Guts vs. Talent

by Carolyn Edlund

Making art and selling art are very different endeavors, but mastering both is essential to success.


artist at the easel


I recently had the pleasure of visiting two artist studios during a road trip. Both artists were painters but used very different materials. Each one of them had created a mature body of work in their own unique style that was appealing and memorable.

The artists I visited had talent, vision and a clear concept behind their work. One painter shared with me a group of stunning figurative paintings that he had been creating. The other had painted a series of abstracts filled with compelling color and energy, which represented the best work of her career.

They were clearly experienced and skilled professionals who worked long hours in the studio. And they had something else in common, too— they weren’t selling their art. Their gifts were going unappreciated because the paintings that should have been hanging on the walls of collectors were instead sitting in their studios as unsold inventory. This is, unfortunately, not an uncommon situation.

Talent and skill are only half of the equation. Artists who continuously work to improve their expertise and who build a solid portfolio are positioning themselves to make sales based on the merit of their work. And that’s a good start.

But the other half of the equation is developing an entrepreneurial mindset. This is far more than building an artist website and posting on social media twice a week. It’s more than applying to fairs or exhibitions with the hope that you will get in and be able to show your work.

A true entrepreneur relishes the ability to work independently and determine their own fate. They are willing to step outside of their comfort zone to bring their art to the attention of the world and reach their goals. They take risks in search of greater rewards.

Many artists cringe at the idea of being a “salesperson” because they believe the process will involve a lot of self-promotion and haggling with buyers. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although you must have the ability to speak about your artwork with potential customers, it’s a relationship-building exercise rather than an arm-twisting session. Artists attract collectors and fans through engaging in conversations and developing networks of people who care about what they do.

Having guts trumps talent when it comes to business success.

People naturally love art; they are often thrilled to meet and become friendly with artists they admire. That’s a natural advantage for you as a creative. Meet people, tell them about yourself and your work, learn about them and the art they like, and go from there. You should be keenly aware of this advantage and use it whenever possible to build relationships. After all, the public does not flock to meet auto insurance agents; they must draw on other strengths to make sales. In contrast, as an artist you often get to be the “star”.

I’ve learned that having guts trumps talent when it comes to business success. Many extremely talented artists are never well-known or financially successful with their art. Successful artists often aren’t the most talented, but they are the ones willing to step up and take the risk.

The good news is that an entrepreneurial mindset can be developed. With practice you can gain the confidence you need to get out, spread the word and start selling your art instead of leaving it in inventory. Get started by reading inspirational business articles, such the ones published on this site. Then put those suggestions into action and keep going. Just like Newton’s law, once you put your entrepreneurial self in motion, you tend to stay in motion. Each step will get you closer to reaching your goals as an artist.



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  1. Karin Edwards says

    Encouraging article, thank you for that. I really like the reference to Newtons law… it is strangely encouraging. Thank you.

    • Thanks Karin. Yes, it is true that once an artist takes action, they are more likely to continue. By making that commitment, they set a precedent, and also find that it is not that hard (or scary) to engage in marketing activities. Achieving the desired results (such as a sale) is also incredibly motivating.

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