Fantasies Artists Have About
How the Art World Works
Many artists have fantasies about how the art world works as they anticipate success and the ability to live their artistic lives fabulously happily ever after. Perhaps they will, but the only way any artist ever accomplishes that goal is to work really hard, persevere regardless of adversity, make the best art they can possibly make (and plenty of it), and appreciate the realities of what being a successful artist is all about.
Keep in mind that the following list of artist fantasies has nothing to do with making art, your inspirations, or creative process-- that's sacred ground. You can have all the fantasies you want while hard at work in your studio, and in fact you should. But once your art is complete and ready to debut to the world, fantasies can really trip you up. Here are some of the more common ones that can potentially put a crimp in your art world ascendency, along with their corresponding realities:
Fantasy: All I have to do is wait for inspiration; then I can start making art.
Reality: Serious artists wait for nothing. They know that as long as they keep making art, everything else will fall into place.
Fantasy: All I have to do is make art and the business part will take care of itself.
Reality: If you expect to make a living making art, someone will have to handle the business part. Until you get representation or galleries start showing your art, that someone will have to be you.
Fantasy: All I have to do is make art, not worry about publicizing or showing it, and sooner or later someone will discover me.
Reality: No one can "discover" you without seeing your art first. They only way for that to happen is for you to present it to the public, both online and at physical locations.
Fantasy: All I have to do is get my art in front of the "right" people.
Reality: You've got it backwards. Keep making art, putting it out there, attracting attention, and sooner or later the "right" people will find you.
Fantasy: All I have to do is find a gallery or agent so I can spend all my time in the studio making art.
Reality: A big part of succeeding as an artist is to make yourself accessible and available to anyone who wants to contact or communicate with you about your art. In fact, the better known you get, the more time you'll likely have to spend outside the studio engaging with the public.
Fantasy: The only way to get known is for a gallery to represent me.
Reality: The only way for a gallery find out about you is for you to get yourself known enough to come up on their radar. And if they like what they see, they'll offer to represent you. You start; they'll finish.
Fantasy: Artists should never show their art anywhere that's not a gallery.
Reality: The more places you show your art-- galleries, alternative venues, online, or otherwise-- the more people will see it. That includes galleries and people who know people who own or work at galleries. The pickier you are about where you show, the fewer people will see your art, including galleries.
Fantasy: All I have to do is get my art into a gallery and someone will buy it.
Reality: Showing at a gallery is no guarantee that anyone will buy anything. Galleries do the best they can to show art they think they can sell, but they're not always right.
Fantasy: All I need is a solo show at a good gallery and I'll be successful.
Reality: One solo show does not make an art career. Success comes to those who keep the great shows coming over extended periods of time.
Fantasy: There is a perfect gallery or dealer out there who will see my art, instantly love it and give me a show.
Reality: Ideal outcomes like that do not exist. If a gallery shows interest in your art, they have a good reputation, and you get along reasonably well, go for it. Hopefully things will go well and "perfection" will evolve over time. As for now, you never know what you might be passing up if you set your expectations too high and turn offers down.
Fantasy: I won't show my art at just any gallery, only good galleries.
Reality: "Good galleries" show good artists. Hold up your end of the deal and you'll get exactly what you want.
Fantasy: My art is good enough to show at the best galleries in the world.
Reality: As long as the rest of the art world agrees, then the best galleries will show your art.
Fantasy: All I have to do is get my work reviewed in (name of major art website or critic's column or art publication) and I'll be famous.
Reality: One great show or review does not make an artist famous. Many great shows and reviews make artists famous.
Fantasy: All I need are names of collectors so I can start making sales.
Reality: You've got it backwards. Collectors find you; you don't find them. The way they do that is to discover your art, get interested, search you online, and if they like what they see, contact you.
Fantasy: All I need are names and contact information of galleries so I can start getting shows.
Reality: No amount of contact information will get you anywhere unless your art warrants it. And if it does, chances are good that interested galleries will notice and find you anyway, whether you have their contact information or not.
Fantasy: Asking art people who I admire but don't really know for names and numbers of galleries, dealers, agents, representatives or other professionals who might be able to help me in my art career is a good idea.
Reality: Asking complete strangers to risk their reputations or trusted relationships by referring artists they know nothing about has no upside for them and makes zero sense.
Fantasy: All I have to do is introduce myself to influential curators, critics, gallery owners or collectors, give them my contact information, and they'll get in touch with me.
Reality: You may be right, assuming you and your art are as influential as they are, and you give them a good reason to contact you. Otherwise, don't count on it.
Fantasy: I have a great idea for a show; now I can start contacting galleries about having it. I'll make the art when I get the show.
Reality: Galleries show art, not ideas. No art = no show.
Fantasy: Even though I only have (put a small number here) finished pieces of art, I'm ready to start contacting galleries for shows.
Reality: Hardly any art means hardly anything for galleries to show or sell, means hardly any chance of them offering you any kind of exposure or show.
Fantasy: All I have to do is email major art websites, social media influencers, publications, critics, or writers, show them my art, and they'll write about me.
Reality: Give them something worth writing about that will appeal to their audiences and maybe they will. The fact that you are an artist and you make art is not enough.
Fantasy: All I have to do is show my art to (name of influential art person), and they'll realize how good I am and make me famous.
Reality: The only person who can make you famous is you. Do a good job making art that gets noticed, and others will eventually step in to help.
