Art Letter

For the Visual Artist, Success Is Within Reach

The challenge of succeeding as a visual artist appears overwhelming. Over 75% of art school graduates give up art within five years of graduation. What a pathetic statistic. It doesn't have to be that way.

I teach an online (and in-person) course to demystify the art world, make introductions and give artists the tools that guarantee a path to success.

Success is available, and can be accomplished by all artists. Consider the following:

Invariably artists are taking insufficient responsibility for their careers. Artists buy into the too-pervasive, American notion that artists are nothing but dented cans, misfits, underappreciated, overly creative oddities.

And while this perception may appear true in the macrocosm, it is blatantly false in the one-on-one, daily, microcosm. This really isn't any different than dealing with other prejudices; where common attitudes paint a large group of people with a single characteristic that no one in the group actually owns.

Each artist must take responsibility for his or her own career. This is not about joining a movement. To counter societal stigma, artists must distinguish themselves as special members of society and as different from all other artists, with artwork that is unique and special - on its own terms.


Beyond that artists must be knowledgeable, creative, interesting, conversant, enthusiastic and engaged.

It has never been sufficient to be the "starving" artist working in isolation in a garret. Artists need to live, to have experiences, emotions and something to say. It is the very rare artist who can exist solely on making good art. Good art does not readily distinguish itself.

An art buying audience is much more moved by liking / caring about a person, than they are by an object that gratifies solely for its aesthetic virtuosity.

If an artist does not take complete and thorough responsibiliy for their own career no one else is going to!

The artworld is not objective. All of us are aware of artists who are succeeding gloriously whose art we dislike. And most of us know artists who make art we love who have difficulty rubbing two nickels together.How great an artist's art is is no indication of how well it will fulfill the artist's objectives. This is actually very good news. Unlike almost all other fields that can be judged by statistics and objectivity, the artworld is about individuals and subjectivity.

Most artists want financial success, or at least solvency. But some prefer fame, notoriety or just that their artistic voice is heard. None of the foregoing is automatically attained by making good art. Or even great art.

For anyone to like an artist's work, they have to be exposed to it. It needs to be on their radar and in sight.

It's really about the numbers. If someone likes an artist as a person, they are going to have an increased attentiveness to that person's art. Real simple. The more people an artist exposes their art to, the greater likelihood that someone is going to respond positively.  It doesn't take a whole lot of numbers to make a huge difference. If an artist sells art to eight new collectors in a year, that artist's life is probably significantly improved. The question is how to get one's art in front of enough people that eight are going to emerge to alter the artist's life for the better.


And relationships. For an artist to succeed they need relationships. Relationships with friends, other artists, people they perceive to be better than themselves, with curators, art dealers, and collectors. All of which probably sounds impossible. 

I've seen a part-time artist who's been making art for 20 years, who worked full-time as a waitress, who declared bankruptcy just a month or two before signing up for my 12 week course. She was paying for the course over 12 months, but two-thirds of the way through the program she wrote me a check for payment in full because she'd just sold five paintings and was paying off all her debt.

The point is that success is within all artists' grasps. All artists possess the tools for success on their terms. All artists can succeed -- not all artists will. Success is a choice.

There's a lot to know. Stick with it 20 years and you might figure it out, or have enough bad habits ingrained that you need help getting out of your own way. But it is never too late. Success is within reach. It's right there in front of us. With the right strategies we can grasp it now.

 Paul Klein teaches a 12 week course to empower artists and delivery success on their terms. Klein Artist Works has another class beginning June 7th.