Letter to a Young Artist

By Carolyn Edlund

Recently I received a poignant letter from a teenager who wanted to present her art. She shared many of the fears and insecurities that beginning artists have about themselves and their work. Here is my reply.


Envelope with Daisy


Dear T,

I see in your art that you have a tremendous amount of talent, but that you lack one thing that is essential if you are to make it in the arts – and that is confidence. This isn’t unusual, especially for a young person who hasn’t been to art school (and I guess that you haven’t sold much, if any, of your work so far.)

However, I wanted to offer you a couple of suggestions. When you start your letter by saying that you shouldn’t be taken seriously, you won’t be. When you tell people everything that you don’t have, and can’t do, they will believe you. And when you say that your work is unimpressive, you will fail to impress. If you don’t believe that you are an artist, you are starting a process to give up on your dreams.

Many of the artists that I have featured over the last several years are self-taught. I’ve also seen studies that say getting a masters degree is not indicative of an artist’s success, and I believe that to be true. I know that people who are successful as artists study the business of art, have passion and drive and above all, are incredibly persistent.

I understand lack of confidence, fear of rejection and of competition. I owned a production studio for many years, and have experienced the best and the worst of the business. I also have a daughter who graduated with an art degree, and shares many of your feelings.

T, if you were my daughter, I would tell you that you must never negatively criticize yourself or your ability. Never, ever apologize for your art or your talent. And don’t present your work as less than. The more professionally you present yourself, the more seriously you will be taken. Great presentation, self-confidence, an understanding of the art world, and the ability to sell yourself and your work are more important to success than talent – that might be surprising, but it’s true.

I encourage you to approach your art with a new attitude, and share it proudly with others and with the world.


Carolyn Edlund


  1. Lovely. Meaningful to artists of any age. Thank you.
    I want to show this to my granddaughter.

  2. Lovely advise and we’ve all been there.

  3. Very good.. I agree 100%

    You will want to feature me as an artist.
    Brian Sommers
    original abstract paintings

    • Hi Brian,

      I appreciate your comment. Submissions are closed for being a featured artist, and I am booked past the end of this year.

      But – you have a link here!

  4. thank you very kindly for allowing me to do that.. and thanks again for your time.

  5. Very nice post. I found it helpful. I agree that MFA’s are not necessarily the magic that separates the successful artists from less successful ones. Good business sense and passion combined with persistence are a couple of the magic ingredients.
    Thank you,

    • Thanks for visiting & your comment, Dave. Many artists believe that they aren’t businesspeople, but I disagree. It can be learned, and if you want to be a successful entrepreneur badly enough, there is always a way!

  6. Dear Carolyn,

    Thank you for sharing this letter with everyone! My mother taught me when I was younger that there are enough people in the world trying to find your flaws, that you should never make it easier for them by pointing them out. Let them do the hard work of figuring it out while you go on and enjoy living your life.

  7. Thank you. I think all artists need this reminder from time to time. It is difficult to keep your confidence up during a down period or when you move into an experimental time with your work. I also need the kick to work on the marketing piece.


    • That is so true – everyone, no matter how successful, goes through periods of self-doubt. I remember reading about a famous actress who kept having obsessive thoughts that she would never work again. It’s amazing how our success is tied to our thoughts and our self-perception!

  8. Good advice! I always say if you’re not being rejected then your not putting yourself out there enough. Rejection is tough to take but it’s part of the deal. you really have to be consistent with your studio time. those paintings don’t paint themselves! hopefully the more you work the better you get

    • That is so true – it’s hard to invite rejection, but in this business, you must put yourself in that situation frequently. Plus you need to “play up” to compete for higher quality shows, and clientele.

  9. Dear Carolyn,
    You are a blessing to the Art Community.
    Confidence and focus are among the key ingredients
    you advise. You help to keep us on course.
    I really enjoyed the advice Kelley Dawkin’s Mom gave her.
    “Grate Wishes!”
    Bobbi Mastrangelo
    (The Manhole Artist)


  1. […] Then Carolyn Edlund did a post called “Letter to a Young Artist” on her blog (ArtsyShark) yesterday in response to a letter from a teenage artist.  Definitely worth reading… here is the link: http://www.artsyshark.com/2012/06/26/letter-to-a-young-artist/ […]

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