The Nine Behaviors That Doom Artists to Failure

by Owen Garratt | The Art of Being an Artist

This isn’t likely to be a very popular post; “Doom artists to failure”?

I mean, egad!

I  can almost promise that each and every artist that comes across it is going to find themselves reflected in at least one of these points (including me, I should add), and that kind of candor is rarely welcomed.

So I ask you to understand that I’m not singling anyone out, and the last thing I mean to do is to be disrespectful or embarrass anyone. But there are occasions when the band aid has to be ripped off and things looked at in a harsh noon light.

And hopefully with the right touch of humor…

Thus, in the spirit of a grizzled old high school coach who cares deeply about the team but who also has to call them on their sh!t from time to time, I offer you:


1. Not knowing who they are/wanting to be everything to everyone

These artists jump around trying new media, new venues, new rumors, and new fads hoping that something will finally work. One day it’s paint, the next day is textiles, the next day is photography. They put in a flurry of unfocused and unnecessarily difficult labor into the new ‘thing’ and collapse over the finish line, usually with very unsatisfactory results.

The problem is that they never stay put in any place long enough to get any traction: it’s like trying to do business with a moth.

On the plus side, if you don’t know exactly what you’d like to do, you can start with an easily targeted market and work out from there.


2. Frantic busy work with little or misguided forethought

They go through bursts and desperately try to get some traction but they’ve got no structure under them to build on. It’s the old “building one’s house on sand” routine. They work themselves to a husk trying to get ready for a new show or to develop whatever new bright shiny object promises to finally pay off, but they miss the foundational elements that give longevity and sustainability.

They’re like cartoon children who assemble a giant rickety structure out of anything they can find to try and get up to the cookie jar. The thing almost always collapses once they get so high, causing injury and spreading desolation and ruin; the effort and risk disproportionate to the trouble.

How much easier is it just to get the damn ladder out of the garage, set it up, and get the cookie quickly and safely!? If the ladder’s too heavy, call someone to give you a hand!

What’s the point of having a website that no one can purchase from? Why go through all of the work to do an art fair but not have a way for clients to pay you with credit cards? Why call on galleries when you haven’t got proper business materials?

This also goes to…


3. Everything’s incomplete or half-assed

Lots of art unfinished or half-assed. Half-assed researched. Half-assed website. Half-assed art show booth. A website up for two years but didn’t take the 15 minutes to complete the meta tags and wondering why they get no traffic. Or they collect a ton of juicy contacts from an art show and never bother entering them into any kind of system so they can actually keep in touch.

One of the things they teach in grade school math is that what happens on one side of the equation happens on the other. Half-assed work on one side = half-assed results on the other.

False economies, which has been written about elsewhere, but it’s astounding the number of artists who honestly think that they can have a thriving career and earn top dollar by doing everything as cheaply as humanely possible.

Cheap website, cheap reproductions, cheap photographs, cheap presentation…and they’re hoping to get big business that way?

Does spending $15 a month on website hosting or $9 on an email service cause you to have chest pains and cold sweats?

There’RE almost certainly better expenses to eliminate before your infrastructure. Instead of cramping your artistic career you may want to consider brown bagging it, skipping one or two Starbuckses a week, or getting a few hours a month in on a second job for a little extra loot until things start flowing.

One doesn’t need to spend foolishly or lavishly for its own sake, but there’RE lots of free and very inexpensive resources to get started with, so let’s get your thinking out of the poorhouse and pointed towards abundance.

You can’t skimp your way to prosperity.



4. They don’t know whom to speak to

These artists make generic art and want to sell it to everybody. They’re not sure what their art stands for, they just like to “create” and figure that’s enough to cause people to reach for their credit cards.

They also tend to create art that they like, which is important, but they have no idea who else to show it to, or how to present it, or how to find people that might like it. Or they look for rich people, their entire reasoning being “Well, they have money”.

Don’t know why they create what they do, or they create it for reasons that have nothing to do with anyone outside themselves.

This often leads to…


5. Considering the business of art to be beneath them

They mock it or think they’re above doing it – usually with a haughty snootyness that “my art should sell itself”.

That’s good as far as it goes, but what are the mechanics of that, exactly?

How do you gather up a group of people interested in the kind of thing you do? How do you deliver a message that’s clear to them and makes sense? How are they supposed to understand you and your message and decide to participate in it?

It doesn’t matter how good your message is, if you go shout it from a barren mountaintop during a windstorm, you’re not exactly hitting home with it, are you?


6. They have hang ups about money and art

They don’t want to sully their art with the taint of filthy lucre; that commerce demeans the purity of it.

Bah! The Sistine Chapel was a gig! If Michelangelo can stoop to being paid for his gifts and aptitudes, who are we to poo-poo it?

We’re supposed to prosper via our aptitudes. What do you think these gifts were for; to keep us downtrodden?!

