11 GAME-CHANGING LESSONS TO GROW YOUR CAREER AS AN ARTIST.

at the met3bw

  1. Become A Brand.

Every famous artist you admire is already more than an artist; they have become a brand in your mind. Yet, we don’t think of ourselves in the same way. We focus on becoming pure artists and producing work that will win the hearts and attention of others. We spend a lot of time producing work and very little inviting others to the story within it. A brand, put simply, is a public representation of your core values, or at least the values that you want to present to the world. In practical terms, your brand comes down to the products, services and platforms you create through which you engage with others. It is your story that allows others to fit you into the conversation of their lives. This is why in a practical sense, a website, call cards, letter heads, brochures, images of your work, social media engagement and other promotional steps are important for your career as an artist. They help to tell your story in your absence. Your brand is your reputation, and it is often the only information others have by which to know whether to trust you with their money, projects or support.  Building a brand does not mean making your life public, but it does mean making your story public (the story you want to tell). The trick is to be consistent with your story and to ensure that you deliver what you say you will.

  1. Think Enterprise, Not Business.

Many are quick to advise you that you should be a business. The popular advice is to steer you towards becoming a business as quickly as possible and suppressing “the artist” within you. It is almost as if the word “business” is a cure for your creativity and the introduction of a rational mind. Do not allow yourself to be fooled by this train of thought. It sounds glossy, but there is one main flaw to its logic: You are inherently an artist, and many who are quick to offer this advice have little knowledge of your process or what that means for you. This a genuine point of concern when a key principle of having a successful business is knowledge of that business. It will serve you more to think of yourself or your brand as an enterprise. Thinking of yourself as an enterprise and not as a business frees you from the rigidity of the idea of business and celebrates your inherent strengths, which are focus, creativity and exploration. It challenges you to seek ways to thrive and to become creative in pursuing in your economic growth. The focus becomes your growth. It is about business, yes, but not the idea of business that tells you that “the artist” in you does not matter.

  1. Assess Everything In Your Life – Then Leverage It!

The beauty about a lever is that, in reality, it is simply you putting your mind to work. It is a small tool that through the pivoting of your mind, multiplies your strength and gives you the advantage to change your immediate environment. Do the same thing for your Art enterprise. Look at everything in your life (EVERYTHING) and assess whether it can become a lever for you. The idea here is to learn to leverage what you already have, to get what you want.  Take the focus away from what you do not have, and strategically begin utilizing what you do have. For example, you may only have brown paper on which to draw. Well then, work on brown paper and find a way to make it so sophisticated that it becomes a product for trade in its own right. Use it, trade, grow, then upgrade. Use what you have to get what you want.  Everything in your life has the potential to be leveraged, but it starts with not taking for granted the resources to which you have access.

* Do you have internet access? How are you using it?
* Do you write? How are you using it?
* Do you walk? How are you using it?
Assess everything and wonder how it be can put it to work to help you get what you want or to help you grow.

Honk for the arts

  1. Become Professional.

I know how tough this can be. It is not as easy as it seems. Two things work to our disadvantage as artists here: our history of fighting to simply be artists, and our process.

Chances are, if you have made it this far and can still call yourself an artist, you have had a bit of an uphill social battle. You have had to face opposition to very idea of it from very early on in your life. It is more than likely that along the way you have developed defense mechanisms – from lively eccentricities to patterns of withdrawal. In the past, these mechanisms were necessary for you to sometimes simply establish the physical space to create.

Here, though, is the dilemma. To grow your enterprise, you will have to build relationships with a wide spectrum of people. Meaningful, beneficial relationships are built on Trust. Good communication practices, respect for others, and timeliness all build trust. I am willing to bet that one of the defense mechanisms you developed creates a problem in one of these areas. Identify it and challenge yourself to move away from it now. Work hard to become trustworthy.

That brings us to the matter of our process. It is an undeniable fact that the artistic process can be a mental battlefield. Outside of the often intense tests of concentration and physical discipline, the process comes with an emotional voyage of its own. It’s like being on the open sea in a small boat. Sometimes the waters are calm, and sometimes navigation requires all of your reserve. It is real, and few outside of the process appreciate this. Quite often our process demands of us a withdrawal from social norms and graces; sometimes you are simply focusing on navigating. As a brand and an enterprise you have to find a way to maintain professionalism while producing. It is not easy, heaven knows it is not easy, but it is critical to your growth.

