Beware of Poisonous Relationships

The second principle of no-excuse self-promotion, according to I’d Rather Be in the Studio is:

Connections are critical to your success. To succeed, you must make an effort to meet new people and to maintain relationships.

But not all connections are equal. Some connections can be detrimental to your art, your emotional well-being, and your growth.
When you are successful, not everyone will be happy for you. This can be scary.
Some people prefer that you stay the same. Other artists might become jealous.
They are uncomfortable witnessing your increased recognition and income. They might even be threatened that you are playing a bigger game – especially if it means that you are finding new friends.
You aren’t conforming to their tiny idea of what an artist’s life should be like.
Beware of these poisonous relationships and don’t allow your success to be defined by the limitations others put on you.
Think about the people you spend the most time with. When you leave their presence, do you feel good about yourself and your future? If not, you have an obligation to do something about it.
You must do what you can to protect your self-worth, your momentum, your energy, and your vision.
If you belong to an artist organization where members complain about marketing, get out!
You do not want to be the only person in the room dragging everyone along. This is draining. You will either burn out or, worse, succumb to their way of thinking.
If your artist friends are blaming their lack of success on the economy, get new artist friends!
The chances are good that they will never accept responsibility for their actions and, therefore, never expand.
If family members try to hold you back with their pessimistic outlook, set boundaries!
Tell them which topics are off limits and that you will only discuss your art career if they can be encouraging.
You may still love these people, but you don’t have to spend the majority of your time with them.
Fill your calendar with positive, supportive people who seek to improve their lives while making the world a better place to live. Before you know it, you won’t have any time remaining for the naysayers.


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50 thoughts on “Beware of Poisonous Relationships”

  1. hi Alyson,
    thank you for sharing all your wonderful material and energy.
    Recently, I’ve had my work in shows, and have heard a frequently
    recurring comment of “oh, I don’t have any talent for art.” or “I wish
    I had that talent.” accompanied by a Eeyore sad face. I then
    feel I need to bolster their self-esteem by saying, “I’m sure
    you have many other talents, this is one I love and have worked
    hard to develop.” I end up feeling bad for being good at what
    I do. Would really like another alternative, and appreciate
    any thoughts you may have in advance.

    1. perfect! It has made me realize what other artists go through when they put themselves out there in the public. I make sure to complement other winners in contests, events, etc. even though its something I’ve entered and was declined. The self-talk that goes in between is getting less. (they are better artists, they have more advantages, etc.) The artist’s life really is a self-created life and success, and I’m proud of myself for entering more things and getting out there more. So happy to have found your blog and facebook, there are real gems of encouragement and great practical advice.

  2. I follow a blog called Successify and he recently addressed this topic.
    It’s a fine line one walks between being comfortable with ones success and achievement and being labeled by others as a braggart. I choose not to listen to the naysayers. I AM my business. I built it and without me it doesn’t exist. And just as I AM my business, I AM my own success. Anyone who says otherwise is diminishing me and therefore not given the time of day.

  3. Being an indie/outlaw artist. I get away from negative people.
    If a person ain’t spending no cash and talks trash, I delete them.
    I pay the cost to be the boss, of my art life.
    I find too many people criticize and never subsidize.
    I art on , on purpose. Had to say it.

  4. I have two main people to impress as an artist.
    The energy company and the supermarket.
    Just Sayin.’

  5. I have caught myself feeling & acting like these poisonous people and it isn’t fun. I never had issues with jealousy or envy until it came to sales and would like to see an article on getting rid of these unwanted emotions that are holding me back!
    Success always seems so easy for others!

    1. Thanks! Excellent advice! And just what I needed today!
      To be honest with you I have learned it is best to admit to my friends that I am terribly happy for them but oh so jealous and that seems to help….trying to hold it in or control it just seemed to feed the monster!
      Thanks Roopa! And yes…I use it to inspire me to try new things and keep searching!just keep moving forward!!!

    2. Gwen, the fact that you are honest and brave enough to admit and recognize that you have these feelings is a great start. You are being true to yourself. You are not alone having such feelings because you are still trying hard to make a place for yourself. The only positive way to deal with these consuming negative emotions is to produce MORE CREATIVE ART and get busy doing it. Like the song goes “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Your success will definately come sooner than you think, and when it does, remember not to rub it in on those who are struggling to make a place for themselves. Help them soar if you can and promote them every chance you get. Be the “wind beneath their wing”.

