documents that can not be e-filed and find chocolate, and go sit quietly in the studio.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Jeri: Looking at numbers is good. Pondering changes is excellent. Chocolate is superior!

  3. Oh, that feels good to read that, that list just does not fit for me, what a relief! My resolve is still strong, although every day I think I failed. But I definitly have to grow a thicker skin to cope with being refused by not selling. Being told all the time “Oh, you have so nice items” just doesn’t satisfiy me, I want to sell my stuff. Until I have not tried all marketing tools I have in my sleeve it’s too early anyway, isn’t it! But I think I should remember that list whenever I think of me as complete failure who should quit.

  4. I have come to realize, and I am not alone, that artists are born, not made. The history of art is strewn with artists that made all kinds of career or mistakes… Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Barnett Newman, Rembrandt, Gauguin and Munch to name just a few. Situations were found, decisions were made and in hindsight were either bad or good but I don’t think there’s anybody living today that regrets the fact that their art got made to the detriment of some part of their personal life that wasn’t working quite right. Still, all in all if a person has been making images or objects and finds himself utterly unhappy with what they’ve done, don’t want to show them to anybody, haven’t a kind word for the work of other artists, or them as people and things aren’t penciling out for them…my advice would be to bag it and wave that white flag. If on the other hand an artist is struggling in some area or multiple areas perhaps this quote by the late John Wooden who coached the UCLA Bruins to numerous NCAA basketball championships could be of help. “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” That’s why I’m taking this class because I realize my deficits and deficiencies and delegating those as I am able and doing the rest myself.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Philippe: So that others understand, you’re talking about the Cultivate Collectors class on our private blog.
      Do you think some people are born artists but still don’t have the genes to make a living at it? I guess that’s what you’re referring to.
      Curious about your list of artists here as most of them had much success in their lifetime.

    2. Sorry about any misunderstanding. Yes, I am commenting about the Cultivating Collectors class or from it. I’m trying to get a handle on all the different ways people communicate with you and with each other here at artbiz! I actually quoted the late Louise Bourgeois above who said “…artists are born, not made” and I tend to agree. I don’t mean to be negative. What I mean to say by the examples above is that some artists find themselves living in times and places where spite of their talents, the choices that they made were either bad or good in hindsight. I think most artists are very capable of making a living with their art either commercially or fine art especially given the technology that is available today. In the past there’ve been some very famous artist that made bad choices or perhaps were genetically gifted but incapable of connecting with an audience in their lifetimes. Vincent van Gogh comes to mind and if I recall correctly his sister-in-law promoted his work after his death. The abstract expressionists had no place to show their work for years and it wasn’t until later that they had financial success in in spite of their bad attitudes etc.. I believe it’s never too late to have financial success as an artist however historical circumstances, genetics and personal choices do play a role to some degree. And I am grateful like you Alyson for doing what you do to help!

  5. Yes! Selling work is a skill that can be learned, but like so many skills, not everyone is up for it. And that’s okay. I especially liked the money is the root of all evil one. In my experience that one shuts down many artists. Always wondered why?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Sarah: Do you still wonder why?
      As soon as you tell the universe that money is evil, do you think you’re going to be given more of it? You’re basically saying, “Keep that green stuff away from me!”

  6. Dare I say, one or more of these might be true for me, but dang, you should’ve told me 30 years ago! Meanwhile, I’ve done what I’ve done, do what I do, keep trying even though something isn’t quite working. I do keep trying to improve…and I’m not ready to wave any white flags. If others are so sure this is never them, more power to them…but try not to feel too high and mighty. We all have our weaknesses…(and yeah, I think Van Gogh might’ve been able to answer yes to one or two of these).

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Carol: Absolutely. But VG had brother Theo to keep him alive.
      If there’s anything I know about you it’s that you are constantly trying to learn and improve. I don’t see that any of these are a problem for you as long as you, as I say, work on them.

    2. So you do know me Alyson! 😉 Thanks! (Oh, and as I was just telling my former step mother, the Theo thing is definitely not happening with my brother!) As I say below, most artists do have other means of support, whether it’s family or teaching or another job.

