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 humanly 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 snootiness 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…



“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


  1. Robin

    OK, Owen . . . just admit that wrote this entire thing for me. Hahaha! Numbers 2, 3 and 9 spoke to me. I do get frantic and overwhelmed on a daily basis, build things on shaky foundations sometimes, skimp on better websites, etc.! The overwhelmed feelings are likely because I really wish I had some help so I could work on my commission roster (25 on my list right now – some paid almost a year ago). I think I’m tired of doing everything by myself (the art production and the office/administrative), which stems from being a single mom for 18 years, doing it all completely alone . . . blah, blah, blah. I’m tuckered out!

    I love how you wrote, “You can’t skimp your way to prosperity.” I am the QUEEN of doing that. It’s hard for me to let go of a penny, which also goes back to the struggling single mom for 18 years thing.

    I advise any artist reading this to fork over the $12 and buy this Fast Start Art Marketing Primer. It’s a great, focused way to clear out the cobwebs and give a sense of direction to artists of all disciplines (jewelers, craft people, knitters). In fact, most any business that sells something will find value in it.

    Thanks for tellin’ it like it is, Owen! I need to read things like this on a daily basis to help push me through everything I do. You RAWK!

    • Owen Garratt

      Aww, thanks for the kind words Robin! 🙂 You’re going to have some great things come your way very soon; one can just tell…!

  2. Neal Swanson

    I take issue with #1

    I am pretty guilty of #1, but not in the sense that I’m chasing something. I am not interested in fads or rumors, but in using art as a form of creativity. I have no idea if anyone will want to buy anything I make, but I enjoy making it and the process is valuable on so many levels other than money. Because of this, I have jumped from photography to painting to making custom lamps to graphic design and even writing children’s books. I’ve sold items in all areas and each area helps the other as I continue to evolve the manifestation of my creativity.

    I guess my question to Owen is why so many great artists and musicians play multiple instruments or dabble in different mediums if it isn’t a good way to go about it? You mentioned the Sistine Chapel in your piece without mentioning that Michelangelo was a “sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer of the High Renaissance.” Are you saying that he should have picked one to get more traction? Or are you saying that he could have painted the Sistene Chapel without also doing art in other media throughout his life? I would disagree.

    I am a brand new artist who is just learning how to use the muscle of creative expression. I’m not very good at any one medium yet, but the muscle is getting stronger and I’m getting better at activating it. If someone would have said to focus on one type in order to “get traction” then I would have been bored almost immediately and certainly wouldn’t have learned that techniques in one medium can be used in others.

    • Owen Garratt

      Hey Neil!

      An awesome question/comment to follow up on!

      I completely agree with your observations about Michelangelo, and though I was using him for a different point, a strong argument could be made that his scope was his power, etc. I to, have multiple outlets. I was a full time musician for a large chunk of my life, and still indulge. My writing connects me with people, frankly, easier and in a stronger manner than my drawing does *sigh*. But I don’t try and rope my art clients into coming to my gigs, or offering my up coming books to my art clients either. And the folks who buy my books will of course know that I’m an artist, but I won’t be making them any offers.

      One MUST spend time in exploration, in discovery, and on a constant journey of growth; especially at the beginning. One needs to try a vast array of things before one rolls up one’s sleeves and sets out to create one’s own menu.

      Specifically, I’m referring to non-Michelangelos who are afflicted with “the grass is always greener” mentality. These folks swing into an interest whole-hog and with a feverish intensity, only to grow disheartened or bored and they’re on to the next Hot Thing.

      As I wrote in the article, this is, of course, their right and is likely a very necessary part of things…

      But you risk losing the clientele who’ve followed you thus far.

      This whole point is from the client’s perspective. We all think this way, and of course not just artists are afflicted with what the marketer’s call ‘line extension’. This is where a brand has some success and thinks they can sell anything just by slapping their name on it; so we get lunacy like Coca-cola jeans and McDonald’s pizza and Chevrolet shampoo (okay, I made that last one up).

      As consumers we latch on to something and don’t change very easily. If you’re accepted as ‘this’, it’s very, very difficult to be taken just as seriously as ‘that’.

      The cautionary note is meant to be: go ahead and be the best artist you can be. But when you decide to offer your work in a professional capacity, it’s in your best interest to be claiming a spot in the public’s mind and/or setting up a position that you can work in over the long haul.

      Otherwise you’re always starting over…

      And if you’re moving from one space to another, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, not fads or boredom.

      Does that clarify some?

  3. Neal Swanson

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply, I genuinely appreciate it.

