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What Makes Great Art Great? So Selling Your Art Comes With Confidence Baked In… (Parts 1 & 2)

What Makes Great Art Great? So Selling Your Art Comes With Confidence Baked In… (Parts 1 & 2)

PART 1 – What Makes Great Art Great?  So Selling Your Art Comes With Confidence Baked In… 

Over my six years of the smARTist Telesummit (now smARTist Revival Podcasts) , I asked hundreds of artists how they define success through the unique Vision Questionnaire that participants filled out. 

And as surprising as it was to me, a very small percentage of the over 2,500 artists defined success as “producing great art.” For 87%, success was the annual amount of art income– ranging from $20,000 to $500,000 a year. 

Maybe it’s because great art is associated with historical figures, museum retrospectives, and the millions thrown down on the auction block. Maybe great feels like shoes too big to fill. 

Or maybe it comes tagged with the age-old response that great is in the eye of the beholder—too subjective to pin down. 

Or, for women artists, the persistent patriarchal overlay on great means it’s an exercise in futility; while for men great is a challenge that might best them even when they do their best. 

I wonder what would change for selling your art if great was not only definable but also achievable

I wonder what would change for selling your art if great was not only definable, but also achievable? 

Daniel Grant, an arts writer and presenter at the smARTist Telesummit in 2011, once wrote, “I define an artist’s importance by three criteria.  How much he or she captures the soul of a moment, how much he or she influences subsequent generations of painters, and how much he or she expresses an individual style.” 

This begs the question: Can you produce great art but not be an “important” artist? 

For certainly great art is produced all the time without the artist being considered “important” in terms of Grant’s three criteria. 

Even if you do not have a burning desire to produce great art, I know in your heart that you want your art to Wow! people, to cause a significant enough response that someone wants to own a piece no matter what. 

And this only happens when, in the eyes of the viewer in that moment, your art is great.

I don’t remember the exact moment I realized that great art was easily identifiable. I know it was in a coaching session with one of my artist when I heard myself calmly,confidently define great art as if it was the single most obvious thing in the world. 

Since then, I’ve looked carefully to see how well my definition stands up. 

What I love the most about this definition is that it puts you, the artist, in control of selling your art. You do not have to “guess” what the “soul of the moment” is or how you will be perceived by the future, you simply have to fulfill one of three requirements. 

If you fulfill all three, and you learn how to run a business and marketing campaign, the world just might be your oyster. 

Before Great Art Comes A Foundation

However, Before GreatArt Comes A Foundation

This part has been repeated so much I’m sure you can say it in your sleep. And even though it screams common sense, you’d be surprised at how many artists neglect the basics: 

  • Skillful competence with your materials
  • Skillful competence with your execution of mark making, sculpting or crafting
  • A signature, artistic fingerprint that is repeatedly recognizable as yours across multiple pieces of your work 
  • Producing enough to meet the demand

With this foundation in the studio, and a similar foundation in career administration, you can build a sustainable career without producing great art. 

But if you yearn for more, try this. 

With Great Art Complexity Rules

With Great Art Complexity Rules… Even When It’s Simple 

For most of my life I’ve understood that one attribute of greatness is the ability to take something complex and make it easy to understand, make it accessible, especially when dealing with intellectual concepts. 

The result is how complexity seems to melt away in the elegance of a simple distillation. When this happens, we disremember the layered, multi-faceted richness that gave birth to the satisfaction of what we can now understand. 

I remember watching a movie on Picasso that started with him drawing a simple line on a piece of glass. It took less than two seconds, and yet that one line echoed like a giant bell with the layers and complexity of years of art making. 

If you want to make great art, then start with one or more levels of complexity: 

  1. Complexity of technique
  2. Complexity of subject matter
  3. Complexity of message

When you create complexity, you hold the viewer longer. When you layer in complexities in technique and subject matter and message, you invite your viewers inside their own brains and challenge them to expand their lived experience. 

Since a viewer is often captured by the art (under your control) plus some personal trigger (not under your control), offering an experience that is not easily dismissed or walked away from is key.  

