Explode the Myths and Build Your Art Muscle

By Carolyn Edlund

Aletta de Wal calls herself an “Artist Advisor”.  She  is actually a powerhouse of a coach who guides artists from starving to successful, and helps them do this while feeling great about their careers.  Aletta’s gift is teaching artists how to structure their lives and activities to get the most out of every plan, think in new creative ways and celebrate achievements. Visit her website, www.artistcareertraining.com to get more information about building your career.

AS:  Artists launching their careers need to have a good “road map” of what is ahead of them, but often have belief systems in place that are faulty. Could you discuss some of the myths about artists that hold people back from successful careers?

AD: Myths serve no purpose at all except as real roadblocks to the careers of the artists who subscribe to them. Here is a sampling of the 12 myths I see most often:
Myth #1If I Just Do My Art, Everything Else Will Work Out
Many artists still mistakenly believe that they can just create their artwork and let other people worry about the business side. You must focus on your art and on your business.
Myth #8 – Artists Are Not Business People, My Dealer Will Handle Everything
Artists often imagine that representation means that the gallery will handle all of the business side of art. Wrong! Galleries are business partners, not caretakers. You need to promote your art career and run your own business.
Myth #9 – All Good Artists Are Poor
Artists who believe that “true” artist is “starving” think this lifestyle keeps them “in touch” with their creativity. Even the archetypal starving artist, Vincent van Gogh, wasn’t doing so badly. He worked in an important gallery for six years and his brother, a wealthy gallery dealer, sent him a generous monthly stipend. You owe it to yourself to make the kind of living you want and are willing to work for.
Myth #12 – One Big Break Will Make My Career
There is no such thing as overnight success. All great achievements are made up of many small acts. Tenacity, perseverance, and preparedness dispel the illusion of instant success. Many small breaks will create a sustainable career as long as you take one step at a time towards your future goals.
Once you demolish these myths and understand the realities of being an artist, you can make choices to build your own version of a creative career path.
AS:   In your courses and writing, you mention the “Realities” of being an artist. Could you explain these?
AD: You will encounter creative blocks and cracks in your confidence. That’s part of business. Working through them builds art muscle. Start with this mindset:

You Are in Charge of Your Art Career
When you are in your studio or making art “plein air”, you are in charge. You decide what to create. You are also in charge of deciding how and where you want to exhibit your work – whether you sell your work directly to collectors or partner with galleries, museums and licensors.
You Are an Artist and an Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs are the artists of the business world. If they fail to build a business structure, the business fails. When you decide to sell your work, you become an entrepreneur. Once you have enough art to start showing and selling it, you have to learn the skills of marketing and sales.
You Must Balance Making and Marketing Art
Without marketing, you don’t have a business, you have an expensive hobby. As an emerging artist, you will spend 75% of your time making art and learning to make it better. In the other 25% of your time, your top two priorities are to:
• Create the shell of your business, so that you can deduct expenses and pay taxes on your income, just like any other real job.
• Build relationships focused on your art and your interests, so that you build an audience.
Established artists typically divide their time equally between making art and handling business and marketing activities.

Thank You to Aletta from Grade 3 Art Class

AS:   What practices would you suggest an artist put into place to start thinking in a positive and balanced way about promoting and selling their work?
AD: Choose your company carefully. Avoid the artist who has “done it,” and “it doesn’t work.” Study and hang out with successful artists have a positive mental attitude about their career. It makes a tremendous difference!
Think, do, celebrate. Decide what you want to achieve with your art and the lifestyle you envision. Set goals with action steps and a timeline. Then do something every day that will take you a step closer to your goals. Write down what works and change what doesn’t. To keep yourself motivated and your spirits up, celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small.
AS:  There is a difference between merely surviving and prospering as an artist.  What attitudes and actions do prosperous artists have that can be a model for emerging artists?
AD:  Artists who survive go from action to action without an overall plan or ways of measuring progress. Create a solid foundation for prospering by building “product”, nurturing relationships and positioning yourself in the art world.
• Master your medium and subject matter. Decide what gives you the  most joy and energy. Notice where you need to learn more and find teachers and mentors to help you.
• Do business professionally, with a business name registration, a vendor’s license, sales tax ID and separate bank accounts and credit. Aside from being legally ready, this will build your confidence.
• Be visible. Go to art events weekly. Observe how art marketing works when it is done well, and when it is done poorly so you can avoid expensive mistakes.
• Build relationships and grow your mailing list. Get to know people in your
area – artists, buyers, and dealers – and ask them if they would like to be on your mailing list. Make notes about each person and start a database to keep track of what you learn about them.
Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg!  For more detail and a special download available to Artsy Shark readers, visit Aletta’s website .  For a free 15 minute consultation, please e-mail [email protected]


  1. fantastic advise

  2. This was a wonderful and very helpful! I just started working with Aletta!

  3. Best part: Build relationships and grow your mailing list…very true! I gotta get working on that part waaaay more than I normally do.

    • Anthony, Many artists feel the same way. It can be out of the comfort zone, but that is how most of our best business is done. There is nothing like a personal referral!


  1. […] Believe in the myth of the starving artist […]

Speak Your Mind