How Not to Succeed

As an Artist

I've advised, communicated, and spoken at length with many many thousands of artists over the decades, and during that time have observed a number characteristics that unsuccessful artists have in common. Of course, success means all kinds of things to all kinds of artists. Whatever it means to you, and in case you're looking for more of it than less, here's a list of things NOT to do.

* Make as little art as possible and have plenty of excuses ready to go about why you haven't made more.

* Only make art when inspiration strikes. The less often it strikes, the better.

* Obsess over what other people might think of your art.

* Take criticism or opinions of your art way too seriously. Or do the exact opposite and never listen to anything anyone tells you at all.

* Get discouraged easily. Good things to get discouraged about include not having enough time to make art, lack of sales, having to work another job, something someone said about your art, etc.

* Try and make whatever you think is hot, popular, or in demand by collectors. If you're not sure what that art looks like, ask people whenever possible. This way, you can be sure you're making art for everyone but you.

* Believe you can find someone to do all the dirty work of selling, marketing, maintaining your online profile, and so on regardless of your resume, experience, or what stage you're at in your career.

* Learn as little as possible about the business of art. Believe that knowing something about how the art business works is beneath you.

* Don't spend time thinking or reflecting about what you're working on or what direction you're going in with your work.

* Have all kinds of plans for how much money you're going to make, which galleries and museums you want to show in, what collectors you want to own your art, how expensive your art will get, etc. Do this regardless of what point you're at in your career or how many finished pieces you have.

* Only make art when time permits and make sure that art-making is at or near the bottom of your things-to-do-list when time permits.

* Never accept any shows or offers to be represented by galleries or other art venues you think aren't good enough for you.

* Always believe that you know best, not the gallery or galleries or anyone else who might want to show or represent your art.

* Think about how much money you want to make first and everything else second.

* Always have excuses ready when people ask questions about some aspect of your art, output, or art career.

* Avoid social media. Believe that no artists who are any good use it. If anyone asks, tell them you "don't do that," you hate it, you think it's stupid, or that you can't bother learning how to use it.

* Tell people that posting on social media is a pointless waste of time.

* If you post on social media, make one or two posts per month at the most. Or make a handful of posts when you first set up your page, and then never update or post anything else again.

* Blame other people (or the art world in general) for not doing as well as you think you should be doing.

* Believe that you're ahead of your time or that people are incapable of understanding your art.

* Believe that you're as good or better than (name of famous artist).

* Endlessly search for rich, important or influential people to buy, show or write about your art and ignore everyone else.

* Believe that you're good enough to start out at the top and don't have to work your way up.

* No matter what stage you're at in your career, regularly contact museums about showing your art.

* Only contact the world's top galleries regardless of what stage you are at in your career.

* Don't worry about having a sense of direction or thoughts or ideas about where you're headed with your art.

* Always try to sell your art for as much money as possible.

* Believe your art is worth a certain amount and never sell for less regardless of how much someone loves it and wants to own it.

* Refuse to negotiate your asking prices.

* Keep all of your originals and only sell prints.

* Wait at least two to three weeks between making new art or working on art that's already in progress. That way you'll have trouble remembering what you were thinking and doing the last time you were actively creating. If you stick with this approach, you'll not only have to regularly spend time getting back in practice, but you'll also likely end up creating a choppy and disjointed body of work.

* Avoid having conversations about your art and if anyone asks you any questions, just tell them your art means whatever they want it to mean.

* Create randomly rather than purposefully.

* Refuse to make new work in series or groups or in any other related ways because you think you'll get bored making the same art over and over and over again.

* Be such a perfectionist that much of your art takes months or even years to complete.

* Constantly rework older art that you've already finished because you see things that you can do better now than when you first made it.

* Believe that all you have to do is create art, and that sooner or later you'll be discovered.

* If you have a good idea for a show or exhibition, immediately start talking to galleries and/or museums about giving you a show. Do this whether or not you've made any of the art.

* Be really picky about where you show your art regardless of your experience or resume, especially when you're just starting out.

* Believe you can show at major galleries or museums regardless of your experience or resume.

* Ignore local or regional markets and only focus on major national and international art centers and galleries.

* Tell everyone that there's no art scene where you live-- even if you live in a major art center.


Have questions about your art or art career? Want to make a consulting appointment? Contact the author, Alan Bamberger.


(art by Monica Canilao)

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