  7. Yes, indeed you need to have an iron will! I always say if you aren’t being rejected you aren’t putting yourself out there enough. It’s tough to be rejected but it’s sweet to be accepted and that’s why I keep on putting my self/paintings out there. I’ve been at it a long time and my skin gets thicker every year. When I get rejected I TRY not to take it personally and remind myself about the last acceptance. When I think about giving up I know there is nothing else I would rather do then paint. I paint at least 4 days a week. So I better get to work marketing so I can sell the paintings so I can afford to keep painting!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Victoria: What is it that they say? Every rejection is one step closer to your next YES!

  8. After 30 some odd years of creating art as a business, the last 15 as the sole source of income for my household, I have had good years and bad. The past few have been exceptionally hard and I have made some changes in order to compete in the art market. I have done it all, from chuch craft fairs to the New York International Gift show. Wholesale and retail, galleries, art festivals and museum exhibits. It still boils down to having a unique style, creating art that people want and people can afford. I have made smaller items at great price points and have survived this economic turmoil. The past year I focused on online sales, so I could remain in my studio instead of wasting enormous energy and funds on travel. Yes, its a challenge, but I am happy running my own business, working my own hours and doing what I love best, creating. Since its the only thing I know how to do, I guess I will continue to be an artist!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Misha: Way to adapt! I commend you for your iron will. I do hope you continue to enjoy the studio work.

  9. This is a great list for someone just starting out like me, to know whether I can stand up to or accept the things in this list or not before I decide to go toward the full-time artist’s life. The first 2 make me stop and think the hardest: (1) You find yourself making excuses around not making art or marketing it. (2) You keep breaking promises around your business.

    1. This is the part that worries me about this list. I’ve been told by amazing artists, who seem like they would never do that, that even they struggle with the excuses…this isn’t a culture that makes it easy to not have lots of reasons to avoid art making/marketing… not sure that is a reason to give up–but the catch is the full time thing–and very few artists are living off their art alone.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Carol: We ALL struggle with the excuses. The goal is to work through them. You have to call yourself on them and keep going.

  10. Thanks for the post. guess I can keep painting. Don’t think I coul quit. Ilove the marketing almost as much as the painting. thanks for all your inspiration and great info.

  11. Sandrine Pelissier

    Very interesting post, and yes you have to have a thick skin to handle rejection. I also agree that being a successful artist is a lot of hard work ( making art and working at marketing).
    There is just something I wanted to add, for most artists making art is not so much a choice but more of a necessity, that’s why they endure the hard work, rejections and financial insecurity.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Sandrine: Agreed. But if they want to make a living and are having a hard time of it, they need to examine Why it’s so darned hard for them.

  12. Like all projects ‘being an artist’ has a developmental stage. Mine lasted six years. Yes I make art but not as frantically as I once did. Yes I built my website from scratch and I still update it at least weekly. Yes I still market and sometimes sell my art. That sometimes is the key word as it tells that there are insufficient sales for my art to be a business.
    Retirement from a full-time job and assuming the mantle of a full-time artist eventually becomes too much of an effort.
    Today I paint for my pleasure using slower longer techniques and I still run my ‘vanity website’ [ you never know and you just can’t give in!]. Yes I still follow a few of those people who I consider having something important to say and Alyson is that person!

  13. Anything entrepreneurial, not just the arts, requires the exact same skill set for marketing and handling rejection. Steve Jobs had to sell him self too, in order to achieve what he did and so do artists.
    Art students are not taught how to sell themselves.
    Building confidence is the only way that artists can get around in the world of business. The only way to get that confidence is by doing.
    The more you do something the better you get at doing it. Making art or sell art same difference.
    I think it’s the rejection that makes artist give up, quit. It can be very demoralizing and not everyone can handle that. There is no shame in creating art for arts sake.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      “There is no shame in creating art for arts sake.” Exactly!
      And any way you look at it, rejection stinks.

  14. mostly true,
    -not all artists are commercial sell-driven artists, and are still are valuable assets to the contemporary art world
    – current economy also plays a significant factor more so than it has any other time…
    it should not be a make or break indicator if an artist should keep going or not—since it does swing—if your worth/reason for being an artist is tied up only in sales–sometimes you just have periods that you have to wait out (still keep making work in your studio, and not just say I give up..)

    1. maybe a new title—when to give up on your Art Business vs. Art Career, they are not the same and should not be lumped together and generalized

    2. what if van Gogh had given up because he wasn’t making lots of $$ off his paintings?
      I know professors who don’t make an entire living off their works–and prob don’t sell a single painting in a year—-i feel that you shouldn’t always expect to do so but its not an indication of failure– and its ok to have other jobs to support yourself (part time jobs or professorships)
      =) I just realized I read your book when I was in school….

