Why You Will Fail to Make a Living as an Artist

Artwork Archive | September 7, 2016 (Updated September 20, 2022)

Like being lost in the jungle with a water-soaked map, an art career can be hard to navigate.

There’s no clearly defined work day, no boss telling you what to do, and no promotions propelling you up the career ladder. But, maybe that was the appeal in the first place?

Have no fear. Every entrepreneur experiences bumps along the way, and struggling to make it as a professional artist does not have to be a permanent problem.

Take a look at these five reasons why artists fail to make a living, and how to easily get back on the track to success:

You’re not studying the business of art

“Professional artist” has a secret job description. Under artist, it should list marketer, social media specialist, CEO, inventory manager, accountant, and more. Because you’re not only an artist, you are also running your own small business—and that is something you need to take seriously.

We’re not saying to spend your life savings on an M.B.A. You simply need to devote a little time to develop your business chops each week. There are so many great resources out there for artists. Whether you prefer reading books, perusing blogs, or listening to podcasts in the studio, every tidbit of information you absorb can help turn your art business into a sustainable career.

You’re not giving 100 percent

Working as an artist can be an unpredictable lifestyle. When the sales aren’t booming, even the most confident artists question their path. You have to learn how to harness your fears in order to find success as an artist.

Need a push? Take these words from actor Jim Carrey’s viral commencement speech: “So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach, and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it.”

In the speech, Carrey discusses his father’s “safe” decision to become an accountant instead of an actor, and how he was sadly let go from this “safe” accounting job. He remarks, “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

You’re not organized

There is A LOT to keep track of when you’re an artist: the location of your pieces, client information, sales, aspects of your artworks, gallery dates, application details … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

With so much to do and so little time, Excel spreadsheets just aren’t going to cut it. If you’re serious about making a career as an artist, you need a system to help manage your business. An inventory management program like Artwork Archive allows artists to easily stay on top of the administrative side of their career.

Here's what you should be looking for in an art inventory management system.

You’re not making use of your art marketing

The art world is rife with competition.  While marketing may not sound that fun or glamorous, becoming your own marketing expert is necessary if you want to have a thriving art business.

When a solid and well researched effort is put towards promoting your work, you will see your audience wide and gain the ability to attract more customers and sales.  

While very useful, social media and email can get monotonous for you and your potential buyers. Don’t be afraid to put your creative talents to use in your marketing endeavors too! Check out Art Biz Coach Alyson Stanfield’s ten best marketing tips and these seven fresh ideas to make your art marketing stand out.

You’re not pricing correctly

Pricing can be one of the big reasons why your art isn’t selling—and how can you make a living as an artist if no one buys your work?

Before you start getting stressed out, take a look at these do’s and don’ts of pricing your artwork to get a better feel for what you should be charging. Next, consider these three straightforward formulas for pricing your artwork. Have you introduced multiple price points in your art business? It may help you sell to a larger crowd.

Finally, update your inventory status on Artwork Archive after you sell a piece so you can begin to measure your productivity and gain more understanding about who is buying what.

The good news is...

All of these problems can be fixed! With a little research and organization, the “starving artist” myth doesn’t have to be a thing. Making a living as an artist is possible, and Artwork Archive can help make it easier for you.

Sign up for your free 14 day trial of Artwork Archive to start managing your art career more effectively.

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