Deep down these artists are rejecting what has rejected them: they’re not fooling anyone; it’s just like the mean girls in high school who band together to ridicule the girl who’s honestly pretty because they’re jealous.

These artists think that if they can’t make it, the idea itself must be flawed.


7. A lack of understanding about what it takes

These artists think, for instance, that exposure will solve everything. “If only more people knew about me.”

The reality is that exposure would expose that they’re unprofessional, they have sloppy work ethic, they can’t manage their way to wearing matching socks, and that they really don’t have a clue about what they’re doing.

“You can die from exposure” is The Colonel’s favorite saying, and she’s right.

Fame doesn’t equal transactions. Is Tom Cruise famous? Has he ever had a flop? More than a couple. But how could that be, he’s famous?!?

They think if I JUST get some gallery representation, then it’ll be better, or if I just get a website things’ll be better.

Go ahead and ask artists who’ve got into galleries or have a website if it’s the cure-all everyone seems to think it is.

Things like gallery representation and websites are just tools useful in assembling the solution, not the solution itself.


8. They misunderstand behavioral psychology

In other words, they don’t have any idea of why people do the things they do – like, for instance, what happens in a client’s mind during the decision-making process of buying art.

They think the public acts, or worse “should act”, a certain way because that’s how THEY think the public should act.

Included in this is the mistake of using themselves and their immediate peer group to evaluate what they do with their art and career. It’s like looking at your foot and assuming that everyone wears the same sized shoe as you. This pollutes everything from pricing decisions to media choices to marketing messages. You are not your client. Clients act for their own reasons, not ours.


9. They let themselves get overwhelmed

Which makes them procrastinate and feel lazy and rotten and the cycle perpetuates.

They know they have to do a handful of things, but rather than writing out a 2-minute plan while the coffee’s brewing and mobilize their creativity to solve the ‘how’, they distract themselves with whatever they can and then they can throw some guilt on the fire too.

This overwhelm leads to procrastination and accusations of laziness. They wring their hands and pull the blankets over their heads and go through gyrations to avoid doing what they know they should do. It becomes vital to dust behind the fridge! The garage won’t wait another minute for a complete gutting! “I need a haircut!”

Pros don’t do this. They roll up their sleeves and make things happen, one way or another.

Often it’s just a matter of getting some information and beginning the journey.


What to DO about it…?

Is there a remedy for these phenomena that doom artists to failure?

If you’ve never gone through any real process of trying to build your career, you’ve probably never gone through any kind of introspection as it relates to work. You may never have been exposed to any kind of prodding over your foibles.

You may have never had someone call you on your sh!t, so it may not be your fault – if this is all new to you, then you can hardly be blamed for not fixing it…

But now that you do know, you’re responsible. You can’t claim ignorance anymore.

What’re you going to do?

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you get our Fast Start Art Marketing Primer, obviously.

For $12 bucks, is it going to solve every possible problem you may ever possibly have?

Of course not. It’s not magic beans.

But for $12 you can be exposed to new ways of considering your career, and yourself as an artist.

You’ll begin to understand the basics of marketing and salesmanship specifically as it pertains to art.

You’ll see new ideas of managing your time and career, and ways of freeing yourself from the constrictions of whatever limitations may be holding you back.

Tips and help from almost 20 years of being a full-time artist, including a litany of things to avoid and to be wary of.

Being an artist is awesome…don’t miss out on it!!!

QUESTION: Would you offer to take me out for a beer and sandwich to pick for the chance to pick my brains for a couple of hours?


Then get The Fast Start Art Marketing Primer.

It’s what I’d tell you face to face, and it’s cheaper than buying me lunch…

Check out The Fast Start Art Marketing Primer!

“Just a note to say thanks to Owen for his courses. It has already changed my whole concept of marketing my work and makes me actually feel in control of my future. Thanks Owen!”

Tony Alderman
Durham, NC

“I’ve gotten great value out of this course. It really speaks to the artist in a no B.S. way that clears the mental clutter, and gets you to pay attention to what you really need to get the ball rolling.”

Fay Wyles
San Clemente, CA

“It was light-hearted, it had charm and humour and kept me engaged the whole time!  I loved it!”

Suzi Campbell
Melbourne, Australia

“The first or second lesson got my money back in multiples already. So brilliant…you shook me!”

Marta Spendowska
Domino, OK

“Owen’s course literally saved me from a slippery path that I would probably have never recovered from.”

Gregg Arnold
Kingman, AZ


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What's the Number One Most Important Thing about Selling Art and Being an Artist?! 
(without having to be dead!)

What's the Number One Most Important Thing about Selling Art and Being an Artist?!

(without having to be dead!)

Enter your name and email below to see the controversial video!

“Why Do You Need This?!” A sign of the times, but we need to make sure you’re a real person and not some sort of spambot.