    3. Alyson Stanfield

      This is probably true and I’ll try to be more careful about differentiating them in the future. In fact, I’m going to change the title right now. And this could lead to a new post.

  15. “I am not now, nor will I ever be, a cheerleader for anyone who wants to make a living as an artist.”
    why would write and endorse a book about self promotion that is being used in universities and private art schools?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Charmaine: Do you mean “Who” would write?
      Notice that the subtitle of my book is “No-Excuse Self-Promotion”.
      You know, that sentence used to say “cheerleader for everyone”. As it is now, it can be misinterpreted, so I think I’ll change it because I don’t believe it represents my intent.
      As for your other comments above, remember that I’m talking (in this post) only about artists who want to make a living from their art. And van Gogh had Theo to take care of him, so he didn’t need to make money from sales. He did as he should have: He kept painting because he had to, which is what all artists should do.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Well, I do hope you’ll stop by again, Charmaine. I like people to disagree. It’s uncomfortable, but it moves the dialogue along and makes me think.
      I wanted you to share your site because your work is really wonderful.

  16. I think there is a big difference between starting an art business and running an art business. Actually, a business is a business whether it is art or automobiles.
    From my experience, there are different obstacles/challenges when you’re starting out that can be discouraging, than when you’re maintaining or growing an established enterprise.
    Some folks thrive in the building, but die in maintaining, while others would absolutely shine in maintenance if they could only get past the foundational effort.
    I think the criteria listed is more applicable to someone who is starting a business rather that someone who is established.

  17. Outliers! If you haven’t read it get it and read it soon. I’m currently reading this wonderful book and have to agree that it takes a good 10,000 hours to hone a skill! I’ve been working on marketing, trying to get over myself, and in the past week started asking myself some of the questions you posted in your blog. I’ve found my voice again and am now honing my focus!
    Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

  18. Just my 10 cents:
    I think what it boils down to is the “job” that an artist expects the work to do when it goes into the world. If it is meant to be a vehicle for communication and isn’t expected to put food on the table then there would be no monetary reason to give up. In that case, one best have other means of support to survive: a supportive spouse or parents, the lottery, a day job, or grant funding, etc…. on the other hand if it is deemed the sole income providing entity, especially in this economy, it is easy to want to throw in the towel and “give up”. Yet, there are artists that can ride the waves and do it all- communicate a message conceptually, sell once in a while, take part time jobs and do whatever they can to make it work moving their career along with or without art sales. Some artists have a huge investment in time, studios, materials, etc… and can’t run their practices lately the way they would have 5 years ago. The same goes for the galleries. Sales is not a taboo word. It should never be considered though when making the work, but it is as a realistic after-production goal as using the work to win a residency or spot in a prestigious exhibition. I think we are all in the same soup pot and the soup feeds a multitude of diverse end users. But there will always be talented cooks who once had the vigor and vision who just can’t handle the heat in the kitchen right now when so much is resting on their survival as an artist. There are so many contributors to cause someone to want to give up a) it’s highly competitive and not everyone is a good artist b) the internet has changed the market c) the economy is down (this comes into play even for conceptual artists who need funding) d) even when talent and commitment are a given- there’s so much more involved (hype often wins in the art world which was not always the case) e) it’s not easy being chartreuse.

  19. There’s a bit of snark to that list. Actually, I think it’s fine to keep up the art, but give up the serious biz if you just don’t enjoy the financial and/or marketing side of it. There’s also nothing wrong with doing the art biz part time. Sell as you feel like it online. With the online marketplace, there are a lot of options for making art, selling art, and the extent to which one wants to market and sell art. It’s not do or die.

    1. Kristen: I can be snarky, but I think this is not so much snarky as just “hard core.” Either way, I’ll own the description of your choice.
      But nowhere in this post do I say “do or die” or “give up the art.” The post is much more than the list and the list is only for people who want to make a full-time living as an artist (3rd paragraph).
      “There is no shame in making art for your own enjoyment and self-expression,” (final paragraph).

  20. Hi. Good list.
    I have a day job.
    I love art. I make art, I sell art.
    It’s a dedication either way.
    Whatever you do- enjoy it.