  1. Always Ask Yourself: “How Is This Making Me Money?”

We are talking about your growth and survival here, or more specifically, your participation in creating the wealth you need to live, pay your bills, and allow you to continue on your mission. By forcing yourself to ask always “How is this making me money?” you are actively measuring the cost of all of your actions.  The majority of your efforts and your time should be towards the creation of wealth in your life. Every project you undertake should begin with the question and you should be able to have a clear answer. The question “How is this making me money?” should be measured against every single action in your life – Every. Single. Action.  Are you going on a date? Ask yourself the question. Are you going to the grocery? Ask yourself the question. Are you helping a friend? Ask yourself the question. Are you spending time on Facebook? Ask yourself the question.

This may sound extreme, but it has two benefits for you and your work. The first is that it keeps your life goals in focus. It is simple; we engage in the activity of making money to create better lives for ourselves and those we love. For most of us, what we earn and how we earn is closely connected to what we want out of life. Measuring your time and energy with this question trains you to put everything in alignment to getting closer to your goals.

The second benefit is that teaches you put a value on your time and your energy. It is okay if an activity is not making you money, but every minute should create wealth in your life, and if it does not, it should diminish in priority. For example, spending time with someone who recharges you and gives you perspective is a way of creating wealth in your life. You may find that you are not making money directly from couple of hours spent with that person, but the trade-off is that the recharged you makes better art and has more energy to push your enterprise. Asking yourself the question “how is this making me money?” helps you figure out the value of the people, places, moments and things with which you engage. You will find yourself structuring time for different aspects of life and genuinely cherishing them – because you now have a better idea of what they mean to you, and what value they add to you and your work.

  1. Respect Your Studio Time.

This is non-negotiable. Your studio time is the life-blood of your enterprise. Your studio time is sacred space.  You have to respect this area of your life and send the message to others that it is critical to your growth. Treat it like every other job that you would otherwise be hired to perform. Set standard hours, prepare, get up and put in the hours that you have set. Fully commit yourself within those hours. Treat it like a job, because it is your job, and let others know that you are unavailable when you are at work (as you would be for any other job). This is not as simple as it seems. You’ve lived with the impulse to create all of your life and you’ve created at random and erratic times. Sometimes you have binged at working to produce and at other times you have stretched out the process. Train yourself to structure your studio time and respect it. In the face of other responsibilities and distractions very often the time you need to produce is the first to get disrupted.  You have to defend it.

BrooklynStudio6

  1. Your Art Is 25% Of Your Enterprise.

The point here is that as an enterprise, you have other things to take care of if you are to grow and to achieve financial success. Every successful enterprise has more than one department; parts of a whole that work together to grow the company. There are various organizational structures, but for the sake of simple math, let us identify four main departments that an enterprise needs to survive: administration and accounting, marketing and advertising, production, and sales.

You are naturally strong in production. You have been producing all of your life, and you are good at it. The default for you as an artist is to spending all of your time producing, and this usually happens to the detriment of the other departments needed for your growth. You have to be cognizant of this and put measures in place for the other areas to get the attention that they need. This is the proper context in which to introduce the idea of business as it relates to the artist. It is a part of what you do; it is not your primary mission. Taking care of business is what allows you to fulfill your mission. You have to always remind yourself that creating your art is only a fraction of what your enterprise needs. Soberly seek to strengthen the other areas. You do not have to do it alone, and you do not have to do it yourself, but you do have to be aware that it needs to be done.

  1. Your Side Hustle May Be Your Main Job, And Your Main Work Your Side Hustle.

You have to earn an income. Think of this as a non-negotiable part of your process (like your studio time). An income means growth; an income means freedom. The goal is to make the majority of your income from your work, because this will allow you to spend the majority of your time on your work. This does not always happen in the creative field; especially not at the beginning of your career as an artist.  Jobs are a means to an end, and a noble one at that. They do not have to define you, and when placed in the right context, they become a useful ally to your mission. The key is to recognise that sometimes you main job is really your side hustle and what you do as your “side hustle’ is in actuality your core work.

