The highest achieving artists live by a different set of rules for themselves.
There are so many common trappings in a creative career. It’s easy to get caught up in expectations, prestige, and comparison. What the most successful artists have found—after going through all of these same emotions, is that refusing to fall victim to these mindsets is the key to their advancement.
In fact, there are some things they simply refuse to put up with in their careers. Actions, people, and habits that are toxic (that we may not even realize) to not only our creativity but the success of our business.
Luckily, we can learn from artists who’ve been there—artists who’ve seen how detrimental these things can be to a career and vow never to give them a second thought.
Take a look at eight things the most successful artists refuse to do in their art careers, so you can follow suit. You might be surprised!
They don’t compare themselves to other artists online
Comparisons can do one of two things: stifle your creativity or steal your joy.
Every single artist is at a different place in his or her career. Everyone has their own journey filled with challenges and triumphs. And more than likely, we only witness the triumphs, the end result, the incredible artwork.
Don’t worry about those other artists! There’s no one path to success.
Instead of focusing on how you stack up next to someone else, invest that energy into comparing your recent work with the work you made six months ago, a year ago and five years ago. Have you grown? Because that’s what really matters.
Only compare yourself to former yourself.
And, when you inevitably see another’s work, don’t panic! Take a deep breath and simply appreciate it for what it is. Let it inspire you to move forward, not stunt your growth with anxiety.
They refuse to be a one-trick pony
It may not be the good news you were hoping for, but we’re just going to say it: successful artists have to master more than just art.
In this line of work, you need to be a creator, an entrepreneur, a marketing professional, a sales expert, an inventory manager, and so much more. And even in your creative field, there is always more to learn if you hope to progress artistically.
Some artists get hung up on this realization, wishing it wasn’t true, almost defiantly saying, “I’m an artist, all I need to know is art.”
But in reality, that’s just the fear talking.
The truth of the matter is, successful artists never stop learning. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know everything all at once. But you do have to keep an open mind and devote your life to always learning something new.
They don’t make excuses
If you are like any other artist in the world, you probably have said to yourself at one time something along the lines of, “I can’t go to the studio today because I’m too busy/ too heartbroken/ my family needs me too much/ [insert any excuse here.]”
And you know what? It feels good to do that.
It feels justified and reasonable; like you are protecting yourself. But over time, you will see that it’s not helping. Again, it’s that pesky little fear trying to keep you from living out your dreams.
In the end, it is the artists who put in the work that get somewhere with their artwork. There’s no way around it.
So, if you start to feel the excuses creep up, begin anyway—and start small.
The more you make, the more confidence you will gain. You’ll work through big problems and small, and every time you do, you will realize there’s nothing to fear.
They refuse to work all the time
Sure, you have to show up to the studio even when you don’t want to do the work. But long hours in the studio, constantly working with your hands, feeling the stress of running an art business—these demands can’t help but take a toll on your health.
Creative burnout is not just a myth. You can’t make your best work if you aren’t investing in your body and mind as well.
We have seen artists sacrifice both of these in the name of their craft. But, you need your body on the most basic of levels to create your work and your mind in the right space to be inspired.
Successful artists know that self-care is not selfish.
You may be the boss in the art studio, but there’s no reason to be so hard on yourself. Isn’t that why you wanted to avoid the typical 9-to-5 job in the first place?
Make time for stretching and exercise, go for walks, stay hydrated, cook healthy meals, and have conversations with your peers, family, and friends. You can even leave the studio every now and then! This will only help you get in a better space to create.
They don’t let others define them or their success
Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.”
As an artist, you have a viewpoint to be told and a style all your own.
You might want everyone to like your work, but that’s not going to happen. Bad critiques are inevitable. So is rejection. In fact, it’s better when not everyone does like your work. It means you are getting at something interesting and something different.
“It’s really scary putting yourself out there, especially when your work is so personal and then allowing the world to view it and judge it and critique it,” says artist Seren Moran. But successful artists know that their growth comes from within and not from external praise.
So, ask yourself, would you still make the work you make today if no one would ever see it? Would you paint or sculpt or draw that if you couldn’t show it to anyone?
If you are confident in your work and are on a constant journey to better yourself, then that’s what matters most. Staying true to yourself will ultimately help you find success and happiness in a creative career.
They don’t believe in the myth of the starving artist
We’ve all heard the myth of the “starving artist.” But artists who refuse to let a label dictate their fate are the ones who succeed.
And, they definitely don’t rely on just one income source, either.
If you have been a professional artist for any number of years, you are probably already familiar with the slow seasons, with flopped shows, and rained out art fairs. A huge stress when this is the only money you have coming in from your art.
If you want to make a full-time living as a creative, you have to get creative!
It’s not enough to rely on the traditional avenues of online sales or gallery representation. Don’t forget about options like selling prints, working with interior designers, wholesaling, hosting workshops, writing e-books, or licensing your art.
The more income streams you have, the more fish you’ll be able to catch.
They don’t wait for inspiration to strike
As prolific photorealist Chuck Close simply puts it, “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Successful artists show up to the studio, even if they aren’t feeling particularly inspired. They have a process when it comes to creating, and they trust it. Even though they may not know what the outcome will be when they start, they have to trust in their ability to create amazing work.
Chicago artist Jordan Scott says, “Sometimes people ask ‘Do you have days that you aren’t inspired?’ and I always say, “no”. You have to get past that resistance and doubt and just do the work. I believe when artists cut through that, that’s where the inspiration cuts in. Cut through the resistance not by praying or hoping for it; just by working.”
It is more effective to wake up and get to work every day than to wait for inspiration to strike.
In fact, it isn’t as if you ever run out of ideas. In describing creativity, Maya Angelou says, “The more you use, the more you have’. It’s all about tapping into your inner artist consistently and honing your skills, instead of letting “inspiration” take its time to help you create your best work.
They refuse to waste time on the admin side
Yes, to be successful as an artist, you have to stay organized on the business end of things. But no one wants to spend all of their time on boring administrative tasks!
A good artist is efficient.
And there are so many tools available to artists these days, from social media scheduling and pre-designed website templates to inventory management systems like Artwork Archive that can help manage practically every aspect of your art business.
Why reinvent the wheel and make more work for yourself? Especially if that means sacrificing your time in the studio.
Artwork Archive is so simple to use, setting aside just 15 minutes a day can make a huge difference.
Don’t just dream about a successful art career—achieve it!