    I understand your point of view, but it does sound like you are making a justification for one type of monetizing creativity in your original article, not so much in the most recent reply. Can you really argue that your drawing is not influenced, and possibly improved, by your music background? What if an artist would have told you that once you decided to become professional then you just need to show the public this one side of you for the best chance at success.

    Just because you happen to create one type of art and people like it and will pay you money for it doesn’t mean you should stick with that type of art. All it means is that you have had success monetizing your creativity. With luck, you have learned from that experience and can continue to do so in whatever medium you like (a great example is the illustrator Todd McFarlane).

    You said: “But I don’t try and rope my art clients into coming to my gigs, or offering my up coming books to my art clients either. And the folks who buy my books will of course know that I’m an artist, but I won’t be making them any offers.”

    Exactly. You are doing three different mediums (music, writing, art), and marketing them to three different audiences. You may have monetary success in one, and personal enrichment in another, but you are effectively operating three different brands under your creative umbrella. Three different marketing channels, customers, etc. I bet you’ve learned a ton about how to improve each because you were doing all three.

    Coke, Chevy, and McDonald’s create line extensions under a totally different brand but still under their umbrella. They market to different folks, in a different way, using different infrastructure, etc. This is sometimes referred to as diversification. Does it mean they are not considered professional in one arena simply because they invest their resources in another?

    This would be a wonderful conversation to have in person and I feel like we probably agree on 90% of the subject but may be looking at it in slightly different ways.

    You are very correct in most all of what you said in the article, I just get nervous when someone may be encouraging a creative-type not to spread their wings just so they have the best shot at making money or being considered “professional.”

    We have to remember that it is the process of creating that holds the value, not the sale or the end product. If you are a world class musician and decide to give it up to become an amateur photographer (David Byrne of the Talking Heads), only your customers suffer, not you as the artist. If you are only focused on the bottom line, you are focused on the wrong thing. You will spend your creative life chasing what you think will give you the best odds of making a living rather than the best odds at personal satisfaction, and then you’re just like a corporation and no longer an artist.

    Thanks again for the response. I love what you are doing!

  4. Robin


    If I might say, in the most polite way, I think you might have misunderstood Owen’s audience and message a wee bit. Owen’s article is directed towards people who are trying to earn 100% (or close to it) of their income from their art. Michelangelo could do whatever he wanted, because he was an employee of the church, if I’m correct. His patron(s) paid him to create what he did and gave him directives. He wasn’t just playing around with marble that he stumbled across or an empty Sistine Chapel that was crying out for him to spruce up. He was an employee with a salary and paid staff. He definitely wasn’t a struggling artist, trying to get recognition in the age of the internet, with a super-connected, busting-at-the-seams world population, and advertising for a zillion different things coming at him and everyone else 24/7 via print, TV, computers, phones, buses, billboards, etc. etc. etc.

    It was a different time.

    For artists today who are struggling to make 100% of their income from their art, a focused effort is VERY important. Otherwise, an artist will be lost in the sea of media and not be able to establish and define a niche to their public.

    Think of it as being in college: Freshman, who are usually still under the umbrella of their parents’ money, grants or student loans, dabble in all kinds of courses and majors, but by the time they reach their senior year, they’ve chosen a major in which to focus so that they can earn a living.

    If you’re new to selling art and also have another way of earning income that pays your bills, you can have all the freedom in the world to paint one day, act the next, and dance on the third day. More power to ya!

    We don’t all have that luxury – sad but true!

    Once an artist/actor/musician reaches the status of Coca Cola, David Byrne, Beyonce (!) or Michelangelo, then they can dabble wherever the heck they want. I promise you that Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t have international clothing lines, perfumes, makeup, and so on if she hadn’t focused 100% of her energies on song and dance for 20+ years prior. Can you imagine her as an 18 year old approaching Estee Lauder to design perfume? Nope. First she had to define herself and her niche and work REALLLLY hard to get noticed in that niche.

    At least this is how I interpret Owen’s essay. 🙂


  5. Owen Garratt

    Neil. Of course my other pursuits contribute to my art – where do I say otherwise?!

    It seems that you’re a little offended by the idea that, as artists, we should pander and create strictly as a commercial decision. Go ahead and feel offended by that idea. It offends me too.

    And that’s not what I’m saying. Like, at all.

    I’m saying that it’s a big damn deal to take someone’s hard earned money. I contend that, like matters of the heart, the other party in the interaction deserves our full consideration.

    Here’s the client’s POV: They’ve exchanged money – no foolin’ money – for some of your art. They bought into your vision, your talent, and your story. And they’re excited about it! They ran home and told everyone all about their new art, and about the artist who created it. You. They were a little unsure about it, but as they learned more about you they began to trust you and trust in your art and trust in your vision. And they decided to be a participant in it. And You.