It’s the layers and complexity that hold the viewer captive long enough for them to feel they cannot walk away from whatever soul siren your art is singing to them. 

part 2 of what makes great art great

Part 2 – What Makes Great Art Great? 

Are You Hiding Behind Beauty? 

Whether you’re in the studio, attending an opening gala, or selling your art online, there’s a lot that comes with being an artist to stoke the ego fires:  

  • Admiration 
  • The ultimate badge of specialness 
  • Cascading down the river of Creativity Flow 
  • Rampant self-expression 
  • The delight of watching what’s around the corner coming towards you  

       (or you towards it) 

  • An unbridled thrill of a purpose-driven life 
  • Merging with forces that are bigger than the ego (a bit of irony, that one) 
  • The ability to create beauty (as in “the eye of the beholder”) 

Only, before I continue, a couple of clarifications… 

  1. The Ego 

I have never been at peace with ego bashing and the popular idea that our ego is a function of The Self that either gets in our way, or presents some hurdle to a more authentic or spiritual self. Or that its core essence is narcissistic and infantile. 

I experience Ego as a state of being that provides us with essential survival tools for our psyches, even as it allows us to experience pleasure. 

It gives us a framework to understand our own personalities. It provides the template for self-reflection. It gives us a sense of wholeness, so the disparate selves we all experience (who are we out with our friends vs. with our mother?) don’t scatter into a pile of disconnected parts. 

And Ego gives us a framework to understand our own maturation process. Through the Ego we can sense when we are maturing out of an infantile state. 

And, yes, some of us settle for narcissism or fail to mature. And some of us use the Ego to bolster neurosis, bore our friends, and batter our colleagues. 

But this is not, de facto, the Ego’s fault. The Whole Self has responsibility here. What the Ego most clearly gives us, or withholds, is our ability to be confident (earned or not). While it is maturity, not the Ego, which can measure what we’ve rightfully earned (or not). 

When You Are Selling Your Art, Your Ego Can Help Or Hinder.   

Here’s a short list to make sure your Ego is serving you and not the other way around when selling your art. Feel free to add other options: 

  • Have you asked a trusted art mentor or successful artist you trust to critique your work? 
  • Are your prices in line with similar work in other galleries? 
  • Are you prepared, ahead of time, to hold a conversation that is about your viewer’s reactions and questions, or might you end up on a rant about yourself? 
  • Do you feel viewers are innately gracious or critical? 
  • Are you feeling open or defensive when questioned about your work? 
  • When viewing other artists’ work, do you compare yourself to them or lean into experiencing what they have to offer? 
  • It’s Not All A Bed of Roses 

The partial list of artist ego-pleasures, above, does not discount the raft of challenges—from how to maintain integrity and put food on the table, to how to endure a fund raising event when you’d rather be in the studio—which are also part of your ArtLife. 

The Siren’s Call to “Beauty Above All” When Selling Your Art 

The real trick is allowing our Ego fires to be stoked without following the Siren’s call away from how we shine the light on our true self. 

For what great art does not, at some level, do that? Shine the light on the true self? 

And the strongest Siren’s call for artists, I’ve found, is the Siren’s Call to Beauty. 

I am not suggesting that you do not make beautiful art, if that’s what compels you to get up in the morning. 

But don’t stop at that destination unless you are 100% sure that your beautiful art is simultaneously shining the light on your true self—all the time, in all kinds of weather.  

Far too often, I see artists stopping by the lake to admire the seductive reflection of Beauty without diving in to see what treasures linger below, in the Dark of the Deep. 

Far too often, I watch artists skillfully ruled by fear (which can go by many names: stubborn, resistant, it’s just who I am, beauty is my soul, it sells so well, people love it… ) as they simultaneously hide the light of their true self behind the beauty. 

As you read this, notice where in your body some feeling is beginning to arise: a light tingle of recognition in the throat, a small clutch of fear in the stomach, a slight tightness across your shoulders… you’ll know it when you feel it. 

