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During time at art school, and throughout the ensuing years, an unspoken question lurked continuously in the back of the mind. I was not alone. Not a single soul spoke about it – not students, not lecturers, not professional artists. There were no lessons or classes about it, or any other information available referencing this silent, arcane question that ought to have been addressed foremost in these early stages of our careers. That question was this: How will it be possible to realistically make a living out of a career as an artist?

There seemed to be an expectation that we would be miraculously ‘discovered’ by a gallery, that somehow we would find ourselves with luck on our side and be ‘snapped up’; that with talent oozing from our pores, a top gallery would seek us out either in our last year at art school or in the first year or so after graduation; without preparation or planning the whole process was supposed to begin… But it was not and is still not so easy.

Through all those years at art school the process of approaching galleries and dealing with the gallery/artist relationship was never alluded to – we were on our own. There were no directives about how to market ourselves, apply for grants, sell our art, develop promotional materials, deal with publicity, or for that matter and perhaps most importantly, any reference whatsoever to business strategies.

For too long practical education about business and career has been sadly lacking. Artists and students have missed out on being informed about vital information necessary for ensuring survival for the long haul of being an artist – and we are all in it for the long haul. Most artists, when considering their career options, have no alternative strategy… except from the tried and true ‘fallback’ career of becoming a teacher. This is not to say that art school studies as such are or were wasted. Nor that a career as a teacher is wasted either. This would be far from the truth. Everything experienced at art school is designed to develop the depth of the creator. The teaching standard is usually excellent. The lecturers in the fields of painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and art history are mostly garnered from the higher echelons of the visual arts community. What is generally missing though, is clear instruction and dialogue about the business end of being an artist. During the thirty odd years since leaving art school, ways have been found of navigating and surviving as a professional artist. Having regularly undertaken activities completely unrelated to the arts industry have seen me get by, including contract house painting, landscape gardening and waiting tables. These activities enabled a way to manage as a full time artist without becoming a teacher for many of those years as a creator.

Although there have been times during the career when teaching was done at all levels of education, it was possible to be able to keep it brief, even though the security of tenure and income was very tempting. There was a wish not to end up another one of the growing statistical numbers of teachers who say to themselves, and to those closest to them, that they will paint or sculpt ‘again’ when they retire, only to find that somewhere along the line they had lost or given away their creative knowledge and inspiration; and finally, when confronted with the empty studio, they realized they no longer have anything to say as an artist.

With this book “The Artist’s Guide to a Successful Career”, I wanted to address these artist’s career issues by presenting realistic solutions that could be applied at the beginning of an art career, so that those who want to make a living as an artist can, and those whose calling is to teach have a reference tool for the business end of art. Solutions have been mapped out strategically, basing the approach and observations on personal experiences as an artist working professionally in the art world.

It would have been great to have such a book available in the formative years, and there again at different stages throughout the career. The strength of that desire was reason enough to put it down in writing the experiences and research, so that information about all major themes an artist is expected to encounter in their business and career is readily available. This book was written by an artist who is passionate about his work and the opportunities that are available for success in the art world. It is not an academic tome based on researched graphs and indicators. It is entirely based on personal experience in all fields of the art world over a period of more than thirty years.

There have been applications for grants and grants received, Prizes have been entered and won. Works have been given to charity auctions, galleries approached and had countless solo and group exhibitions. There has been a learning of how to do effective marketing and press releases. There has also been a development of a sound business sense. Successful investments have been made that worked well, and mistakes that have been made and learnt from. There has been a realization that there are certain secrets in all forms of work including the art business.

Other artists or business people will never tell you these secrets, because essentially they are the competition. First up, there are three secret words to success: Recognition, reputation and responsibility. – When you recognise your abilities and develop your reputation you will embrace your responsibilities and be on your way to success.

Another of these secrets is to never say no. People remember the no’s; they don’t remember the yes’s. That said, when you receive no as an answer use it to develop your character. Often the person saying no wants to be certain that if they do invest their money or energy in you they can be sure you will deliver.

Through reading this book, it will become clear why when you walk through that door the first time, whether it be a gallery, an agent or a potential client, plan to walk through that door twelve times. This will develop your character to the point that after you hear a years worth of no’s you will still stay inspired because you have learnt from them by remembering it’s how you end something how it begins. The gallery director will remember someone who thanks them for their time and gives a firm handshake while looking them in the eye, much more than remembering someone who gets all sulky after being rejected. How do you end the conversation? How do you deal with defeat?

Everyone will go through being a poor artist. Plan to go through that too. Let your passion stand on its own two feet and guide you through. This book will teach you how to expand to the realization that every no is an opportunity to come back. Ultimately you will see the truth will always be that every one who criticizes your work, will be long gone when your art continues to exist. This is when criticism is silenced; the art is still there.

How long has the art in the Louvre been there? Millions of people… Criticism has been silenced centuries ago but the art is still there. Criticism is only for the moment, passion and art are forever, paint forever, and draw forever, be forever, but you’ve got to get through those opinionated critiqued moments. You better make sure that you believe that no one believes in yourself better than you do. Get to forever and as you should, you will believe in yourself more than anyone else. If you don’t believe that go home, go be a mechanic, go be a baker, go be a candlestick maker. You can shut up the critics by your tenacity, by your persistence. Nobody has to believe in you except yourself.

In this book the knowledge used has been developed over the years in these areas and has been shared openly as information, which it is believed, is the artist’s right to have. It is hoped this book is of service to many artists and students of art, who have a sincere desire to go on to develop a long, profitable and fulfilling career in the arts. It is also hoped that those who do read this book remember if they are experiencing a low point in their career, read this book again. It is hoped it helps to finally fill the missing links that this artist has personally seen cause so much unnecessary misunderstanding, distress and financial problems for those involved in the creative industry.

John Dahlsen