    So now imagine how, if for instance, I contacted my Horde and told them in a breathless fashion about my new project: handcrafted humidors (or colour oil paintings, or whatever).

    They’d sit back with furrowed brow and a sense of unease would creep in. They bought – in a financial and an emotional sense – that I was the Pencilneck ®, that I’m partially colourblind and work in pencil, and I did a lot of those vintage oil well scenes that they liked so much. Humidors? Why humidors? What about the pencil art?!

    They’d have a sense of being duped, because now it looks like maybe I wasn’t what I’d represented myself to be.

    This isn’t conjecture; I’ve seen this play out over, and over, and over again.

    I have every right to create humidors. I can make them and I have a right to try and market them if I wish. But I’d be a bonehead if I thought for one minute that the legions of clients that I worked so hard for over the years would share my enthusiasm and follow the change.

    And if I went back to pencil like nothing happened, that would compound the problem.

    I consider it a very serious thing to accept someone’s money. Is it a good idea to take any artistic whims that I might get and try and monetize them without consideration of what that might mean to people who’ve supported me thus far?

    I dunno, that doesn’t feel very Karma-ish to me.

    Also, I have never said, implicitly or implied, that we should limit ourselves artistically, in fact quite the opposite.

    I respectfully, but completely, disagree with (or maybe misunderstand) your statement: “it is the process of creating that holds the value, not the sale or the end product.” What value?! Certainly not monetarily. Creation and ideas are nothing; talk is cheap! Everyone has ideas all the time.

    It’s bringing the ideas into fruition that counts. It’s what’s magical about what we do. It’s the part that causes people to look at what we do with wonder and say “I wish I could do that!”

    No one cares about the ideas that aren’t manifested…

    The value is in the artist. Period.

    To speak in terms of the value being monetary – which is the only quantifiable way – as I wrote about a few weeks aprovenancego, if that $300 million Gauguin was found to have a questionable , what would the value of it be?

    Youbetcha, a heck of a lot less than $300 million! It has nothing to do with the appearance, the physical condition, the composition, the palette or anything else. Gauguin. And maybe his syphilis.

    But I’m getting sidetracked; artists need to realize that as they decide to go into professional pursuits, the people who support them have certain expectations.

    I don’t even say that those expectations are just, or right, or logical…yet there they are.

    If you’re an artist going into this, you’ll want to either a) find a place in the world that you can live with over the long haul, and/or b) develop your career so that there’s a little “implied latitude” with the clients.

    People don’t accept Sean Connery in any role that’s not “Sean Conneryish”, but he got a groove going that got him some terrific parts, an Oscar, a zillion fans, and a long career in spite of it.

    How would folks react if he decided to do a home reno TV show?

    On the other hand, Michael Richards is Kramer to us, and that’s all there is to it.

    And that’s the rub: we may be very successful, but in time we may grow tired of it and want to evolve. I know several artists who’ve painted themselves in a corner (a pun?) and wanted to change but their client’s wouldn’t follow them.

    I admit that sucks. I’m only warning of the phenomenon, not endorsing it. (maybe read that line again) 😉

    Having said ALL that; I was also – in light of said phenomenon – warning artists who change out of boredom OR because that thing over there is selling now, that there’re costs to jumping around willy-nilly.

    Choose wisely!

  6. neal swanson

    Thanks again for such thoughtful replies you guys. Sadly, the art world you guys are describing is not an art world I care to participate in. I would argue it is not an art world at all, more of a product world, but obviously I’m in the extreme minority there. We will probably just have to agree to disagree on a lot of it.

    I will respond to the Michelangelo comment from Robin a bit. First of all, none of us know how he really got his start or really what his life or staff was like and how he got his commissions. We didn’t live back then and trusting a history book is like trusting a 2 year old’s version of a story. But…..assuming what we “know” about him is true, then Robin is correct, he did have a staff and was “hired” to do projects. What I am saying is that he could not have got to that point if he had just stuck with one medium. He became famous for being an artist, not for being a painter. He as famous for being creative, not for sculpting. He was hired to do the Sistine chapel but had never done something on that scale before, they were hiring his creative and artistic ability, not just because he could paint.

    My worry is that the next Michaelangelo won’t have a chance to get to the point of having a staff or getting hired because they will have bought into the belief that you have to focus so that you don’t confuse your clients.

