A growing movement of people wish to redefine success as measured by quality of life. Most of us, even in quality of life measures, associate money with success. Success is about achievement, recognition, and progress. Our society values wealth as part of success; the arts are no different.

Do you make money from your art? For many, answering no to that question suggests our artwork is worth less, our skill is worth less and perhaps even that we are worthless! It’s as if we’ve failed, that we are failures. Yet, how many artists are actively strategizing to earn money? Or even know how to? It’s dangerous territory we speak of, this success.

I participate in a handful of online art groups. I sometimes share my art, and I really enjoy when people bring up quality questions. Today’s article is triggered by one of those discussions. An artist brought up the question: is marketing skill more important than artist skill? And if so, how can shy people navigate what feels like the scary process of marketing?

First off, let’s define being shy and being an introvert; they are not the same. They are two separate categorizations too many people combine together.

Do Artist's Need Marketing Skills? on Artist Strong

Shyness is often associated with anxiety and fear. It’s about hiding from our best selves.

Shy is an issue of social anxiety and fear of rejection, it has nothing to do with being introverted. Introverts re-energize from being alone while extroverts re-energize from being with people.

Shy is being reluctant to speak up, usually for fear of rejection. When I was really young I rarely spoke up in class. I was terrified I’d say something that would make my peers laugh, or make me stand out in some way. That was not about my need for time to myself nor about my time around others. This was me trying to cope with fears of rejection and inclusion during adolescence.

Everyone I’ve ever met has some level of fear showing their artwork to the world, let alone talking about it.

They just choose to do it anyway.

Now, let’s talk about marketing.

If you define success as selling your artwork, OWN it. Admit that it is your desire. And

Few artists are able to make a living from their art without making marketing an active part of their day. Few artists can hire out someone to do the marketing for them either. So, if you want to make money from your art, you must market.

Do Artist's Need Marketing Skills? on Artist Strong

We already market ourselves in our personal lives… it’s about curating content to convey a message. So, why wouldn’t you for your art?

If you aren’t willing to market and talk about “being above” marketing like it is some gross, sneaky thing, then you need some new examples of what it means to market. You will never be “successful” as per your own definition. No one is “above marketing.” We do it every day when we curate what we post on our personal Facebook walls, for example. It’s not always about those dollar signs!

Often times we are already sending marketing messages about our art to our community but perhaps not the message we hope to share. It’s developing awareness and being conscious of our strategy that will help us grow and learn.

People can be sleazy and scummy with their marketing, this is why so many feel all kinds of trepidation when we are asked to market ourselves. But there are many people out there marketing from a place of honesty and integrity that can be a model for your own marketing success.

Stop thinking about marketing as “making the sale” and start thinking about developing connections with other human beings.

By today’s standards of success, we define van Gogh as a success story, albeit a sad one. It’s because today his work sells for millions and millions of dollars. Unfortunately, he only sold one artwork during his lifetime. He left his marketing in the hands of his brother, who for better or worse, did not find a market for van Gogh’s work. Today, however, we see the value in his work.

It’s really important to understand that having trouble finding your market is part of the process of learning and growing.

Do Artist's Need Marketing Skills? on Artist Strong

Marketing is about how you present and talk about your art. Are you sending the message that it’s valuable to your community?

I’ve mentioned this artist more than once lately, but I really connect with CJ Hendry’s story. She worked for ages on her drawings before someone big took notice of her work on Instagram. While probably feeling ignored or not important, she just kept drawing: “I’ve worked for up to 15 hours a day, every day, for almost three years trying to get this off the ground,” she says. “I want it really badly.”

Hendry’s dedication to both her art and sharing her work on Instagram let her connect with a gallerist; this person decided to support and promote her work. However, it was through Hendry’s own self-start attitude and decision to market herself on Instagram that she was able to make this connection.

I’ve interviewed Gwenn Seemel, who specializes in portrait based commissions. She shares her story by speaking via video to her readers and community. By speaking to her readers via video her community connects directly to her; it feels like she is speaking directly to the viewer.


