Insights from Successful Artists
It’s a mad world out there, especially if you’re an artist trying to navigate the tumultuous waters of today’s art scene. Gone are the days when simply creating beautiful, technically proficient work was enough to make a name for yourself. Now, you have to be a marketer, a brand ambassador, a social media guru, and a networking genius all rolled into one (…not really, but that is what is expected of you). To help you chart your course, we’ve gathered insights from successful artists and experts in the field. So buckle up, we’re diving in.
Let’s start with the basics. The first thing you need to do as an artist is to create work that is authentic, meaningful, and speaks to your unique perspective. In an age where art is often reduced to a commodity, it can be tempting to create work that is trendy or marketable, but ultimately that strategy is unsustainable. To truly make an impact, you need to create work that is true to your vision, and that requires introspection and self-awareness.
Take, for example, Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese artist known for her immersive, polka-dotted installations. Kusama’s work is undeniably unique, reflecting her experience of mental illness and her fascination with infinity. Her work is not trendy or marketable, yet it has captured the attention of audiences around the world. That’s because Kusama has remained true to her vision, refusing to compromise her artistic integrity for the sake of popularity.
Of course, creating great work is only half the battle. To be a successful artist you also need to get your work out there, and that requires a certain amount of hustle. Social media has become an essential tool for artists in the 21st century, allowing them to connect with audiences around the world and build a following. But social media can be a double-edged sword, and it’s easy to get lost in the noise.
That’s why it’s important to have a clear and consistent message across all your channels, from Instagram to Twitter to your website (you don’t really need all of these – in fact, one would do just fine). Take a cue from Shepard Fairey, the American street artist who rose to fame with his “Obey” campaign and his iconic “Hope” poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Fairey’s work is instantly recognizable, and that’s partly due to his branding savvy. Though he built his reputation before artists were on social media – through the simple medium of street art – his website, social media accounts, and merchandise now all have a consistent look and feel, creating a cohesive brand that is instantly recognizable.
But branding isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s also about your voice and your message. Take Banksy, the anonymous British street artist whose work often carries a social or political message. Banksy’s work is not just visually striking, it also has a clear point of view. Whether he’s commenting on the refugee crisis or the excesses of the art world itself, Banksy’s work always has something to say.
Of course, branding and social media are just tools. To truly succeed in the art world, it doesn’t hurt to be a savvy networker. That means attending events, meeting people, and building relationships. It’s not always glamorous, but in many cases it can really help you get your work into the public sphere.
Take, for example, Mickalene Thomas, the American artist known for her vibrant, rhinestone-encrusted portraits of Black women. Thomas has built a career by networking tirelessly, attending events and art fairs and building relationships with curators and collectors. Her work has been shown in museums around the world, and she has won numerous awards and grants, including a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.
But networking is not just about hobnobbing with the elite. It’s also about building a community of artists and peers who can offer support and feedback. That’s why it’s important to participate in artist residencies, workshops, and other opportunities that allow you to connect with other artists and build a support system. These experiences can be invaluable for both your artistic and professional development.
One well-known successful artist who has embraced the importance of community is Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and activist known for his work on human rights and political dissent. Weiwei has been involved in numerous artist residencies and workshops around the world, using these opportunities to connect with other artists and build a network of support. His work has been widely exhibited and has even led to political controversy and personal hardship, but Weiwei has remained committed to using his art to shine a light on important social and political issues.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that the art world is constantly changing, and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. That means you need to be adaptable and willing to take risks.
One successful artist who has demonstrated a willingness to take risks is KAWS, the American artist known for his pop-infused, cartoonish sculptures and paintings. KAWS began his career as a street artist, but has since transitioned to the fine art world, collaborating with brands like Dior and creating massive sculptures for public spaces. His work is often playful and irreverent, but it has captured the attention of collectors and critics alike, cementing his place in the art world.