How to be a life-long success as a CEO Artist – lessons from startups

How to be a life-long success as a CEO Artist – lessons from startups

One thing that most artists want more than selling their artwork is to be able to show their works in the gallery(or galleries) of their choice don’t consider that their reputation as an artist must be built first.


“Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.” – Robert Collier


Contrary to other markets, products or services, what an artist offers can hardly be judged at the first glance. We tend to consider an artist or artwork as “good” if other curators, collectors, critics, etc. judged it as such before we did. The sum of all of these feedbacks are known as micro-reputations, and they make the real reputation of an artist.Just because 100 people like your artwork doesn’t mean that they will buy it. Even if 100 people are buying your artwork, which is great, it still doesn’t mean that you’re a confirmed artist and can exhibit in the next biennale.
And if you reach the point of exhibiting in the next biennale, there is no guarantee that you’re career is assured, you will forever sell, you’re prices will touch the 6-7 figures or that all the institutions will run behind you.

But if you achieve all of this or at least some part of it in the long-term, then it DOES mean that you are approaching the dream!


What nobody teaches you in school


Let’s begin from the very beginning: art school, art academy or any kind of artistic education. Contrary to all other educational paths, when you’re studying art, you learn practically nothing without your own will. You can get some theoretical lessons; you will learn some artistic techniques and skills (depending on what you’re interested in or studying), but nobody will prepare you for the real art world. But why?

  1. The art world is changing quickly. It is not what it was 20-30 years ago, when most of the current Art School professors were beginning their own careers, and it was even more different than before that!
  2. Networking, reaching journalists, art promotion & marketing etc… All are taboo, with the ultimate taboo being selling your artwork. Which one of you got a course about how to price your artwork during your study?
  3. The idea of seeing art and artists as a business is still frowned upon. Just think of the time where artists were associated to artisan…
  4. They want you to focus on the pure creative act and seem to have forgotten that you’re going to earn your living with those acts!


There is more than producing artworks


When a startup or a new business is forming, everyone who is forming such will, in some order and on some level, take these steps:

  • Market research in order to define what kind of product they what to produce
  • Creation and development of a new product prototype or even the final productSearching for investors who could be interested in what they have developed
  • Marketing of the product in order to sell it
  • If the sales are good, continuation of the production/development and marketing
  • If the sales are bad, changing the marketing strategy, modifying the product or changing the market in which they are trying to sell it

Each new startup will spend time on all of these points. Most of the artists will limit their approach to doing art at the “creation and development” point. They produce endless amounts of artwork  without taking into consideration for whom/which public are these artworks, how to market them, how to sell them, where to find money/investors to make new interesting projects or even how to use the feedback from the public, curators or other professionals to evolve their art practice without losing their own artistic identity.


Changing is Never Bad


Most of the artists think that changing their style (going from their previous series that they spent years developing) into something totally new is a big mistake. But let’s make something clear: everything you’re doing is coming from you; even the simplest copy of an idea is still from you, and it’s yours. Why limit yourself? There is so much to try and do! We all know at least one artist who became famous by doing what was not their original art practice. So please don’t be afraid; try new practices and perspectives. It will just make what you’re doing more profound!


Once successful, develop new parallel artworks

Most successful companies continue the development of their product(s) while also trying to launch new one(s), in order to still be innovative and to renew their brand throughout time. This is a continuous process. For example, Google became successful not only because of their search engine (which is the heart of their company), but also because they innovate, acquire and develop tons of products and services from online advertising to mobile application to street maps to driverless delivery cars.


So why should an artist, whose job is pure creation and innovation, limit his/her approach to doing the same {put what you like here} again, again and again?


Do the work and don’t wait

Many artists wrongly think that promotion, sales, marketing and other things similar have nothing to do with the creation of art or are the job of a gallery, art dealer, artist agent, etc. This belief can lengthen the amount of years they spend looking for a gallery drastically.

A gallery chooses an artist in coherence with its program, collectors and the artist’s reputation. This means that your work should not only look like what the gallery is showing, but it should also sell well or have the chance to sell. Even if you end up in a good gallery, you are just one of many artists to them. You may be lucky enough to get a solo exhibition once a year, but while you are still seen as an emerging artist, you will never be prioritized above a more established one because they will be more profitable for the gallery. So just being in a good gallery should never be your final goal!
Quite the same concept is applied when participating in curated exhibitions. A curator will choose you if she or he knows you, knows your work from reading an article about it or seeing it in another exhibition. If you hermit yourself away in your studio and only producing artwork, how people can hear from or about you?

The same applies for collectors: more than 70% (the percentage is higher in proportion with the artwork price) of art collectors buy because they’d heard of the artist and not just because they only like the artwork.

You should be able to understand this principal: nobody out there will do what is actually your own job to do! Others can definitely help you to achieve these points or go further, but they will not be able to replace what you should do for your own career.

You need to build up a reputation. You need to create relationships without expecting something in return. You need to think about gallery directors, curators, collectors, journalists, etc. as people with whom you’re building your career and want to work with in the long-term.


“I am not the smartest, but I surround myself with competent people.” – Henry Ford

It’s understandable that, as an artist, you want to focus on the creative act. You are not a marketer, a PR specialist or a sales person. We are not living in that world where artists need to prepare their painting color from A to Z. So use your time in a better way and make use of others’ help in their areas of expertise in order to be your best as an artist!


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