    I totally agree that taking someone’s money for your creation is an enormous deal. But if someone buys your painting and then feels ripped off because you also sell humidors, that is the buyer’s fault, not yours. That means they’re buying the art for the wrong reasons. You should purchase a creation because it connects with you, even if that is the only creation like that that the artist ever did. Again, obviously this isn’t how the world works, so I am in the minority and many would argue I’m just flat out wrong.

    I will concede that you guys are correct in that if your goal is to derive 100% of your income from your creations, then focusing on a niche is the most efficient way to do that. I will never concede, however, that this is a good thing for art, artists, or art buyers.

    Again, what you are sharing is awesome Owen and I apologize for my misunderstandings of the content and message. I will shut up now.

    • Owen Garratt

      Neil, you are SO close! No need to “shut up now”; if things were out of hand I’d of course delete the comments because we’re all adults here and we must hold a semblance of decorum. You’re good! 🙂

      I suspect that your resistance is party age/experience based, and maybe a little inadvertent “kool aid drinking” fostered by segments of the art community who hold to the mantra that art is all about the whims of the artist, that if someone doesn’t understand what they’re doing then that’s the viewer’s fault, and that –whether stated or implied – that commerce and art are mutually exclusive.

      My overall philosophy about what I do is this: Art is about communication. I sincerely believe that as an artist, it’s my duty to climb above the treeline, slay the dragon, and come back to tell the tale. The world wants its artists to be leaders; they look to us for direction.

      Because we’re supposed to be communicating, it’s also our responsibility to facilitate that communication. We need to – through our art, our message, and our engagement – do everything we can to help that message, or else the message dies unheard.

      And marketing – proper marketing based on education and effective communication – is very much a part of that process.

      Respectfully, I’d offer that the “If they don’t get me that’s their fault/screw them I’ll do whatever I want” school of thought is just as misguided as the European missionaries of centuries ago who would begin preaching in Latin to an indigenous community somewhere and blame them for not understanding, and dismiss them as heathens.

      If the missionaries’ message is worth hearing (and I’m not starting a debate on THAT topic, but the example suits our purposes), then how much more effective would it be if they delivered in the indigenous culture’s own language, and wherever possible, found parallel examples in their own experience that reinforces the message they’re trying to communicate?

      And assuming they bought into what the preachers preached, how disturbing would it be to wake up one day to hear “Okay, we’re not doing Christianity anymore, but let me introduce Shintoism…”?

      To that end, I started MT for A because of the hundreds of artists who sent me impassioned pleas for help.

      There’re tens of thousands of artists who are committed to their disciplines, who feel very deeply about what they do, who’ve spent a good chunk of their lives developing and honing their craft, and who KNOW they have something important to offer…but are having trouble communicating and connecting with an audience.

      I can help with that.

      Maybe you’ve not yet had the feeling of rejection that comes after losing oneself in the creative process, investing time and money into developing the idea, doing everything you thought you were “supposed to do” to “get your name out there” and have nothing to show for it, to have taken the significant risk to your wallet and to your ego to approach galleries or do a trade show and have nothing but bills and rejection, to begin questioning your self-worth because nobody’s picking up what you’re laying down.

      That’s even worse than having a crush on someone and after months of gyrations, screwing up the courage to ask him/her out for a cup of coffee and getting laughed at and mocked.

      I contend that the “screw them I’ll do what I want” camp is also as a result of this rejection, but is a reaction and philosophy derived from bitterness, not self-determination and personal responsibility. Just sayin’.

      My purpose is to help stop that rejection from taking place, to show that there’re ways not to change other people, but to use and understand existing human psychology and societal customs to find, engage with, and develop relationships with people who best resonate with what we’re about.

      Go ahead and create whatever you want. It’s your right. But it’s also the right of the entire world to not accept your message either.

      Blaming them for not getting you is maybe easier, but not particularly constructive.

      If you get to the place where things aren’t going quite the way you’d hoped, we’ll be here! 🙂

  7. Neal Swanson

    I am really glad you said a few things. First:

    You said: “I suspect that your resistance is party age/experience based, and maybe a little inadvertent “kool aid drinking” fostered by segments of the art community who hold to the mantra that art is all about the whims of the artist, that if someone doesn’t understand what they’re doing then that’s the viewer’s fault”

    First, I am new to trying to sell my art (about 4 years now). My background and current way of paying the bills is through marketing for businesses. That is my education, work experience, and possibly natural skill set. You are right that my views are age/experienced based as I am only 34 and am new to the art world. However, I have no friends who do art and live in a town with an art community that does not welcome “business types” unfortunately, so there has been no “kool aid” to drink. Online is my only exposure to other artists and that is why I love what you’re doing so much. I only wish I had some sort of flavor of kool aid to drink.