Fantasy: I can find a patron or benefactor who will support me so I can make whatever art I want to make whenever I want to make it.
Reality: Patrons or benefactors generally ask for things in return before handing over the cash. So be prepared to make a deal.
Fantasy: Someone will come to my studio and buy all of my work.
Reality: Start with selling them a single piece and work your way up from there.
Fantasy: Real artists (aka true artists) never market or promote their own art.
Reality: Someone's got to call attention to it, and until you have representation, that someone has to be you. BTW, how do you tell the difference between a "real" or "true" artist and all the other artists out there?
Fantasy: True artists (aka real artists) don't do social media.
Reality: Having an online presence is currently the number one best way by far for artists to get their art noticed. Good luck getting known and getting somewhere without one.
Fantasy: Having an online profile is bad for my art career.
Reality: Elitist art school myth.
Fantasy: Cultivating an online following is a waste of time.
Reality: See above.
Fantasy: No one shops for art online.
Reality: Everyone shops for art online. They may end up buying it in person, but they usually find out about it online first.
Fantasy: No serious collectors look for art online.
Reality: All serious collectors, galleries, and fine arts professionals look for art and artists online. Why? Because they don't want to miss anything. Personal communications and visits come later.
Fantasy: No one buys art online.
Reality: Plenty of people buy art online... and in all price ranges. And the number of online sales is only increasing.
Fantasy: My art will sell itself.
Reality: No art sells itself. Someone has to sell it, and until you get representation, that someone will have to be you.
Fantasy: I should never have to sell my art. Other people should sell it for me.
Reality: You have to sell it first. Do that successfully and others will eventually sell it for you.
Fantasy: My art is worth whatever price I put on it.
Reality: Maybe to you, but unless you can prove it to potential buyers as well, you're not going to make any sales.
Fantasy: The higher I price my art, the more people will respect it.
Reality: Unless you can make a good solid case for your prices, the only thing they'll respect is your chutzpah.
Fantasy: Selling my art is not important.
Reality: As long as you've got a good paying job or are independently wealthy.
Fantasy: Everyone should know who I am.
Reality: Keep churning out the hits and sooner or later they will.
Fantasy: I should never have to explain my art.
Reality: No one buys art they can't understand. It's your decision whether or not to help them understand it.
Fantasy: The harder my art is to understand, the more people will respect it.
Reality: You mean the more people won't understand it.
Fantasy: People who don't understand my art are not worth my time.
Reality: Anyone who shows interest in your art is worth your time. You never know who might turn out to be a buyer, patron, or dedicated collector.
Fantasy: People who don't like my art have no taste.
Reality: Not true. They have different tastes.
Fantasy: My art stands on its own; I don't have to answer any questions about it.
Reality: The more questions you answer about it, the better it will stand on its own.
Fantasy: My art speaks for itself; I don't have to say a thing.
Reality: Only if you make talking art.
Fantasy: My art has something important to say regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Reality: Hopefully, the more art you make and the more convincingly you make your case for its importance, the more people will agree with you.
Fantasy: I'm better than (put name of famous artist here).
Reality: Those kinds of judgments are best left to others.
Fantasy: There's no art scene where I live; I have to show somewhere else.
Reality: Start by showing your work online and see how people respond. Hopefully they'll notice and you'll eventually get offers to show in other places. FYI, for some artists, living in "no art scene" locations actually works for rather than against them.
Fantasy: There's no art scene where I live; I have to move somewhere else.
Reality: This may be something to consider if people are already noticing and buying your art. Even so, make sure you have at least six months to a year of living expenses saved up before taking the leap.
Fantasy: I'd be more productive if I had more money and a better studio.
Reality: Serious artists are productive no matter what the challenges.
Fantasy: I'd be more productive if I had a gallery representing me.
Reality: You have it backwards. You have to be productive first. Then hopefully galleries will start noticing you. Galleries rarely show art by artists who are not regularly creating new work.
Fantasy: I can't find the time to make art because (put favorite excuse here).
Reality: Dedicated committed artists always find the time.
Fantasy: I can't be successful because I'm too old.
Reality: It's all about the art. How old you are makes no difference as long as people like what they are looking at.
Fantasy: I can't be successful because I didn't go to art school.
Reality: It's not about your education; it's about your art. Self-taught artists achieve significant levels of recognition and success all the time.
Fantasy: The more difficult I am to be around, the more people will respect me.
Reality: Don't confuse respect with toleration. Furthermore, people will tolerate you only as long as there's something in it for them.
Fantasy: Real artists (aka true artists) are condemned to lives of poverty, sacrifice, and being misunderstood.
Reality: Not true. Plenty of artists are able to either make respectable livings from their art or supplement their incomes with regular sales.
Fantasy: Artists who are highly successful and make lots of money are sellouts.
Reality: They make lots of money because lots of people really like their art and want to own it. Hopefully one day less successful artists will call you a sellout too.
Fantasy: I'm way ahead of my time; the world just hasn't caught up yet.
Reality: Be patient and just keep making art. If you're right, they'll begin to see the light and catch up soon enough.
Fantasy: Artists only get famous after they die.
Reality: Artists get famous while they're alive... and stay famous after they die. Get busy now and save the afterlife for later.
The better you understand the realities of art world, the more comfortable you'll be with your chosen calling. So persevere, face challenges head-on, go for it, and best wishes for success with your art!
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