Self-Portrait by Gwenn Seemel

This choice builds trust because as we watch her videos, we get to know her and her artwork. We eventually watch the videos to see how her art and her story progresses. We even cheer her on, all because she openly and vulnerably discusses creative process.

You can wish for someone to market on your behalf, but only you can connect with your art collectors. It’s people like Hendry and Seemel we need to look at as examples of offering value. People want to know the person behind the art. Once you accept this fact, you can see marketing in a whole new light.

Please don’t think you need to change your artwork for the market “to like you” either. You’ve got the wrong idea about marketing if you think you need to make art to cater to a certain group of people. The very art you make right now has a market.

It’s about finding those collectors and connecting with them. By the very nature of being YOU, your artwork is interesting and unique. Find those people who connect with your story and your art (and really YOU as a person). Share your story openly and honestly. When you do, you are giving to your community and they will want to give back.

Developing and connecting with your market takes time. And sometimes it takes longer or shorter amounts of time for different people. Let’s be clear: life has never been fair. But, how sad would it be if van Gogh stopped painting because he wasn’t making money? His entire life is testament to the importance of art in people’s lives and the impact it can have, even after one’s own death. But it means opening ourselves up to explore and share our artwork.

Do Artist's Need Marketing Skills? on Artist Strong

Finding your people, your community, isn’t always clear as a roadmap. It takes stops and starts, and sometimes a u-turn to get where you need to be!

Today I ask you to decide what you want from your art? Do you want to make a full time living from your art? Do you want to supplement your current income? Or, would you rather keep your art separate from the world of money? All of these situations are valid, important and worthy of your commitment.

What matters most is what you really want, in your heart of hearts: what does success look like for your art? Once you admit to that, you can start taking action to meet those goals.

I keep a piece of paper in my wallet. On it, it says, in my first year with Artist Strong I wish to earn (insert dollar amount here). It’s a daily reminder of my goal, which feels wistful and sometimes silly. But it’s also a daily reminder that my goal is there and something I value. I carry it with me to keep me working towards that goal.

I have another piece of paper that I’ve stuck to my computer. On it I’ve written, “How can I bring value to Artist Strong readers?”

If my focus is on offering value to my community, people will want to return the favor. For Artist Strong that could mean: responding to my blog posts, signing up for my live workshops, purchasing a workshop replay or e-course… there are many ways for my community to return the favor. Keeping my question at the forefront of all of my decisions helps me build an Artist Strong that’s aligned with my goals, values, and is about both offering and receiving value.

I’m still scared to post my art. Each time I do a live workshop with participants, I can hear my inner critic judging my work. Each time I show them the finished demo piece, or a work in progress, I can hear that voice, “who are you to showcase your art to others?” I know that voice operates from a place of fear; it thinks it can protect me by convincing me to stop sharing my art.

Another part of me knows through and through: I will be unhappy, unfulfilled and full of regret if I don’t share my art. So here I am, with you.

How do you define success?

If it involves financial income from your creative practice, it’s time to admit to the need for marketing and own it as an integral part of your process. It’s also time to admit marketing is not always a sludgy, sleazy act; people can have a desire to serve and share with others and get paid for it.

It’s all about an exchange of value, which my mentor Marie Forleo shares in her program B-School: if you come from a place of genuine desire to share your art and bring value to others, you will discover there are people who wish to return that value in kind.

It’s time for you to own up to what you really want for your art. Write down your goal on a piece of paper and carry it with you in your purse or wallet. Art and marketing skills do not have to be at odds with each other. In fact, one can support and develop the other. Once you commit your goal to paper, start thinking about the HOW: how can I offer value to my community?

You’ve been marketing all along, you just didn’t know it. Participating in an artist group and never showing your art is marketing. By downplaying your art when you share it you are marketing. What messages are you sending to your community? Are you offering value? It’s time to make a different choice.

It’s time to share your story.

“You’ve been marketing all along, you just didn’t know it. What messages do you want to share about your art?” (Click to Tweet)

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How can you bring value to your community? I want to know! Tell me about it in the comments below.