  21. There is nothing sublime in the art business. It is ruthless, arrogant, and detached from anything real. You need, talent, preparation, and no small cut of luck. And having the mentality of a bull doesn’t hurt.
    Always be aware that compliments are short lived and often a great distance lies between them. It is about the work, And only the work!!
    If you are lucky to find a niche , to feed what you really desire to do…..good on ya.
    A great poet once said; “An Artist must first have the courage, to be an Amateur”.
    I personally , learned to love the tussle.Even the slog. Not always. But there where great moments (as a Photographer) when the hard work really paid off.

  22. Wow, this is a great post.
    I have been on the fence in the past few years about what it is I want to do with this art business… the problem being that I don’t make enough money to really survive, and making it work is more exhausting than most people realize. The other side of that coin however, is that I was raised with, and still believe in, that old idea of ‘going confidently in the direction of your dreams’, following your heart, etc etc… and I’m stubborn and determined to do just that. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t go for it. So the biggest one on your list to me is the losing money part. That’s where I start to wonder if I’m just crazy to be doing this.
    The question is, if I can’t handle it, what do I do instead? Painting is the one thing I love to do more than anything else, and it’s what I’m best at above all. I cannot imagine spending 40+ hours per week doing anything. But I can spent 80 hours a week on art. I look for day jobs, and I end up with my head in my hands, depressed.
    So where does one draw the line when it’s financial sustainability on the line versus skill and real joy?
    Thanks for the food for thought! I needed this to get me thinking.

    1. Leslie: Thanks for this. Are you trying to make a living full time? Or do you have other employment right now.
      It’s great you can spend so much time making art, but where does marketing fit into your plan? How much time are you spending on marketing?
      I’m worried about your financial health. I believe that you should be making art, but you also need to find a way to secure your future.
      Good book (new!) So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. See if your library has a copy.

    2. Thanks,
      When I talk about time, I mean the whole shebang, from painting to marketing – probably 50-50 time-wise (or honestly more 60-40 in favor of marketing). I don’t mind doing it, because it’s towards my dreams. But yes, my financial health is poor, and I worry about how to fix that. Mostly I pick up part time jobs to help supplement, but that’s rarely enough, especially in terms of securing a future. I often wonder how to put my skills to use that would be more profitable, and am always brainstorming. I still sometimes wonder if I’m crazy to be trying to do this, but I seem to lack focus or passion outside of it. A huge factor has been the economy of the past while, so I hope that improves in the not too distant future.
      I will look up that book – thank you!

    3. Just a little update… I’m still working at figuring out how to actually get things to pay off, but I’ve actually started a picture book! Finally! (www.leslieallyn.com/spectra)

  23. You may give up if you consider art to be a way too make a living. If you feel that making art is a way of life, you just cannot give it up whatever may.
    My art making is my way of knowing and communicating.
    I want to speak sincerely, authentically. I am humble to the world outside, but the empress of my inward story. If you like what I say, I am very grateful. If you think enough of my art pieces to make them yours, you become a partner in my voyage. What will I do if I ever give it up?

    1. Lea: Hmmm. I’m trying to reconcile this comment with the fact that this post is for artists who want to make a living from their art. Are you saying that they shouldn’t try?

  24. I think down deep we all know a few things-
    rewards ultimately will come from doing what we love- if one keeps beating their head against a wall and is unsuccessful in any job eventually it won’t be what they love.
    And the best rewards come from the most challenges and the hardest of tasks. So sticking with it in the face of all odds (everything has odds) and working through any barriers is the best way to be successful. If you drop out of the game you lose if you play hard and honest your odds are better. Connections and mainstay are key.
    Living a passion and PS: it’s a business or PS: it’s my career should be music to all of our ears.
    But the current canon for authenticity is to make work and not care about the market- I think that is unrealistic as who doesn’t think about what to do with it when its done- we are not living in a bubble. We all have end goals.

  25. Jessie J – Price Tag :
    ” It’s not about the money, money, money
    We don’t need your money, money, money
    We just wanna make the world change,
    Forget about the Price Tag. ”
    This song speaks to me, does it speak to you?…I’m a Vase (Visual Artist Self-Employed)…

  26. on your list, losing money is my only issue…and it’s made me want to give up many times. but really getting clear about what i wanted, focusing exclusively on my graphite drawings this past year, consistently learning about the business/marketing side, and putting in the time has made all the difference. this will be my first year since i made the decision 5 years ago to go for being a full time, financially successful artist that i will have made money after expenses. your blog, advice and e-course have helped tremendously…i am very blessed because it’s been an amazing journey so far, despite the struggles at times!!

