Being good at drawing or painting is what we think it takes to be a successful artist. In fact, besides being good at composition, colour theory and technique, a successful visual artist (however you define successful) must have:
- Some basic financial security to underwrite your development
- A specialized space to work (temporarily or permanently)
- Great photography skills and access to specialized equipment
- Excellent writing skills for:
- Artist statements
- Appeals and negotiations with gatekeepers
- Compelling oral communication (and public speaking) skills for dealing with gatekeepers, public programs, marketing, sales and self-promotion
- Administrative skills and an orientation to detail for:
- Inventory recording/record keeping
- Graphic design skills for branding, advertising and packaging
- Decent time management skills
There are many artists selling successfully who are not skilled at composition, colour theory or technique; conversely, there are many highly skilled artists selling no—or very little—work, and there are artists are every point along the continuum. Being a “professional” visual artist means that you have to have to be good at all of the skills listed above or you must trade or buy the skills and services you lack.
I often feel that the greatest obstacles we face are ourselves; too many of us thing that we can do all it takes to be successful on our own. Few people can. I have a lot of the skills listed above, but when it comes to applying them to my own career and work, I can’t do it.
I have a show opening in April 2013 in Vancouver. I have hired five professionals to provide essential services, I have two other professionals donating their accomplished services for two modest components of my show and I am paying an honorarium to a friend for services way beyond the value of her reimbursement. I also have several skilled volunteers helping me. I am doing what I do best and by involving colleagues I am bringing excellence to every aspect of the project.
Few emerging artists can afford what I am doing and the irony is that they need the professional skills more than an experienced person like me. So what can an emerging artist do? To me, the answer is obvious.
You become an active part of a community of artists (in the real world and or online). The key word in that last sentence is “active.” CARFAC, artist run centres, visual art collectives, arts councils, sales/marketing collectives, etc.—these are valuable assets for visual artists. Each one of them can provide you with access to peers and from their human resources you can create a community for yourself from whom to learn and with whom to network. Don’t try to be it and do it all. Join a visual arts organization and get involved. Help them; help yourself.