How to be a Better Professional in the Art World

Don’t be an Artist Stereotype

Flighty. Absentminded. Moody. Overly emotional. Whatever the cliché may be, you don’t have to be that. If you want to make money as a professional artist, you have to act like a professional. With the rise of the internet and numerous public art events, artists no longer have to depend on gallery owners to sell their work. Artists have become their own salespeople. We can interact directly with clients and customers on a daily basis. We are able to cut out the middleman, but this creates a need for really basic professional skills. Here are a six skills that I personally value most in my professional relationships.

1. Do what you say, when you say.

If you are working with a customer, event organizer, gallery owner, fellow artist, or anyone interested in your art it is so important to maintain those relationships by delivering what you promise. I have worked with a number of different personalities and the worst thing you can do for a professional relationship is be flaky. If you need to set up by a certain time at an event, be punctual. If you need to wire hang all of your pieces for a show, ask the event coordinator for details and deliver what they need. If you said you’d email a potential customer by a certain date, do it. If you over-promised and find you can’t deliver, then relay this to the other party. It’s okay if your plans have to change, but let the other party know in a timely fashion. Clear communication is crucial for professional relationships. I can’t tell you how many people I have worked with over the years that have flaked on me. When that happens, I’m not enthusiastic to try working with them in the future. Don’t be that artist.

2. Follow Up

Get used to reaching out to people through email, text, or phone calls. Once you have formed a professional relationship, you must maintain it appropriately. If the person you are working with doesn’t follow number one above, I encourage you to send a friendly email or give them a call to touch base on whatever you’re working on. If you sent a piece of your art to a new customer, feel free to send them a message to see if everything arrived safely. If you are working on a commission and need more input from your client reach out to them. Keep your lines of communication open, and avoid being shy. I still feel uncomfortable in a lot of professional interactions, but the more I do it, the easier it becomes.

3. Make your K-12 English teachers proud

Just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean that you can neglect basic grammar and punctuation. Sure, writing isn’t for everyone, but nothing rubs a customer the wrong way like a poorly written email. Anytime I am working with someone who claims to be a professional, red flags pop up all over the place if I get an email that doesn’t contain complete sentences, proper punctuation, properly spelled words, or capitalized letters in appropriate places. What and how you write makes a statement about you and your business. Even if you are responding to emails on your phone, pay attention to the mechanics of what you write across all platforms. That goes for Instagram comments, messages, and captions too.

4. Keep your personal Life and beliefs in check.

I encourage artists to show their personalities and share their personal life to help build their brand, but I strongly discourage you from airing your dirty laundry in public. Be careful which stories you share, because your brand can be negatively impacted. Before you share something personal in your Instagram captions, always ask yourself what the content says about you. Will you offend a large group of your audience? Will you alienate your customers? Are you spreading a positive or negative message? It’s important to be yourself, but it’s very important that you consider how your public interactions and conversations will affect your brand. Creative people will always have an overlap between their professional life and personal life since inspiration often comes from our experiences, but does your audience need to know about your current fight with your sister? Probably not.

5. Handle disputes and confrontation privately

Your social media accounts are not the place to attack people. Don’t be a bully. In the art world, you are sure to run into situations that will outright piss you off. People will copy your work. Other artists may insult you and rub you the wrong way. When this happens, don’t allow yourself to post anything publicly until you’ve worked out your feelings. You can still share your experiences about these topics, but make sure the tone you communicate fits your brand and make sure your words don’t exacerbate the situation. I have witnessed a couple of interactions this year that were absolute train wrecks that I couldn’t stop watching. I settled in with my popcorn and got sucked into the spectacle these artists made of themselves. I also lost professional respect for them. Take these issues directly to the parties involved. DM them. Email them. Talk on the phone. Get your shit figured out and don’t use social media as a venting session. The art world is surprisingly small. Be nice.

6. Price your Art and stand behind the numbers

Part of being a professional is establishing your worth and sticking to it. Name your price. Pretend to be confident about it if you need to. The customers who understand your worth will pay. You can’t please everyone, so focus on pricing your work according to what you are happy with. Pricing your work is hard. I’ve been there. I’ve also been in the situation where I shyly wanted more money for something, but let the customer decide their price leaving me feeling dissatisfied. Any situation where you don’t clearly declare a price can get awkward. Even when you do declare a price, you’ll still have people telling you you’re wrong and you need to raise or lower it (ignore most of them). Once you have a pricing scheme for your work, stick with it and communicate your prices consistently. It’s okay to negotiate from there if you feel comfortable doing so, but don’t wait for others to define the value of your art. (Why Original Art is so Expensive and How to Price Your Art)


What do you think? Is there anything you’d like to add to the list? Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every week (kind of). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! -Kelly @messyeverafter P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.
Further Reading:
Are You Forcing Yourself into an Art Business Before You’re Ready?
How to be a Confident Artist