The #1 lesson I Learned Selling Art (of 6)

07 July


#1. Most artists are not making a living from their art.

At the above talk to a room of 60 local jewelry artists, the first question I asked was how many sold their jewelry.  About half of them raised their hands.  I then asked how many were making a living off of their art.  ALL of them put their hands down, including me.  They laughed nervously.

It is an unspoken, almost shameful, truth that most artists do not support themselves financially with their art.

Every week I see a new artist success story on the internet  The facebook effect makes it appear that everyone is making it but me.

The reality is, for every artist making a living off their art there are at least 100 weekend warriors wondering what they are doing wrong.

Short answer?  NOTHING.

Go to any art or craft fair and I guarantee 99% of the artists are lucky to break even at the show, let alone pay themselves minimum wage for their time.

Most of us need a regular job or career to pay the bills. I do contract engineering.

Some artists are fortunate to have jobs making art for corporations, such as video game designers or industrial designers.

However an artist supports themselves I want to make one thing crystal clear:

You are not a failure if your art doesn’t pay the bills. 

Your art is NOT more valuable if people will buy it.  

You are NOT less talented if no one will buy it.

The Law of Attraction and similar self help books would have us believe that we are the sole creators of our reality.  Taking this as 100% truth (which I don’t) it is logical to conclude if you aren’t killing it selling art, the problem lies completely with you and your self defeating thought patterns.

Maybe, maybe not.  I don’t know you that well and I haven’t talked with your therapist.  One thing I do know:

Selling things is HARD.  And failing at something difficult is not a personal fault.  

You fall a hundred times till you learn to ride that bike.  It’s how learning works.

You are an artist, and you’re GOOD at what you do.  Really frick’n sexy good at it.  DAMN.

But selling?  Probably not your strength.  And that is OK.

Because here is another truth.  Consumers are bombarded every day with clever advertisements backed by psychology to hook them and their pocket books.   There are huge corporations with deep bank accounts creating a different reality that bumps up against your own.  Ouch.

And truthfully, we small guys really don’t stand a chance.

Does that mean I think we should give up?

No, absolutely not.

Sometimes through luck and sheer stubbornness we figure out the magic formula that connects us passionately with our audience.  That sweet spot is magic.  

And it is also luck.  Hard work and skill seems to have very little to do with success.  You know who I’m talking about.  And other times everything to do with it.

I honestly don’t see a pattern.

Sorry, I don’t know the ONE magic formula for selling art.  But then, neither does anyone else.  

There are almost as many ways to sell art as there are artists.  More on this in a later post.

In the meantime a quote from a brilliant woman.  Elizabeth Gilbert recently made an excellent point from her new book Big Magic in an interview with Marie Forleo.  Gilbert said that forcing your art to support you financially will quickly kill the joy in it.  Make it mad weekend love affair instead.

I couldn’t agree more.  Nothing has contributed to my burnout more than forcing Lumen to grow faster than is natural.  Nothing made me feel like more of a failure than when it didn’t grow large enough to support me in the time I arbitrarily decided.  Taking that pressure off Lumen and myself by finding other income sources has re-kindled my love of the art.

So have a mad weekend art affair.   Or midnight art affair.  Whenever your squee is, go there.  

And if it turns out to make you enough to live comfortably, awesome.  But if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.  You do fabulous you.

Check out lesson #2 On Unsolicited Advice.

2 Responses to “The #1 lesson I Learned Selling Art (of 6)”

  1. Katherine July 9, 2016 at 3:39 am #

    Hear, hear, fellow STEM jeweler! This fixation we have on “do what you love (as a career)” has lots of implicit problems with it, and this post touches on one of them.

  2. Tanya August 2, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

    I love your observations, Robin. If nothing else, I think it’s important for all aspiring or would-be entrepreneur makers to be as (sometimes painfully) clear thinking as is possible about their endeavors. Your point that everyone’s journey is different is so true, and you can never judge where you’re at or if and when you should change course based on your perception of someone else’s experience. For one thing, you never REALLY know someone else’s experience, and yours is yours. Grab it, own it, live it, be it – big or small. Just do yourself a huge favor and don’t do it in a fantasy world.

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