    Furthermore, I didn’t say it was the viewer’s fault if they don’t get what you’re doing, I said it was the viewer’s fault if they felt cheated after buying a piece and finding out you also sold humidors. That means they’re not buying art for the right reasons, not that they “don’t get the artist.” Personally, I get so sick of people claiming that buyers “don’t get them,” as that is the lamest excuse in the book and points to poor decision making on the artists part to pursue something not for passion but for approval.

    BTW, commerce and art are mutually exclusive. Any attempt to combine or blend the two is compromise of one over the other. You have to blend them if you want to make money selling art, but only if you are the one selling it instead of a third party. But just because selling art on your own forces a blending of art and commerce does not mean that they are not mutually exclusive.

    You said: “Respectfully, I’d offer that the “If they don’t get me that’s their fault/screw them I’ll do whatever I want” school of thought is just as misguided”

    I couldn’t agree with you more but I would take it a step farther and say that if you are creating art and caring about approval, then you’re not doing art, you’re just creating products.

    You also said: “Maybe you’ve not yet had the feeling of rejection that comes after losing oneself in the creative process, investing time and money into developing the idea, doing everything you thought you were “supposed to do” to “get your name out there” and have nothing to show for it, to have taken the significant risk to your wallet and to your ego to approach galleries or do a trade show and have nothing but bills and rejection, to begin questioning your self-worth because nobody’s picking up what you’re laying down.”

    I doubt four years is enough time to have the feeling you’re mentioning, but I have hung in galleries and not sold a thing, I’ve done trade shows and not sold a thing, I’ve been laughed at by multiple people and told that I should do it this way or that only to find out that what works for one doesn’t always work for the other.

    Sounds like we are at a point of completely misunderstanding each other, but I appreciate the response nonetheless. As long as we all keep creating what we’re passionate about, the world will be okay.

    • Owen Garratt

      I think we understand each other very well, we just disagree.

      Actually, you may be right and my verbiage may need refining. Art and commerce may be mutually exclusive, in a sense, though not as an absolute. As a full time professional artist since 1997 I can say that no, I don’t create anything without considering the clients to whom I hope to sell said creation to. So yes, I suppose that not an absolute, the point has validity.

      So I will amend that statement henceforth: Art and commerce may not be mutually exclusive, but they certainly can affect each other. If we choose to step up and assume the mantle of professionalism, it’s up to us to make sure that art and commerce compliment each other, and neither becomes a detriment.

      I wish you the best Neil. Sincerely.

  8. neal sawnson

    You too Owen, great conversation, thank you very much for engaging!

  9. Robin


    Try quitting your day job and relying on income from your art to pay 100% of your monthly expenses for a couple of months. You’ll realize very quickly that establishing and focusing on a niche is what is going to pay the bills (not floating around from art to dance to photography to music to writing). “Art floating” is what people do when they don’t need to earn income from their art, or if they’ve already established themselves via one discipline and can afford to experiment with another (David Byrne). Not everyone is so privileged.

    Owen is a seasoned professional who is offering advice to people who want to become real deal artists. I don’t see the point of arguing/debating with him. If you’re going to sign up for his advice blog, take his advice! LEARN FROM THE MASTER. No matter your opinion or his, he’s the teacher and you’re the student. He’s the pro and you’re the novice.

    You’re never going to learn anything if you’re always correcting the teacher. Instead, you’ll just always be that annoying kid in class who is constantly correcting the teacher, and last time I checked, that kid was sort of well, you know . . . THAT KID.

    So, like I said . . . sign up for art advice and TAKE IT. You’re spending precious time debating Owen that you COULD be spending marketing/creating your art! If you didn’t want to sell it realllllly badly, you wouldn’t be here. That’s the bottom line.



  10. neal swanson

    Thank you Robin. I’m sorry it was a debate and not a passionate discussion. I have tried full time art for multiple years (selling one of my businesses and quitting my part time job to focus 100% on it). I made good money selling art almost immediately and was able to pay my bills for the entire time I was a full-time artist (thanks to my background in marketing, not my artistic abilities which are amateur at best). Unfortunately, once I did start marketing and selling art, all people wanted was one of the mediums I was doing. I just didn’t find it as fulfilling because I started to make pieces just because I knew they would sell (like right now I have 7 commissions lined up and I can’t find the motivation to do them because they’re in a medium that I no longer find fun, just happen to be good at).

    I don’t know what a “real deal” artist is, and I would hope that no artist refers to themselves as a “master” or “pro” who shouldn’t be debated, especially in the arena of marketing. A master seller of art is different than a master of art, and I don’t believe either exist because both disciplines are so fluid.

