10 Habits Of Successful Artists

By analyzing and looking at the careers of other successful artists I have identified the habits that help them succeed. When you meet professional artists, take some time to note which of these habits they practice. If you start concentrating and incorporating these successful habits into your life on a consistent basis, you will see positive results and benefits.

1. Visualize Succeeding at Your Goals. Recently an artist called me from the Midwest wanting some help with his career. I asked him what had he done so far. He told me he had representation in the United States and had several museum exhibitions scheduled for the next few years. He said his current "campaign" was to get representation and a higher profile in Europe. I was impressed with the clarity of his vision and asked how he had gotten all of this exposure for his work on his own.

He told me that he had a "war room" in which he planned his approach to accomplishing his goals. He'd served in the armed forces, and learned to prepare for the future, be it as a soldier or as a professional artist, by visualizing and thinking strategically.

This artist learned on his own an important habit of successful artists--visualize succeeding at your goals. Once your goals are clear and you can break them down into effective strategies, walk through them step by step in your mind. This will not only help you prepare for each step along the way, but it will also guarantee arrival at your destination.

2. Get Regular Reviews on Your Work from Your Peers. Start making it a habit to invite artists whom you respect and admire to your studio to see your work. This should be done at least once a month, if not more often. At some point, when you have your network of peers set up, you won't even think about having to find artists to invite to your studio.

When you start inviting professional artists to your studio, you will find they can give you critical reviews of your work. An honest, sincere, accurate critique can be very important to your growth as a professional artist. Another reason to have your peers visit your studio is that they are a great source of information on the "trade." One artist I know has lunch at least once a week with another professional artist. This is his way of staying connected to the art world outside his studio. Both artists are able to compare notes about the art world, hear and discuss other exhibition opportunities, and learn from each other.

3. Review Your Goals On a Regular Basis. At least once a month, review your short- and long-term goals. Do this by keeping the goal sheet in the front of a notebook you use regularly. Put them in glassine sleeves so that they will be protected.

When you open your notebook, look at and review your goals. By doing this on a regular basis, you will find that your goals are familiar, realistic, and approachable. Your goals will become something to achieve instead of something to avoid. They will help you make the small and large decisions that are so important to achieving your success. Remember to go back to your goals when you are having a tough time deciding what to do. If they are clear, they will help you make wise career choices.

After some time has gone by and you have achieved some of your goals, you will find that you may need to change and adapt them. Some of your long-term goals will drop into the slot left over from achieving your short-term goals. Changing and adapting goals is part of the process as you grow through the different stages of your career.

4. Maintain Your Support Material. Get into the habit of updating your support material at least every three months. Your support material consists of your resume, artist statement, biography, recent articles in the press, and photography of recent work. The best way to store your resume, artist statement, and biography is on a computer. If you don't have your own computer get your material stored on a disk that you can take to a duplicating business or to a computer center. Your support material also includes labeled slides of recent work along with an inventory sheet that has retail prices on it.

You should have a filing system that makes all of these parts of your packet easily available so that you can assemble a packet within 10 minutes at most. This material should be at your fingertips. At all times you should have at least five copies of your resume, artist statement, and press. A three-ring notebook is a good way to store your original master list of slides, along with duplicated sheets of labeled slides.

As you become more involved in your career, you will run into situations in which you need to get your support material out in a hurry. Always have Priority Mail or Federal Express envelopes available for overnight and second-day delivery. When your material is updated, well organized, and easily accessible, it will make your professional life a lot easier. You will also be better prepared to explore different opportunities because you will know that you have this material in a presentable form and ready to go.

5. Thank People Who Help You. The art world can be pretty unforgiving. It sometimes seems as if you can expect only rejection. In the face of discouragement, we may forget to thank the people who have been helpful or have given us time in their busy lives to find out what we do. One museum curator mentioned that artists never thanked him for the exhibitions of their work he organized and put together. They just wanted him to show more of their work. He felt that the arts community did not support him, and that made him bitter.

Start getting into the habit of writing thank you notes to everyone you meet and work with, such as collectors who are interested and buy your work, dealers you show your portfolio to and dealers who show your work, arts writers who write about your work, and other people who intersect with your career. This habit can make a big difference to other people and requires very little effort on your part.

Always have a stack of postcards with your image on it ready to use for thank you notes. People will remember a thank you note, they will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and you will develop a wider group of supporters.

6. Be Creative. Georgia O'Keeffe said serious artists always have three shows painted and ready to go. This sounds like a lot of inventory to have sitting around, but this concept has several important ideas behind it.

If an artist does, in fact, have enough work available for three one-person exhibitions, it means he or she is very prolific. To have three shows in your studio means you are creating consistent work, which is exactly what collectors, dealers, and museum curators want to see in an artist.

Besides being prolific, having three shows available means that you can jump on opportunities that arise with little notice. I run into many situations in which artists are able to secure exhibitions mainly because they have work available. Similarly, I have seen opportunities lost because nothing was ready to go.

One way to have enough work in the studio is to make a commitment to produce a certain amount of work per month. Figure out what that minimum amount might be. Consider where your work is going right now and how much more you would need to produce to keep a certain amount of inventory in your studio for the next opportunity.

