None of us can predict the future of the art world. In your wildest dreams, could you conceive of the roaring 20’s of the 21st century? Pandemics, technology, politics, the economy, wars – the only thing predictable about these circumstances is that they resulted in turmoil. We artists just want the formula for how to create and sell art the best we can. It’s hard enough to do that when everything stays stable.
Well, some of us have had great profits the last few years. Others of us are still trying to figure out how to pivot so we can reach our sales and income goals.
We cannot control external circumstances or other people, but we can work on making our own strategies more resilient. We know by now that we can’t count on everything fitting our best laid plans, personal schedule and preferences. We need to recognize that weather, the big sports game we had no way of knowing about when we set the date for our reception, global events, and so many other factors are always going to conspire against us.
Also, it’s not just about preparing for catastrophes. Many people are not ready for their lucky break when it comes to them.
Here are some actions I have witnessed successful artists doing. They frankly should be in all our to business plans anyway. But it feels like this is a good time to review them.
1. Take inventory. What is working in our relationships with collectors, venues and peers? What needs fixing? When we acknowledge challenges and celebrate wins, our networking experiences improve tremendously. With a positive change in our attitude and behavior, there is a corresponding change in the way other people respond to us.
2. Plan to be happy while improving. But, be realistic. It’s through discomfort that we gain many of our skills. If it feels easy, we probably aren’t learning much.
3. Schedule down time. You are the boss. You can take a break. If you exhaust yourself, you won’t be ready when life gets lifey.
4. Finances matter. Save some money for when cash flow becomes unpredictable, if you can. Even regular teaching gigs came to a stop in 2020. Many of us used the money in the bank while we retooled to teach online.
5. Build a support team before you need it. Lay the ground work. Small groups can bounce ideas off each other and pool resources to solve problems. As much as artists love to isolate, it’s important to maintain a group or several groups of artist friends who you feel comfortable working with.
6. Prioritize maintaining connections.
We all know artists who became more profitable than ever during difficult times. Those I am aware of all doubled down on the connections that were working best in their art businesses.
One artist I know has had success painting in a larger size. Working with the gallery he has the best rapport with, his new series is his best selling to date.
Several saw new opportunities to teach online workshops, beginning with their most loyal students.
I watched artists focus on communications with their key collectors. As crazy as things got, these successful artists made sure their top collectors knew they were still creating art. Some made public that they had even more time in their studios, since events and locations were shut down. FASO has published articles about this on several occasions. One of our biggest assets is our collector list, and we need to maintain it.
Others created amazing art with new looks, for shows that were publicized mostly online to their past collectors. Some invested the time in new connections with licensing agents, book publishers, videographers and others they had never previously approached.
7. Prepare for unexpected opportunities. I got a big commission last year for eleven paintings. I had to stop everything to complete them. I really wish I’d had a better system in place, but I honestly never expected a commission so big to materialize for me. It was painful at times. I had to navigate uncharted scenarios. I had to reschedule projects to meet my commitments. Now that I have experienced it, I am SO much more ready for the next big unexpected project. It may never come, but I’m ready.
8. Get ready for your dream sales. If you sell your painting for five or six figures in that museum auction, or if you land a commission for more art than you thought you could create in a year, are you ready? What’s your plan to deal with the automatic increase in your secondary market pricing? How will you decide to price your art in the future, protecting your relationships with previous collectors and retailers? Will you still offer lower priced artworks? If so, how will you be clear about why they are priced so much lower?
Again, this may never happen, but thinking a little about the seemingly impossible successes can’t hurt. It could lead to some fun and easy exercises. For me, I’ve started selling my graphite and charcoal sketches so I will always have a lower priced offering. I’m really enjoying drawing them, more than I would have guessed.
Bad things may not happen. Good things may not happen. Look around though. Odds are, things ARE going to happen – good and bad. Maybe you prefer to deal with them when and if they materialize. Or, perhaps it’s worth considering if there are some small things you can do to get ready.
What action can you take today that you will be proud you did in ten years?