    You can learn a lot debating a teacher if you are a student, oftentimes more than the original lesson. Actually, I only debated one point out of nine which could also mean I listened and agreed to 8/9 points, but I agree that I could have spent that time listening quietly or doing art rather than discussing the subject….that is my mistake. We are definitely taught in this country that the teachers are not to be questioned. This was only the second blog post of his I read and obviously disagreement is not welcome in this student/teacher arena. I promise to keep my mouth shut now.

    Have a wonderful day and keep creating!

    • Tori

      I have always gotten straight A’s in school and my main reason for being “engaged” and fully understanding the subject was to ask questions. I found your questions very helpful, and I believe that EVERYONE is constantly learning (teacher, student, everyone.) I personally appreciated your questions, AND his answers and found them very helpful in finding my OWN point of view (somewhere in the middle, I’d say). I think the smartest people always ask “why” before they can make an educated decision. You guys both had very awesome points so please, don’t “shut up” or feel any negativity towards the learning process! (which has been stated as similar to “ripping off a Band-Aid… and I feel like your reaction might have been similar 😉 ) The industry is harsh. It makes you question why you do what you do, and what exactly your message is. Now we know your message. I think what he’s trying to say is that you need to find an effective way of relaying that “message” or “passion” that you have just displayed us; to your client’s regardless of what medium you use. Stay focused on your message. (How important your art is to you, and what keeps you going etc.). But even what I am saying is all up to interpretation. Anyways, my main point is – don’t stop asking questions, as that is how we all learn! And some people have too much “pride” to ask so they need people like you to ask for them 😛

  11. Michael Schlicting

    Interesting thread- I think it encapsulates very neatly the whole art versus commerce tension every artist faces, especially when starting out. I’ve made my living since college by selling my art, 39 years now. There was a lot of luck and naiveté involved at the start- not too many places to turn to to figure out the business of art back then! But Owen (from what I’ve seen of his ideas so far- I just discovered his website) seems to have a good sense of the nature of the art biz.

    I understand Neal’s reluctance to cut off any avenue of creative exploration. If one feels creative I think it’s natural to want to see where those impulses lead. I’ve followed many of those same impulses during my career- and am grateful I did, as I’ve always found something valuable from them.

    However, one issue that didn’t seem to be specifically touched on in this discussion is that of “craft”, the skill you bring to fully realizing your vision. I would suggest that if you bounced around from “oil painting to humidors” you couldn’t invest enough time in any one thing to really master it. I find it interesting that the visual arts is the only endeavor in which people think that just because they “feel deeply” they should just be able to sit down and communicate their vision to the viewer (Neil, I’m not suggesting at all that this is your attitude, just what I’ve experience over the years with newer artists). In music, athletics, business, anything- one HAS to put in the hours, sweat and diligence to gain mastery. The visual arts are no different.

    • Owen Garratt

      I completely agree with you Michael!

      It’s long puzzled me, this tendency to believe that all art is valid (nothing against anyone here, of course). If you gave these souls a guitar, do they think they could “cut a gig” without the woodshedding? Even with assiduous practice, a complete newbie would still need weeks and weeks just to cut a polka gig in an old folks home!

      That’s the point of the article; while artistic growth is vital, jumping around in a professional capacity (hoping to get paid for what you do) is fraught with peril. And most artists don’t like that message. Which is fine, I’m not endorsing it, I’m merely pointing out the risks.

      There’s also an unfortunate tendency to want to “shoot the messenger” in these threads, and some confuse “questioning for clarification” and “correction and/or personal validation through repudiation “. 🙂

    • Janice

      I may be a little naive but I think core values generally are what resonate with clients and in building relationships with them. I know what I believe in and what I need to be happy so I look for like-minded people. Once they see what I see in my work they engage and may become clients or even collectors. Once that happens and I start with another medium, if I stay true to my core values and styleI think they would see the continuity. Just saying.

      • Owen Garratt

        Hey Janice!

        It’s a mistake to think of artist/client relationships in the same manner as friendships.

        For example, I admire Keith Richards, but after the star-struckedness (a new word!) wore off, I doubt we’d have much in common, and in fact, there’s much in the man that I’d just as soon not have in my life.

        Also, once the bridge is crossed to friendshipland, they stop being clients. If Keef and I became buddies, mightn’t one kind of expect to get comped and not have to buy a ticket?

        Having said that, I do have friendships with many of my clients; people whom I admire greatly – but it absolutely changes the working relationship. You kind of have to choose between one or the other.

