If you are trying to make a living selling art, or you desire to do so, there is nothing more important for your career as an artist than to understand why artists fail today at making a living selling art.
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana
The first and most basic fundamental step in becoming successful in any field is to study and understand how others before you have become successful in your field.
You also need to learn what has caused others to fail, and you must make sure you aren’t out there repeating history.
Are you familiar with how other artists like yourself have actually become successful? Do they attribute their success to their talent alone?
Likewise, have you studied what has caused other artists to fail?
By making your way to this post, by caring about why artists succeed or fail within your industry, you’ve at least shown the desire to learn and become successful. So kudos to you.
This desire is, as we consistently point out here at Art Storefronts, the most important initial quality that a person will need in order to get on the path to earning a solid living selling art.
Coming in, you may have thought that the #1 reason that you, or other artists, will fail at making a living selling art is in some way related to your talent or a lack of talent.
You further may have thought that talent alone would be the sole driver of your success. That you will be able to ride it like a wave.
In reality, nothing is further from the truth.
Highly talented artists fail every day. Thousands of them are failing right now. You probably know several of them off the top of your head.
These are people who “wow” you regularly with their amazing imagery, yet every time you speak to them, you find that they are still struggling to earn a solid living.
Therefore, if talent alone determined whether or not an artist would be successful, you wouldn’t have thousands of failing artists out there. Given this truth, the best thing you can do is eradicate any thought that talent alone will determine your success. It just won’t. If you haven’t learned this already, you will at some point come to terms with it.
Of course, if you don’t meet a minimum talent threshold, talent could be the reason your art business is having trouble getting traction.
Let us explain where that applies.
We have an easy way to test this. We call it the “Does My Art Suck Test.”
You “pass” the “Does My Art Suck Test” if you have actually sold 10+ pieces of art in a reasonable time frame to someone not named Mom, Dad, Grandma, Sister, Brother, or Best Friend.
In other words, your art “doesn’t suck” if you have actually sold it to random strangers at art fairs or somewhere else.
This accomplishment means you have validated that your art is both marketable and that you have a real potential business opportunity to pursue.
If you haven’t passed the “Does My Art Suck Test,” then that is your next step.
For the rest of you, keep reading.
Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, the industry is flooded with talented artists from all over the world.
This is primarily driven by marketplace websites, which allow international artists to sell their art.
This allows them to compete for your buyers, whereas beforehand they had no way to do so.
This means that there is more competition in every niche. With a simple internet search, you will likely find dozens of other artists or photographers with a somewhat similar take on your subject matter.
Now, let’s be clear about something. We aren’t saying your art or your style isn’t unique. It is.
What is not unique, however, is the niche you are going after. If you are an abstract artist, you are competing for a slice of all the buyers that will actually purchase abstract art this year.
Likewise, if you are a photographer who focuses on waterfalls, you are competing for a slice of all the buyers that will actually purchase waterfall art this year.
So out of all the potential artists in your niche, who do you think is most likely to capture the most market share?
Do you automatically give that mantle to the most talented artist in the group? Or, to the artist who out-executed the others?
This here, folks, is the crux of the matter and the point of the entire post.
So, without further adieu, what’s the problem?
The #1 reason that artists fail at making a living selling art is because they fail in execution of art business and marketing.
Call it hustle, tactics, strategy, or determination. Call it anything you want. “Execution” is just a business word we use to encompass it all.
We see it all the time here at Art Storefronts. Artists and photographers with huge talent and stunning work are regularly being outsold by those with arguably less talent, simply because they execute better.
How do these artists do it?
First, they realized that the world was not going to come to them.
They recognized that faith in their talent was not on its own going to lead to success. They recognized they needed to take proactive steps to get their art in front of the world.
And so that’s what they did. They invested in the business side of their career by learning as much as they could about how to market their work.
The end result is that they have been more effective than your average artist at getting eyeballs to see (and subsequently purchase) their art.
It’s as simple as that. Every week, every month, they continue to execute their marketing efforts and take on new ones — all of which is getting their art in front of more and more eyeballs, within the target audience that all the other artists are competing for.
Since hardly any other artists are doing this, this gives them an edge in the market.
So which artists will sell the most abstract art this year?
Which photographers who compete in the “waterfalls” niche will sell the most art this year?
It will be the ones who got the most eyeballs, within their target audience, to see their art. It will come down to execution.
You could be the most talented artist ever, but if you aren’t able to get your art in front of the right buyers, at the right place — and at the right time — someone else is going to capture those buyers.
Buyers could’ve purchased a piece from you, if only they were given the opportunity!
Timing is key. Which brings us to our next point.
You make a sale at a local art fair.
Do you believe that your customer bought from you because you’re the single most talented artist of your type in the country?
Or was it because your work simply appealed to them, and was put in front of them at the right time?
Here’s the truth: For that buyer, you met their minimum talent threshold, and you were at the right place at the right time. You got the sale by executing on the decision to exhibit at that specific art fair. Here’s another way to look at it: Had you not exhibited at the art fair, would you still have gotten the sale?
Usually the answer to this question is no.
So if you want to be more successful, you just need be in the right place at the right time much more often than you have been.
Online sales are no different.
Pro-Tip: Talent + Execution = Success
According to the overwhelmingly successful marine life artist Wyland, author of “Don’t Be a Starving Artist,” the bottom line is that you must find every way possible “to get your art in front of the world.”
The unique potential of eCommerce is that your execution potential isn’t limited by something like the number of art fairs within driving distance of your house.
If you intend to capitalize on that potential and make a solid living selling your art, you must invest in learning marketing execution.
There’s two key overarching points you need to know about building a successful art business through marketing.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Something like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) may take a year to begin paying off for you. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Our mantra is that the small wins stack to become a big win.
In 2017, Facebook is by far the best platform to build an audience and drive sales. Next year, this may be Instagram, but in five years both of these platforms might be completely useless. We’re ready to follow the attention wherever it goes. If you want to become successful and remain successful, you need to be too.
If you have struggled or failed thus far at making a living selling art, or if you are about to start your journey as an artist, the best thing you can do right now is take a moment to internalize the concepts we discussed above.
Realize right here, and right now, that your success or failure will have little or nothing to do with your talent.
On the other hand, understand that your success or failure at making a living as an artist will depend on how much you learn about proper art marketing execution and how well you execute on it now, and as time progresses, as times change and the industry changes as well.
So ask yourself, how well have you executed over the last 5 years? What will you do differently over the next 5 years?
Now that you are “in the know,” the best thing you can do is start today and change your mindset to focus on execution. Prioritize it. Become a student of art marketing and art business execution.
As much as we hate to say it (and as much as we are trying to change this), artists are not traditionally great at execution.
So if you decide to invest in yourself to become decent at execution, you’ll have an edge.
“If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Here at Art Storefronts, this is precisely why we choose to provide our customers with what we call a “Success Ecosystem,” rather than just providing art website and art marketing tools.
Without the three-legged stool of Software, Education, and Coaching, we do not believe an artist today can have a high success rate just launching a generic website — one that is not specifically built to sell art, and is equipped with specific marketing tools that help you build your audience, stay connected with your audience, and capitalize on all art-selling opportunities.
How well has your website performed?
We firmly believe that an artist’s success is not about what they have, but instead about what they know. Acquire the knowledge and everything will follow from it.
We wrote an entire article about it called Our Journey: Learning How to Sell Art Online – a great read if you are trying to figure out what your next best step is as an artist.