  6. Thanks for sharing this Alyson. I think we usually know this to be true but forget and get caught in the downward spiral at shows, forums, marketing groups…. I find getting more with honey is very true.

  7. Saying that it is a “bad economy” is an easy out phrase for anyone to explain why they aren’t selling. Cultivate friendships outside your circle; successful non art venue business owners. There are amazing, creative folks in all types of markets.
    Join your Chamber of Commerce to meet them. One of the most rewarded, upbeat biz owners in my area sells ice cream on the corner.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Paula: “Bad economy” is an excuse I hear from many artists. It translates as “it’s okay if I don’t do any marketing.”

  8. This is a wonderful post. I was divorced over this subject. I was in partnership with my ex in a photography studio. When I started getting more clients and referrals, he locked my out of the studio and sold my cameras! It took a while for me to realize that he did me the greatest favor ever!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Barbara: Yipes! Good riddance!
      Another client sent me this email:
      Boy timing is everything. This morning your topic was toxic relationships. And moving on from them. You have no idea that That is exactly what I have had to do. However, it is not breaking relationship with other artists, but rather with my spouse. There were problems in the relationship before but when I found my art and my passion again, evidently it became threatening to my husband. He never quite got me anyway, as he is very left brained. It appears that my free spirited mind that had been boxed up for decades was something he could not understand or worse control. Through my art and the incredible support of the art community that I avoided for so long, I have my voice back and won’t be silenced again. It does not fit with his outdated understanding of me. So we are going to have a trial separation as we do not want to just end it and rip apart our lives. Slow unraveling will take place now that he realizes this is no passing fancy. I must find out who I am and how to stand on my own two feet. So your article was really very timely for me. I’m still a work in progress, and now will have more time to Be in the studio where I want to be. (Still hate the marketing aspect,) but I have made some incredible friends who are rallying around me, now sending commissions to me, and most of all emotional support. I am humbled by the response from them. And I have not met any of them in person. You’re pushing me outside my comfort zone at the seminar last year was the catalyst to realizing who I am and I think you have seen me progress. Again, thank you Alyson. You touch more lives in many ways that you aren’t even aware of.

  9. If your artist friends are blaming their lack of success on the economy, get new artist friends!

  10. An eye-opening post Alyson. Just recently, I have lost two of my close acquaintances from my facebook Artist Page [as fans] due to the very fact that I am getting a lot of recognition and support on my Art. It did not take me long to realize “WHY”. I chose to respond to this rather hurtful event by creating more wonderful art and writing more blogs on what I do as an Artist. I have accepted the fact that I simply cannot please everyone. As the saying goes “Nothing succeeds like success”. I agree.

  11. Hi Alyson,
    Super post. I think the same is true of clients. In the commission business I read that Lucian Freud could smell a difficult client in advance. The answer to that problem seems to be a very well crafted contract signed by both the artist and the client before the work begins. Each time a new difficulty arises, it’s a learning process. By now my contract is pretty clear and comprehensive. I’ve learned from other artists. Great clients start out loving your work, are helpful all through the portrait commission process, and jump up and down and hug you when the work is done because all portraits really are collaborative work, and pay on time. I have been lucky to have super clients for the most part, and I’m grateful for that.
    XO Barbara

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      YES! And the clearer you are with the contract and expectations, the happier your relationships will be.
      They do just the opposite (support the relationship) of what most people think they do (get in the way).

  12. I had a client email and ask what she should do because her blog post outranked the person’s website she mentioned in the post. This person wanted her to remove the post so she would again appear higher in Google rankings.
    I told her that it’s a bit of work to get something from Google removed once it is indexed especially to make up for another sites shortcomings. Better this person work on their own site.
    Then I found this really cool text image that I unfortunately can post here, but I sent it to her. It read…
    Don’t let someone dim your light, simply because it’s shining in their eyes.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      And what an interesting dilemma that I never heard of before. It will hopefully teach the other person to get her stuff together.

    2. She was in a bit of a turmoil because the other person was a colleague and friend. I provider her with some info that she could pass a long to help the other work on her site. In the end it was a win win.