  27. If the external rewards; money, winning awards, etc. become counterproductive… killing or dampening the creative spirit, then ask “why?”. To be a successful artist/business person the external and internal rewards have to be balanced. The lucky artist who has financial and emotional patronage might never have to wrestle with the same challenges the self supporting artist faces but the reasons for wanting to succeed with the business end of art remains the same.. the external rewards, the green stuff and the blue ribbons are direct evidence that your work is appreciated and desired by an audience. For me internal motivation works hand in hand with the external. There are times when I am happy just making art for my “self” but I want and have a need for tangible practical external appreciation… that is what pushes me and keeps me motivated with the business end, otherwise I would probably be a “Sunday” painter. Someone has to pay for supplies, food and a roof over my head. I have been through plenty of permutations of the artist balancing act for money and keeping up with the art; non creative part time jobs, teaching, creative part time and full time jobs to finally realize the best format for me is the hard scrabble world of working for myself and making it work

  28. Interesting timing, Alyson.
    I’m taking a longer break than I expected from marketing my art. All I want to do is be in my studio, playing, exploring, creating. Between my day job and family/friends, creating art is squashed in between pages of a sketchbook way too often. At least creating art gets crammed into my life.
    The items that fit me right now:
    You find yourself making excuses around marketing it.
    You keep breaking promises around your business.
    So I’ve been taking the step you have at the end of your post:
    You’ll read books, attend seminars, and work with coaches who can help you forge ahead. You’ll do this because you are up to the challenge and your work has a strong message that deserves an audience.
    For now, I will allow myself to create art. When I return to blogging, etc., it will be in a much simpler style than before…because right now this is what I need. 2012 is for quiet. 2013 is to gear up for rediscovering an audience for my art.
    Very timely, indeed.

  29. I moved to Houston about 3 years ago and since then I’ve been saying, “I’m going to really try and get my work out there now”. However, I’ve wasted a lot of precious time with excuses and my lack of discipline has gotten me almost to the point of giving up. My biggest excuse has always been that because I keep a full time job for obvious reasons, I’m often too tired and find it hard to dedicate the time that it takes.
    Well back in June I got laid off and have not found a new job since. Not that I’ve been looking per se. I’m fortunate to not be on my own at the time and for the first time in my life feel fully supported enough to rough it out and work full time on my art. It’s scary, especially for someone like me. I’ve always been financially independent and to depend and rely on someone else is very difficult for me. But I’ve decided to take advantage of my situation and make the best of it. I almost feel like its do or die for my art as a business right now.
    So I’ve got my big girl panties on now and I’m doing all I can to learn, grow, market, and work as hard as I have in the past in my regular “jobs”. So thank you so much for this post and all you share with us. I’m re-reading your book now (I bought like a year ago and got half-way through it) and I hope to report my progress as it happens.
    I send you gratitude, thoughts of peace and a great big HUG!

  30. Alyson, your posts are always powerful and make me think.
    At the moment I’m trying to improve my art, find my “voice”, and I observe other artists, what works for them and what doesn’t. This way, I will try to avoid their mistakes.
    Although I have taken myself out of the “game” ( because I want to experiment and improve), I still post my latest paintings on my blog and Facebook page. I have a full time job at the moment but I see myself “back in the game” one day!
    You are my fave blog author and I have your “I’d Rather Be in the Studio” book. I look forward to your posts each week and even the tinyest tidbits give me some inspiration.
    Never ever ever give up! 🙂

  31. Hi Alyson, It’s been a while since I wrote you. I am now 67 years old and have had a long ride as a working artist. It has been difficult but also rewarding and very worth the struggle (even though there have also been plenty of rejections). Lately, however, I have had the urge to slow down. I am not reading as many art business books, blogs, newsletters, etc. and after this past year of a very busy painting, exhibiting, selling schedule I thought about not doing anything for a while. It is very relaxing not to have a deadline to meet for a change. Then last night I got a call from a gallery up this way offering me a show in February. Here we go again:-) My stomach will be knotted up by the time of the show, I’ll wonder if I can make back the money I’ve put into doing the show, and if it is all worth the effort, but I also know I would be pretty annoyed with myself if I don’t take this opportunity. What did John Lennon say? “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