        And that’s where I’m going with this: “resonating with clients” and “core values” and “building relationships” are all great buzzwords (I use them too), but it’s DIFFERENT in a professional context than in a personal or amateur one. If you think of clients as friends or soul mates, sure, your friends will watch your career with interest…but that interest isn’t transactions, and will not keep you fed and watered.

        My fans and clients do like what I put out and appreciate my craft and swank around to their friends about me and all of that, but that doesn’t mean we’re living communally! 🙂

        They like and “get” me because there’s a level of perceived accessibility to me and my work, and I’m positioned as The Big Fish in my Little Pond. If I started dabbling in other media and tried to offer it to them, they’d have inevitable mixed feelings about it, verging on betrayal.

        Examples: When someone wants to hire an artist to do an expensive tile mosaic in their foyer, they want someone who specializes in that kind of work, not a dabbler. And they really want someone who makes them look good for having hired them (don’t EVER underestimate that part of the equation – it’s not kissing ass, it’s positioning).

        Or: When someone wants to have the very best wedding photographer, they immediately skip over the photographers who “do that too”. They want the person who’s made that their speciality, and will pay handsomely for it.

        Does that make sense?

  12. Robin

    I agree with Michael 100%. You can’t ever get really good at anything until you truly study, practice and master it. Hopping from one style to another is a surefire way to stay mediocre.

    I’m guilty of this not in my artistic talent, but in how to market it. Do I sell prints? Commissions? License my art? Which way to earn money do I focus on, and how do I get paid my necessary monthly income in the mean time, while I’m building systems, etc.?


    • Michael Schlicting

      This Robin, is what Owen (in my brief perusal of his online offerings) is helping people with. The thing is, there is NO one size fits all in art marketing/sales. I have a number of friends, all making a living at their art, and none of us have the same template.

      • Owen Garratt

        Again, I completely agree, and I stress that the artist has to be congruent and aligned with who they are.

        Don’t try and be me, or her, or that guy over there…be you!

        I get asked all the time about “how to sell art”, and I’m afraid I can’t tell any artist how to sell 1000 limited edition prints.

        But I know 100 ways to sell 20 prints…! 🙂

  13. Karin

    Yup that’s all me! (eek.)
    Helpful to see it all spelled out so I can take steps to remedy it.
    On that note:
    I have your great lil’ affordable $12 course. I’d love it if you expanded it to something a little more “slow track”: sort of “Art Biz for Dummies”. I found in your course I’d get lost in your metaphors and wanted more action steps in real speak.
    Ok: there’s YOUR task. 🙂
    So happy to have found your site and resources.
    Most Sincerely,
    Karin Bolstad

    • Owen Garratt

      Hey Karen! Thanks for the kind words! So the ten specific Action Tasks – one at the end of each module – weren’t specific enough?!

      Yes, some of them are mental exercises and decisions that artists need to make, but without those decisions it’s hard to know what actions to take next.

      For instance, if you decide to do art shows but you haven’t figured out a) who you are as an artist and b) who your market is…how can you pick what show to do? No two shows are alike, and most artists do shows based on cost and convenience, then wonder why they got bad results.

      To that end, our Art Shows course is, frankly, unparalleled.

      But we can’t, and shouldn’t, make artist’s decisions for them.

      And there’s no value in me telling artists about specifics such as which retargeting cookies on their landing pages so their online ads run on which content network based on what segmentation if they a) aren’t building a list yet, or b) don’t even have a website, or c) don’t know who they’re trying to speak to.

      (DON’T panic reading that!!! It’s an extremely advanced example and one can have a nice art career without understanding a word of it!)

      So the only thing we can do to help is create courses in such a way that artists can “self sort” based on their own desires and temperament, and they can advance at their own level.

      So do those Action Steps!! 🙂

  14. Lori Woodward

    I’ve been a professional artist and art writer for 25 years, and I’ve written articles on art marketing and got a couple of national speaking gigs. That all said, the way art is sold is still in flux. I used to work with galleries – they have closed. Doing juried shows often costs me more than I make…

    I bought Owen’s twelve dollar course because I wanted to hear what he had to say, and it was priced right to satisfy my curiosity. I’ve listened to the course twice. It’s absolutely the best art marketing course out there. Owen doesn’t promise anything, he doesn’t have a “one recipe fits all” process…which wouldn’t work for artists anyway because our situations are diverse.

