Josh Rosenthal, CC 3.0
Source: Josh Rosenthal, CC 3.0

There's a reason the word "starving"  often precedes "artist." Many artists like to be unfocused, to go with the flow.

Alas, to make even a modest living from your art, in addition to talent, you probably need laser focus:

1. Identify a target market likely to pay sufficiently for your art.

2. Create a signature style that will have great appeal to your target market, so much so that they're willing to pay a high price for their art or your art is so commercial that hordes will pay a modest price for it.

3. If you are insufficiently skilled to create such a level of art, practice a lot, perhaps under the tutelage of artists you respect.

4. Create substantial inventory in a time-effective manner. For example, if you hope to-- after expenses (not counting that art school tuition) net $50,000 a year plus benefits and you hope your paintings will sell for $750 each, you must crank out 100 such paintings a year while leaving sufficient time for marketing them. And if you plan to make that your ongoing career, you must crank out and market 100 paintings each and every year, or 1,000 paintings per decade.

5. Identify and relentlessly pursue a collection of marketing strategies most likely to compel your target market to buy. Consider the difficult but potentially game-changing tactics that most artists are unwilling to take the time and effort to succeed at. Examples:

  • Convince a museum to display your work. Even if it's only there for a week, promote that your work has been displayed in a museum.
  • Can't get it into a museum? Get into some other place respected by your target market: a bank, a top restaurant, a corporate headquarters.
  • Get a celebrity endorsement.
  • Get your work to appear on a major TV show or at a live event.
  • Get your art used in a movie.
  • Paint a provocative mural in a prominent blighted neighborhood. Get the media to cover its creation. Video it and post it and cleverly use social media to promote it.
  • Create a search-engine optimized website for your work with market-tested social media, traditional, and/or native online ads. Make it easy and tempting for visitors to your site to sign up for your mailing list---For example, give them a free 8x10 print.
  • Build that mailing list. Lower-payoff marketing efforts like showing your art at a local art fair provides an opportunity to collect names. Every month, using MailChimp, ConstantComment, etc., send an email showing your latest work, the prestigious place it appeared, a one-time buying opportunity, etc.

6. Monitor what marketing activities are and aren't working. Do more of what works, less of what doesn't. Sounds obvious but many people don't do it.

The takeaway

Making a living as an artist requires a dual personality: artist when creating, businessperson when selling. Alas, to avoid being a starving artist, you probably need to spend more time as a businessperson.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

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