  32. Alyson, thiis post is truly helpful to me.
    I’ve been selling my art as a business since 1994, writing articles for art magazines, instructional books, etc… The item I identify with is making excuses around making art. I do OK with deadlines for instructional materials and commissions, but I’m not like my artist friends who say they would die if they were not able to ,ake their art. I’m simply not motivated the way they are.
    Im way more motivated to teach art principles and create work in order to meet this end. My genetics definitely threw in a social gene, and that piece of DNA enjoys helping others grow. After having many talks with my hubby, I decided to paint for demonstration and just for my own satisfaction. I’ve worked with galleries, but never had a large enough body of work to readily replace sold works.
    After 15 years of trying to create an ongoing body of work, but not meeting the demand, I’ve de died that it’s OK if I’m not a full time artist. Although I have sold work over the years, with and without galleries, it’s OK if I no longer do that. I’m happy when other artists succeed at doing so! I’d rather teach.
    And although I’ve often heard that those that ‘can’t’ teach… I can create professional work. I just prefer to focus my time on creating art instructional materials. It’s taken me way too many years to finally realize that I can’t focus on more than one facet of an art business. Something’s gotta give.
    Know what? While I enjoy selling work, it’s been a real pleasure to just paint for my own pleasure. Perhaps that’s something selling artists might do once in awhile to release the pressure valve for a time.
    Thanks again… Very helpful thinking, Alyson.

    1. Just to clarify… I’m not saying that making a living by selling art is a bad thing. I have many friends who do so and are happy. I plan to continue to make a living as an art educator… Which is just a different stream of revenue than selling artwork alone.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Lori: I’m so happy you found this helpful. And that you have decided to focus on teaching. You’re obviously good at it and enjoy it. I predict you will bloom even further!

  33. I think it was a good article. I thought I was going to get enough community teaching work to keep myself afloat but the class I had been teaching for a year closed. I also thought I would enjoy demonstrating to art clubs and no matter how hard I’ve worked at them, I keep missing the mark. I have an opportunity to do a talk about my work to a small watercolour group and actually I’m looking forward to it! I guess what I’m saying is, as you do, you don’t have to do everything but you do have to do something. And that is okay!

  34. I am amazed at how this post (I first saw it over a week ago) seems to be wiggling its way around in my brain and won’t go away. As a full time graduate art student, the thoughts noodle me more because I am NOT a business, and then I reminded that I am a business. Every day peers, professors, visiting artists, critics and all other visitors to our studios perceive me and my commitment to art – in essence affecting the business of my art. I am my own brand whether I care to pay attention to that each day or not. I think will be considering this post for a while….
    Somewhat related article: http://blogs.hbr.org/kanter/2012/10/12-guidelines-for-deciding-whe.html

    1. Hey Suzanne, What I love about that article you linked to in your comment above is the ‘middle part is ugly’ part…I can’t tell you how many times I am in the middle of something & it is in its ‘looks ugly looks like it is going to fail’ part…I love the encouragement to recognize the ugly failing middle & to press on past that…Have a solo show coming up & I started to think that my works were all awful…So I re-hung them in my home for now, just so I can stare at them in proper lighting & temperature…Turns out they are great…They just needed some love…

  35. Just read your book, aaaamazing!!!!! I was afraid to read this blog post. I didn’t want it to say go back to your hotel job, this life isn’t for you!! I have to say I feel more confident after reading it. I am just starting my art career, I teach part time and do freelance and commission work but I am trying to build a complete body of work. This is harder than I thought it would be, but so far I am learning a lot. I soooo want this to work. fingers crossed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Thank you again, Alyson!
    I think it’s important for some artists to know that it’s ok not to make a living as an artist, and that it doesn’t mean they’re too scared or too soft to hack it. It just isn’t for everybody.
    As soon as you decide to make a living as an artist, you have to keep a client in mind, which can affect the art you’re making, and means spending a lot of time marketing, selling, networking (on no! lol!), and yes, letting ‘your babies’ go. That stuff can suck all the enjoyment out of art-making for many. It’s ok to make art for the love of it and for yourself, without having to consider a buyer.
    That being said. I love to talk to people about my art. I love making money from it. I love the enjoyment people get from my shows and I make ‘my babies’ for them. So I’m in it to stay!
    And I appreciate all the help I’m getting from your blog, tweets and your bootcamp, to make it happen!
    Big Thank You! Alyson!

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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