How to thrive as an artist

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Starve, strive, survive, then thrive.

That is the basic formula for an artist to go from the starving artist phase to the thriving artist phase.

Phase? I can hear those that question the word ‘phase’ ring out across the ether.

So, yes, an artist’s career path can described a series of phases. We start by a phase in the infamous ‘starving artist’ mode. Then move onto a ‘striving artist’ phase, and the ‘surviving artist’ phase. Before reaching the ‘thriving artist’ promised land full of milk and honey. Here is how to do it…

Starving artist phase. 

This is a starting point. This is not a permanent position. There is no need to continue being a starving artist. Artists can make a decent living by being artists. So stop holding yourself back by accepting and revelling in the status of a poor misunderstood genius. Blame that Van Gogh chap for establishing the myth that artists don’t sell their work while they are alive. Recognize the fact that actually some artists make loads of money and get international fame early in their art career.

If by chance you are wealthy enough to avoid the actual starvation effect, lucky you. But you should expect to put yourself through the mental loopholes and experience anyway. This is the introduction to the art world.

While you are a ‘starving artist’ you can and should experiment, explore, and enjoy the early learning process of your art and craft. Relish the freedom and creativity that a full-time art career promises. But don’t hang around any longer than you have to. Start striving.

Striving artist phase.

This phase may take you a little longer than the starving phase. There is so much to learn and do. Start by making your art. Make lots of it. The Malcolm Gladwell ten thousand hours of deliberate practice theory is very relevant here. You may not need to put in the whole 10,000 hours before getting good results. Probably not in fact. But as you go from starving to striving you should expect to be burning the midnight oil and working all hours for a pittance. If you resent the difficult stuff then get out of this profession now and get a safe job somewhere else.

But the striving artist phase will start to have results if you do it right and you keep at it. So doing it right is important.

Striving means working hard. Working is certainly not just making your art. Working includes selling your art. So you will have to learn how to sell.

Striving, and getting better at working, also means being a business. So you will have to learn how to run a business. Your business aim is firstly to survive and then thrive as an artist.

Striving and better working also means building a brand with a following. The brand is you as an artist. Your business following is going to be your admirers and collectors. You have got to learn how to create a brand and list of followers.

The survival phase.

When you have got the hang of the uphill striving and learning and putting into practice stuff, then you can expect to reach a bit of flat upper-ground where you can survive. Well done. Take a deep breath, consolidate, look around at the wonderful view and get ready for the final push from survival to thrival. Thrival? Hmm! If there isn’t a real word as ‘thrival’ then there should be.

The final part of striving and surviving is finding the way to thrive. This is probably where the business development secret formula comes into play. Business development secret formula! What is that?

The thriving artist phase.

Eventually you will move out of the striving and surviving phase into the thriving phase.

You probably hope that what happens is that the art world will recognize your genius and just pay you much more for each artwork that you create. Then you can carry on into a blissful sunset with riches and fame and an orchestra playing glorious classical music in the background. Well that is a possibility but maybe your thrival phase will be a bit more like this.

You will move into a secure and well-earned comfortable but exciting new art business world by utilizing ‘leverage’. That is the business development secret that I mentioned earlier. Examples of leverage are licensing, teaching, publishing, writing, dealing, etc.

Your art can be published in a wide variety of markets, your knowledge can be used to expand your product range, and your striving and surviving phases will have built up a customer base, your contacts will be happy to work on your behalf, your prices should go up to higher levels, your experience can be shared and you will be rewarded with many other benefits. These are ways that you cash in on your experience, contacts, portfolio, and prestige, and adding the final phase to a full-time artist’s career.

Conclusion.

There are four phases in an artist’s career from starving to thriving. You should not expect to miss out any of the phases either. Enjoy the phase that you are in and keep in mind what the next one will be.

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Colin Ruffell was born in 1939, then he was bombed, evacuated, educated, expelled, repatriated, married, bred, qualified and taught; until in 1965, aged 26, he became a professional artist. Since then he is proud and happy to have survived. He qualified from two Art Colleges in painting, design and printmaking, and the Open University in psychology and aesthetics, plus he has a reasonably clean driving license. He has founded, led or organised the following; Spectrum Studios, Artists in Action, Bayswater Road Artists Association, 9-Plus Artists Group, Buckingham Fine Art Ltd., Brighton Artists Workshop, European Fine Art Ltd., The Fine Art Trade Guild, The Fiveways Artists Group, and Crabfish Ltd.

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