What is the difference between a successful artist and an unsuccessful one?

Sheila Chandra - Monday, August 28, 2017

What makes the difference between growing a thriving career and not? Here are some of the qualities you’ll need to be a successful artist.


 Successful artists are committed

Absolutely no one gets a free ride in the arts. So you need to be committed. That can be a problem if you’re just starting out and need to support yourself as well. But your commitment will make sure you utilize every spare half-hour to work on your projects, promoting your career and improving your skills.

If being an artist doesn’t make you leap out of bed in the morning then it may not be the life for you. The only exception is if you love the work, but it scares you and you tend to procrastinate for that reason. Even then, you’re going to have to get a handle on your procrastination if you want to have a thriving career as a successful artist.


Successful artists are focused

This is slightly different from commitment. A successful artist generally has a well-focussed brand. Something that they’re well known for, whether it’s painting plump, jolly ladies, or making sculptures in nature from the natural materials in that place. They may also sell prints or photos of that work, or lecture on creativity etc. as a way of creating various income streams within what they do, but they’ll be well known for that one thing. They don’t also sing, and paint and write and sew and expect to become well known for all of them. That’s because each of these different ‘brands’ requires equipment, marketing to a separate audience, and makes them, in effect, only ‘part-time’.


An example of an artist who became more focused and found success

Moreover, artists who have lots of ‘brands’ are instantly forgettable. Let me give you an example. When I met Stik, he was a street artist, a maker, and a performance artist. I know he enjoyed all those roles and I’m sure he had a reputation among his friends as a maverick creative person. But to get to a wider audience of people who didn’t know him personally, he needed a finer focus than that. I told him he needed to choose one art-form. Just one. I didn’t know it, but the work that had the most distinctive style was his street art. He’d been painting on walls around Hackney for the preceding 10 years – and many of the local community recognised his style. He went with street art, and never looked back. Today he’s one of the most well-recognised and collectible street artists in the world.


Successful artists concentrate on business

Making great art is one thing. I’m going to assume you already know how to do that and you have a product/experience that others want. But you’re not going to get anywhere just hoping those people will flock to you because of your excellence. You’re going to have to get out there, learn your industry, and find opportunities to promote and sell your work.

Ironically most artists spend only about half their time actually making artworks. The other half is spent writing contracts, negotiating deals, promoting themselves, running an office, maintaining their website, making new contacts and garnering commissions/gigs. If you’re not happy doing this, I’d suggest you don’t have the temperament to be a commercial artist. And being a commercial artist (as opposed to making commercial work) is what’s needed if you want to keep going, fund your projects, and a lifestyle that allows you to concentrate on your artworks.


Successful artists work at a decent pace

If you like to paint or write songs every few months or so – or do the odd gig at Christmas – then you’re unlikely to make it. You’ll be up against people rolling out of bed and planning every single day how they can make it as a successful artist. You have to make the time consistently to work, and you have to be prepared to work at a decent pace and to the deadlines that come up (or that you set) in order to do it. If you simply like the idea of being an artist…. sometimes, when you’re in the mood… then stop pushing yourself to make it anything other than a hobby.


Successful artists are good at self-promotion

More than at any other time in the last century, artists now have to be little PR machines. This is because of restructuring in the arts over the last 30 years and because of the rise of social media. When you’re a megastar, you’ll probably have a social media consultant managing your social media accounts – but until then it’s down to you. Likewise, most companies will only be interesting in commissioning/signing you if you already have a large platform that you bring to the table.

Self-promotion comes naturally to some people. It’s harder for many introverted artists. But you need to overcome your shyness and make sure you get your name out there as much as possible. Every important commission, show, opening, event etc. should have social media coverage and local/national press. Become an expert in your field and you could garner extra attention by being interviewed on your specialist subject when it hits the news for any reason.


Successful artists work on their technique

Over the longer term, the better your technique, the easier it will be to grow your career, and to find projects that stretch you. For instance you may start out making relatively small size street art works, and eventually learn to drive a cherry picker and paint the whole sides of tall buildings. Or you may be a singer who learns how to write lyrics. Or a journalist that is commissioned to write books. Either way, keep up your confidence by letting yourself learn and grow. Take lessons in some part of your craft that scares you. Or work on it alone in secret until you feel ready to make it public. Invest time in growing what you’re capable of, and you’ll delight both yourself and your audience.

If you want to know how to set up the essential infrastructure you’ll need as a successful artist, download a free excerpt of ‘Organizing for Creative People’.


Trevor commented on 24-Sep-2017 09:46 PM
Hey I am so grateful I found your web site, I really found you by error, while I was browsing on Digg for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a fantastic post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don't have time to look over it all at the minute but I have book-marked it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up the excellent job.

my blog post :: Ebay seller

Post a Comment

Captcha Image


Recent Posts


organizing for creative people motivation housework much quicker resentment home organising cry how to work efficiently visualising chaotic creative identity productivity double standard nascent artists low maintenance buy fewer clothes stop cluttering bulk buy good art work living clutter free email artist mentoring multiple lifetimes clutter addict wardrobe just in case staying in control email bankruptcy well organized hotel room proposals mature artists working class artists business-speak tips for clearing trope clearing in short bursts copyright stay on top of email ‘creativity’ diagnosis partners creative person effortlessly tidy workspaces sheila chandra coaching efficient work patterns self promotion artists diary domestic life friendships streamlining routines clearing as you go artist mentors mess slim-line wardrobe mornings creative culture email overload home care clearing clutter myth tidy people clear outs symptoms of creativity creative career coaching work life VIPs organisation 2018 goals clarity of thought loss car nurture creativity morning routines touring wind down confident in clothes funding clear desk stop hoarding stuff temperament stardust cupboard of shame much better friend lifetimes binge focus creative ambitions overwork introverts spree inconvenience being organized display items crowdfunding elevator pitch celebrity endorsed products childhood work trips buying stardust living mess free new year making decisions critical acclaim absences clean desk professional encouragement letting go fine art normality social media buying youth missed opportunities magic jealousy work efficiently great art vocation working class culture hoarding warm down criteria for letting go of stuff buying wealth nurturing creative work fall of innocence creative organising disorganization appointments stay tidy automatically buying hope theft clutter minimalists getting ready for work artist materials artist goals emotional support social media networking emotional balance loving your audience inspiration smart artists feel like creatiing networking effectively pop culture commitment tidiness in living spaces artistic chaos successful artist creativity creative confidence boredom artistic conviction good creative habits imagination creative commissions great artists subconscious mind vulnerability peacefulness saving time hobbies control creative career too many commitments tortoise and hare creative spark how to save time tidier static spaces branding brands creative people ‘stories’ about your possessions precious memories creative wellbeing hostile clutter artist workspaces networking organise parent business tension tidy desk grief card low maintenance strategies creativity diary slow and steady quality concentrated creative time how to be naturally tidy creative magic popular culture business-like exhaustion options : clothes work priorities network Sheila Chandra author under-confidence emotional resilience green room arrogance career strategy goals culture business interface to creative businesses artistry sacrifice procrastination anxiety storage long-term artistic development compulsion cleaning your desk guilty purchases innocence buying happiness writing funding campaigns time clutter the void nipping things in the bud professional mentors artist peer-to-peer networks collections lazy friends proposal writing professional creative career home life pop music emotionally secure artist hijacking creativity well curated closet dynamic spaces why organise clearing good friend being tripped up brilliant creator tidy work/home life balance platform feeling creative cleaning to do list too busy