Anyone who's been plugging along at this creative lifestyle thing for a while knows it ain't easy making a living in the arts. You've got a lot of people vying for what few paid jobs there are, cultural assumptions about the work you make, a widespread belief that you are creating something that isn't considered a "necessity" by most, no clear blueprint for success, self-doubt and/or inner demons, and much more that may be working against you. It can be hard to remember that there are always things you can do to help yourself along. The powerlessness that can creep in must be regularly and consistently kept in check in order to stay focused on being creative. How do you keep it in check? By getting into action.
So, here are 7 actions you can take right now to move your art career forward despite all else:
Change Your Mind. Your mind is your greatest asset. It's also your worst enemy. How you act in relation to your creative career starts with your mind. There's an old saying that goes, "Whatever you believe, it's true." Right now take stock of where your mind is. What exactly do you believe needs to happen before you can "make it" or move forward? Chances are those beliefs - especially the ones that create limitations on you - are only deep-seated opinions based on your personal or, even, familial or cultural history, and have nothing actually to do with what's possible. Once you change your mind about creative possibility - and expand your viewpoint of it - doors open, energy shifts, opportunities appear. The truth is, changing your mind leads to other changes as well.
Be Decisive. Most artists I know are multi-passionate and full of ideas, so it can be hard to nail down what to do and when to do it. One of the big ways artists hurt their careers is by procrastinating, waffling, or otherwise being wishy-washy about creative decisions. Remember, it's worse to make NO decision, than it is to make an incorrect one. You can always adjust your sails or redirect the course you're on. You can't do anything when you simply remain rooted at the crossroads. Take stock of where you've avoided making decisions, then get in action around that.
Enlist Support. Maybe it's hiring an intern. Maybe it's working with a mentor. Maybe it's getting a web designer or copy writer to firm things up with your online presence. Whatever it is, you need support. (Because we always need support in order to grow.) Take a look at your weak spots - the things you prefer not to do but do anyway or avoid altogether - and figure out a way to get help.
Get More Visible. Think of the all the contemporary artists you admire and are inspired by. How did you ever hear about them in the first place? They got visible in one way or another. They didn't hide in their homes, offices, or studios making their work waiting for a "magical" opportunity to arise. I guarantee, they put themselves out there. We must stop looking at getting visible as self-centered, and look at it instead as service, because the more people who know about you and have access to your work, the more you can support them with your creativity. It's not serving you, your career, or those who would be moved by your work, to keep playing small.
Invest in Yourself. Investment is so important for moving your career forward. Every successful person has invested in themselves, whether it's by purchasing equipment to enable greater efficiency or quality, or investing in a creative coach who supports you in moving to a higher plateau. The trick is to know the difference between an expense and an investment. An investment always pays for itself and then some. Distinguish what you need to go to the next level and get invested.
Eliminate Distractions. Distractions come in many forms - doing more research, reading, going to a movie, the kids, the dogs, the historic preservation committee meeting, the party your friend is having on Saturday night, etc. I'm not suggesting that we don't live life to the fullest. Not at all! We need a well-rounded, full life to keep informing our work and, of course, to be happy. But, there's a point at which all that life stuff adds up to a boatload of distractions, and those distractions push you further and further away from your ideal art career. Someone once said (okay, it was actually Michelle Pfeiffer in a magazine), "You can have it all, but you can't DO it all." So, you gotta make clear decisions daily, weekly, and monthly about what's important to you and your creative career, then eliminate or curb the distractions that get in the way.
Find Community. Every now and again I hear an artist say something like, "Yeah, but that sale doesn't really count, because she's my friend." Guess what? MOST of your clients, customers, and supporters will be friends. Somehow we've become accustomed to the idea that the "real" people out there, whoever they are, are the true supporters who will validate our creative work. Even if your creative circle grows wide enough to include a boatload of strangers, you'll still have an inner circle of supporters who will be the most consistent. So, it's important to nurture the community around you, as well as expand your circle of acquaintances. Find an online forum, go to an open studios event or an open mic night, start a writers group. Supporting other artists and being supported by them is key in a lasting creative career.
Image by Impact Hub//cc.