  13. Good topic.
    I never expected anyone would ever be jealous of me! So, the couple of times I was aware of it, it really surprised me. You learn who’s harmful, and they are figuratively shut out. There is a big difference between shutting out toxic people, and shutting out what you just don’t want to hear though. I think artists need to be pretty pragmatic and not just go looking only for people who will say nice things, either.
    Successful artists inspire me. It means it’s possible, and it’s worth learning from them. Jealousy would be counterproductive; it would only serve to keep us down, it would not allow us to see how we might advance.
    It is true that selling in a bad economy is harder, but it’s better to discuss ways around it than just give up. Happily, I am finding discussions about that rather than woe-is-me type stuff.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Cindy: Oh, absolutely. As you said, big difference. I think we know when someone is trying to help us and when they are trying to smack us down.

  14. It turns out my first art teacher has become the most downer in my art world. It took a long time to see how much see was hurting me.
    Now I just avoid her or leave a place she shows up.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Marie: How sad is that? Unfortunately, it’s not the first time I’ve heard that a teacher was a downer.

  15. For me, it is a simple rule I live by. I nether give or have time, for anyone who is waisting my life. In this article you have spelled it out very nicely. Much thanks, Moses

  16. Nicely said, Alyson, and I think very pertinent to me. I am really focusing on networking this year- because I see how much those great relationships can do for your career and your enjoyment of life. But I do get the toxic comments. From last night’s dinner party:” You should keep your other career active, what if the painting thing doesn’t take off?” and I sat on that for about 30 minutes. Then, I slyly said, “You know, I sold 27 paintings last year.” The man’s jaw dropped. I think I am going to use those numbers when I need to!

  17. Great Post, and very timely.
    I have long used the description of 2 types of friends – Drains and Radiators.
    What takes the time is extracting oneself from the “drains”. Or the conversion of people who are not sure you can really make it. I’ve now made it and my father is pleasantly surprised and is now supportive.
    So have FAITH! Keep working and trust the process.
    Oh, and gather more “radiators”.
    Thanks for your great posts, as always.

  18. At the end of the month, when the bills are due, the petty people ain’t around. So I say again-ART ON!!!! Had to say it.

  19. Ann Marie Scott

    Oh boy you have NO idea. I actually had trouble reading this as it’s so true and painful in my situation. I live in an artists neighborhood and one person I’d asked to write me a recommendation said in so many words…I should forget it because no one would ever fund work like mine. Others have been supportive but I’m a realist painter and that is definitely frowned upon in general and in favor of abstraction. On the other hand to be honest I constantly blame the I will make that change in myself. I’ve recently been set free from all job commitments and will make a BIG change…go to where my work & self are supported. Now to figure out where that is!

  20. Claudia Coudert

    Hello Alison,
    I know exactly, what you are saying. Very often I felt that way. I am a woman, a friend, a daughter, a mother. But I have my goals. Do they always fit into others goals and schedules? Mostly not. Acting contrary to the classical picture as a woman (at least as in Europe) and still remaining as the same friendly person is often a tightrope walk. I read your book almost every day and I look forward to every newsletter from you. Each set of you gives me strength anew. I love my family, like my friends and colleagues, but my art has priority. With your support I stay sane.

  21. Martha Brickett

    Hi Alyson,
    As always, you’ve nailed it! Having found out recently how fragile and poisonous life can be, I cannot afford the time, energy, drain and especially distraction from what I love. And boy it can come up and bite you without any warning. Sort of like the hordes of Maine black flies that are currently waiting just outside my kitchen window. Yikes! Looks like it will be an indoor day.

  22. Katherine Ernst

    Alyson, all the posts are sad but true. Yes, longtime friends do not like you to change. One does not have to be successful for it to happen. I waited until the children were finally launched to realize my dream and nothing will stop me now.
    Whenever parting from a certain friend as well as siblings, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth and became tired of apologizing for my “talent” and luck.It took some time to realize their happiness was not my problem.Was sad to see it happen but art is the most important part of my life now. Happily I belong with a group of artist who are very supportive and sustain each other. Something I keep in mind is, whenever the elderly are interviewed about life and questioned about regrets, many say, “The road not taken”!

  23. Ms. Stanfield,
    I have been reading your publications both print & online for some time. There is one caution I would like to make to you about “poisonous people.” Sometimes bad feelings are misinterpretations, often those that challenge points of view or philosophy are easily viewed as negative.
    Just because I or anyone doesn’t like what someone has to say doesn’t make it irrelevant. Those that are unhappy often reveal themselves in many faucets, not just how they relate to or view success of another.
    Eric Korbly

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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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