7. Travel & Explore. Several years ago I ran a series of panel discussions entitled "Strategies for Artists in the '90s." One of the panelists, an artist who lives in Santa Fe, had exhibited his work throughout the United States. When asked for a tip for artists, he said the most important thing that he did for his career was travel. He felt that it was critical for artists to investigate other areas, rather than just remaining where they live. I know many artists feel isolated in their studios; travel can be a way for artists to become re-energized. It also reinforces the idea that the art world is very large and interconnected.

As you plan your travel consider how you can maximize your time. Research the galleries, museums, and alternative spaces that seem appropriate for your work. When you arrive, spend time in them and see what they are like. Do you like the art, the space, the employees, the location? Gallery dealers often complain that artists do not know what kind of work they handle before approaching them.

When you visit new places find out the procedure for exhibiting your work. Always pick up the local arts and entertainment publications. These will often have information and suggestions on shows and events that you may not be aware of.

One artist I know loves to travel. He has planned exhibitions in several of his favorite cities so that he can write off the expenses! Now that's making your career work for you!

8. Make Art Donations. Artists are always the first people to be asked for donations of artwork. Most nonprofit and arts organizations raise funds by auctioning donated art. Donating art can be very helpful to artists who are at a point in their career when the uppermost need is to get their work out into the community. For these artists, fund-raising events can be useful. However, every artist reaches a time when he or she needs to be increasingly selective about donations for benefits and auctions. So remember, donating art for fund-raising events is a useful way to bring your work before the public, to build up your resume, and to make important contacts in the community. But you invariably will reach a time when you will stop giving your work away to these types of events.

Museum donations are another matter. Few museums have large budgets for buying art. At least two thirds of museum collections come from donations by artists, collectors, foundations, or businesses. Most museums will accept donations from artists directly. However, for those museums that are restricted from accepting art directly from an artist, you can contact one of your collectors and give that collector a piece to donate. It is worth it to you in the long run.

There are several reasons for getting into the habit of making donations to museums. The most obvious reason is to build up your resume, and nothing looks more impressive than a long list of museum collections that have your work. A less obvious reason for a donation to a museum is to introduce your artwork and yourself to the museum's curators. As you go through the process of contacting curators, following up and helping them select a piece of your work, you will get to know them and even develop a relationship with them. What an effective way to expand your circle of contacts in the art world! An artist I worked with recently made a donation to a museum and by the time she was done with the process, she has been invited to show her work at the museum.

After you have donated a piece to a museum, do not be shy about asking for a personal tour of the collection. Most curators are proud to show it to you. Also make sure that their library has an updated file on you.

9. Know the Key Players. Have you ever noticed that successful artists know who the key people in the art world are? They may not be big buddies, but they are aware of the important collectors, influential gallery dealers, the current museum directors and curators, and the active arts critics and writers. This acquaintance didn't happen because of their success. Rather, it created their success. These artists know the importance of relationships, especially in the art world, which is a surprisingly small world built upon networking and friendships based on similar interests and mutual respect.

If you want to be a successful artist, it is important for you, too, to know who the key arts people are. As you progress with your career you will need to interact with them at one time or another. You can't afford to take the attitude that people will seek you out because your work is so interesting. There are many active, ambitious artists who already know how important good relationships are to their career, and they, too, are seeking the attention of these key players.

There are many opportunities to meet and get to know the important players. You meet them by attending openings, lectures, presentations, and classes. Consider becoming a volunteer or docent at a local museum. You will meet the museum staff along with the collectors who visit. Use these opportunities to expand your acquaintances. Know who the key players are and, soon enough, they will know who you are.

10. Read Trade Journals. Whenever I read an art publication or a trade journal devoted to art, I find at least one important item to add to my store of information. These magazines bring an overview of the whole art world right into your studio-and they are chock full of the kinds of facts, opinions, and analyses that will keep you up-to-date in your chosen profession.

Even the advertising in these magazines can be critical to your career, because by perusing the ads, you can determine what kind of work interests art consultants, private dealers, galleries, and museums. The editorials and feature articles keep you apprised of new opportunities as well as the names of key players at various institutions.

There are many different publications, so make sure to familiarize yourself with many of them in order to decide which will be most helpful to you. Be sure to read art magazines that are specific to your work, whether it is painting, prints, sculpture, photography, or crafts. And don't neglect the many newsletters in your field.

Regional art publications are another resource that should not be neglected. For example, on the West Coast, there is Art Week, and in the South there is ART Paper, and in New England there is ART New England. By reading these magazines, you will keep up with art events and active artists, dealers, and museums in your area. Finally, the national and international art publications keep you connected to the art world in the United States and throughout the world, without your having to travel to major cities.

Geoffrey Gorman, a former gallery director, attended the Maryland Institute of Art and the Boston Museum School. Five years ago he founded GG+A, an artist career development firm that works with artists individually and through workshops.

This article was originally created for TheArtBiz.com. It appears on NYFA Interactive courtesy of the Abigail Rebecca Cohen Library.