To understand this fully, we have to be clear on what a job is and what is our work.  A job is a duty entasked to you. You usually perform this duty under some type of contract of reimbursement for your skill, time and effort. A job is about employment and the leverage of your service (your mind, your strength, your training, your personality) towards benefit of another’s enterprise. Many artists have had full time or part-time jobs whilst expanding their brand and their portfolio. Your day job does not have to be advertised or made a part of your brand in the same way that what you eat for breakfast every morning does not have to be a part of the story of your brand. Your brand is connected to your work. Your work is the public manifestation of your core values and aspirations. Your work is your individual enterprise in this world – your mission and your legacy. The purpose of building your brand and your individual enterprise is to have both your job and your work under the same roof. In the meantime, it is pivotal that you understand the distinction between the two, and use your jobs for what they are worth to your growth.

  1. Many Are Exceptional, But Few Are Endorsed.

It is not about whether you are good enough, because chances are, you are already better than someone who is famous. We see it all the time, artists rising to notoriety and acclaim who are less technically skilled than others we know. Coming from a location outside of North America and Europe, I’ve seen this over and over again: artists being upheld as world leaders and innovators while I know of artists closer to home who have pushed the boundaries before they did, or have greater technical capacity. Truthfully, this is the way of the world.

The problem with many artists is, we mistake being competent for being endorsed. Very often we feel that we are “not good enough yet” or that our skill will take us to the top of the class. We cling to the idea of being discovered by someone with a discerning eye for exceptional talent and the power to celebrate our work internationally.   One of the best actions you can take for your growth is to abandon that idea. There are many artists who have exceptional talent, and chances are, you are already one of them. Endorsement is an entirely different matter, and one that has very little (very little) to do with talent. People get endorsed for various reasons: the University they attended, their family’s background, their nationality, their gender, their political alignment, their social alignment, their physical features …The list has no real rhyme or reason to it, except for the fact that their exceptional talent is not the criteria.

What does this mean for you? Well firstly, it means that you cannot wait on others to determine your growth. Work with integrity, put your work out there, and begin to build your own platform for growth. The great museums of the world are filled with artists who were either rejected or not even recognized by the gatekeepers of taste and value in their time.  Do not wait on others to determine your value for you. Endorsement by the gatekeepers within your field should not be your goal. Work and figure out ways in which to make your efforts in turn work for you. Figure out ways to connect with markets that show interest in your work. Listen to them, compromise with them, provide the value they tell you that they want, and build with them. We are talking about building your brand and your enterprise here – we are talking about building your social and cultural relevance and your independent platform for endorsement.  I am willing to bet you already have something to offer.

  1. Strive To Be The Real Deal.

In my book this is also a non-negotiable. This speaks directly to the legacy of your brand. Striving to be the real deal means pushing yourself to offer something of genuine integrity to the world. Always seek to learn as much as  you can of your craft, and deliver the very best that you can produce. There are many mocking pretenders who capture the spotlight, and many who rise to notoriety more through gimmickry than the presentation of well-crafted work. I cannot speak to their longevity or success. Some of them will continue to be endorsed and celebrated and patronized – that is simply the way of the world. I do know, however, that works of integrity endure. They withstand contemporary fascinations and find their way into the consciousness of future generations. Regardless of whether you are working in obscurity or in the glare of popularity, always strive to be the real deal.

  1. Be Aggressive With Your Own Progress.

If there is one principle that should be considered essential, it is this one. Your progress is your affair, and it is a matter that you have to take into your own hands. Be aggressive in its pursuit – be animal kingdom aggressive. In the natural world, growth is a complex and arduous affair. It takes resilience, stamina and boldness. Employ those characteristics in building your enterprise. Actively search for new markets, deliberately reach out to people, and mindfully seek to access opportunities wherever you see them. Purposefully seek to create your own opportunities.  Keep the aims of your brand and your enterprise in focus every single day, and push towards them every single day. Be bold, learn to take rejection, challenge yourself to shamelessly put yourself in spaces that you feel you do not belong, and ask questions. Make contact with people and ask for guidance, favors, endorsement and feedback. Be protective of your studio time and always demand more of yourself towards expanding your brand and your enterprise. Be aggressive. Be aggressive. Be aggressive. Face the world with all of the courage and determination that you can muster, and do not be easy on yourself. Set goals and go after them. Fight for yourself and your future. Stay Inspired!

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