    Owen, I find the course refreshing and encouraging. Most of the ways I sold my art in the past isn’t working as well now. I need to begin again. Not my work, but my way of building a clientele. First though, I want to build an improved body of work. I realize that if I concentrate on getting my art to the next level, I’ll have something to present that will be memorable. While I enjoy painting a variety of subjects, I plan on focusing on the subject that I’d do if I could only do one. That doesn’t mean I’m stuck there for life, but I do want a consistent set of images, recognizable as my own. So it’ll be landscapes of a couple of national parks I’ve been painting in for a decade. I love the scenery, and know quite a bit about the history and geology.

    Thanks Owen, your materials have given me a solid plan for building a new clientele and marketing my work on my own. Almost every venue I’ve had for the last 15 years has evaporated. It’ll take a lot of effort, but at least I know what my next step is. I realize there are no guarantees for art sales, but I’ll have a good time pursuing the path.

    Owen, I also appreciate your pricing for this course.,.. Makes buying it a no-brainier.

    • Owen Garratt

      Hey Lori! Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you found the course helpful. 🙂

  15. Kilian Nance

    If I can ever get out of the red and into the black by just $12 this will be the first thing I buy, but until then I still have to put food on the table, clothes on the backs, and a roof over my five kids and my wife. I desperately need to sell my originals and my prints and right now it looks like I will have to find a “real job” (shudders) just to get us out of this hole.

    • Owen Garratt

      Hey Kilian! Do whatever you need to do. Work your arse off. Don’t be too proud to take work you’d rather not on a temporary basis – especially with your family involved. But use that discomfort to propel you forward. Fight like hell and show your kids what’s possible. Learn and study and think and keep kicking.

      It wasn’t that many years ago that I had to bathe my son at a swimming pool because our water was shut off. The most valuable thing I did was get to a place where “enough was enough”. I got whipped up into a frenzy of anger and shame that fed my determination to not ever be back in that place.

      So don’t avoid the discomfort – rip the band aid off!

  16. Will Enns

    I’ve been getting by on my art for about 5 years. So far, I’ve just made it all up. Saw what wasn’t working for others, tried to avoid that. Tried to figure out why certain things worked for them, and not for me. I concluded it helps to be cute and sexy and young. But my wife of 35 years tells me I’d better not rely on that.

    And then, my art group kicked me out. Didn’t see that coming. Seems they took umbrage when I pointed out that if you want to sell art, you have to make art that people want. Maybe I was more emphatic than I thought. But each of them represented one of the points in your essay above. Turned out to be a good thing, because now they don’t get in my way anymore, or waste my time with meetings.

    Then I came across your offer through Barney on how to do shows. So I gathered all my nickels and squeezed them till they had lots of babies, and bought that course. It hasn’t made me a dime, but I haven’t done any shows yet, either.

    Owen, I’m putting you to the test. Gonna find out if you know anything. I’m pretty sure something will work. Because your course teaches many things I half-knew, and more. Going in the Kelowna home show this year. That’s a big, scary first, but I have already experienced that more sales happen after a show than during. So now I work at setting up a system to capture more and better clients.

    I wish myself luck, but I’ll fertilize it with some Owen-focused effort.

    Thanks, Owen. You are a good communicator.

  17. Timothy Lauer

    I have had prostate cancer and have been treated and healed, somewhat, early detection…it has left me impassioned about my art..I would like to blame my lack of interest on other events in my life. Now that I will soon be 72 I must admit I’ve seen my psychotherapist and he seemed to help with my depression..some days my art pushes me forward away from depression, but today was not it…it just happens… am I selling my art, yes, but why am I not happy..I need to know what makes me happy; haven’t found it yet.

    • Owen Garratt

      Hey Tim! I hope you get to the place you’re looking for. For what it’s worth – and I’m certainly not a therapist or anything – I’ve found happiness to be overrated and an impossible state to maintain. And society makes us feel that unless we’re smiling manically and jumping up and down in slow motion, that we’re missing out on something…

      Just last week I was with my best friend since high school and we got into a laughing fit that left my sides sore for two days. At first, I was lamenting how many years it had been since I’d had a laugh like that. I mean, shouldn’t life be an unending stream of belly laughs with worthwhile people?

      But I don’t think so. If every morning was Christmas morning you’d get sick of it pretty quick. I think Joy and real happiness are supposed to be condiments and rewards in life; not the main course.

      But I’ve found there’s lots to be said for contentment. That state of being where “Y’know, things aren’t too bad!” Where the stresses and demands are minor and under our influence, where forgiveness has entered relationships and you’ve got a few good fellas to share some laughs with, you’re not holding onto bitterness and resentment for perceived grievances, and things are chugging along!

      Little pleasures. A really good cup of coffee. An author you really like. Some painting. Some visiting. Some music. A little learning.

      That’s certainly doable. And easier to get to and keep rolling. 🙂


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