This is the clue your deepest Self is offering you to pay attention, to stay open to the possibility that you are unwittingly listening to the Siren’s Call For Beauty to avoid the challenge of creating from a place of discomfort and discovery. 

Remember, what you creatively explore does not necessarily have to be unveiled. You can work in the dark, and decide whether or not what you are doing is asking to be in the world at large as is, or in another, more advanced iteration, or what piece truly wants is to remain in your private collection as process for your creative self. 


Take The Challenge:  

Give up Beauty for the next two weeks  

and let me know what happens in the comments… 

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    Selling Your Art: Building Block No.2: Art Visibility/Studio Time (Part 2)

    Selling Your Art: Building Block No.2: Art Visibility/Studio Time (Part 2)

    Where Studio Time Plays The Central Role In “Your Art Is Visible” 

    First, let’s do a quick review of the last blog post Selling-Your-Art: Building Block No.2, Your Art Is Visible (Part 1.) where we looked at a process called “Map The Gap.” And how this keeps the dynamic connection between your art’s visibility and selling your art alive and strong. 

    Map The Gap: Let’s review  

    There are a number of ways your art can become unintentionally more invisible than visible. 

    • When you’re faced with an art sale falling apart.  
    • Or a time when you want to put your art in the world, but you hit roadblocks with other people who are involved.  
    • Or you have a difficult commission client who presses all your buttons. 
    • You’re struggling with a collector, buyer, gallery owner, or another artist 

    In any of these scenarios, Map the Gap is a sleek and easy process to identify, and eliminate, one internal factor that can gum up selling your art.  

    When you Map the Gap, you can adjust your behavior to accurately reflect your sincere intention. This comes in handy when you need to navigate any sticky relationship affecting you selling your art.  

    In five easy steps, Map The Gap often untangles the knot. 

    But how? 

    Since most of us, most of the time, think and feel that our internal experience automatically aligns with our external behavior, we fail to check it out.

    But if we recognize this dissonance (the gap), and if we Map the Gap, suddenly there’s a release in any tangled knot of circumstances for us to: 

    1. a) Recognize that our behavior is not honoring our intention accurately
    2. b) Address the gap with the person involved 
    3. c) Mindfully create behavior that reflects the truth of your intentions
    4. d) Align, with integrity, with whomever is interacting with us

    All of which leads to the potential for selling your art with grace and ease. 

    Now, let’s tackle the next visibility/invisibility factor that might be affecting when you are selling your art: Studio Time. 

     Selling Your Art Building Block No.2 Visibility Studio Time Part 2

    Is Studio Time Undermining The Visibility You Need For Selling Your Art? 

    When other demands come into play, studio time often gets no play time. Or at least, not as much as your creative spirit needs and wants. Which often means, after taking care of the “others” in our lives, we end up with crumbs. 

    But the truth is that studio time is the one external, visibility factor guaranteed to affect selling your art. 

    Then, there’s the “putting ourselves first” to deal with. We harbor a cultural mandate that declares nurturing and caring for others as an altruistic character trait, and caring for ourselves as selfish.  

    If we ignore this mandate, we run the risk of being labeled “selfish,” a form of social shunning that exacts a black mark against our reputation as a good person. 

    Unfortunately, other traits, like self-centered, get thrown into the same roiling pot. 

    In truth, there’s an unacknowledged irony here.  

    Being selfish, where someone behaves only in their own interest with no concern for others, most often rises out of that person’s inability to discern what their real needs are. So their Alert Protective Self works very hard to grab their attention… to pay attention to what they truly need.  

    This hyperfocus—or self-centered focus on essential inner needs that are not being addressed—means the person’s inner attention is totally absorbed in an effort to wake up the part of themselves that is sleepwalking.  

    This isn’t selfishness as a disservice to others, but as a disservice to oneself. 

    If you, in an effort to make studio time a priority so selling your art becomes a reality, experience either yourself, or anyone around you, labeling you as “selfish,” or “self-centered” … 

    Pause, breath, and take a moment to examine which kind of selfishness is actually operating. 

    Do you truly need to focus on taking care of what you need? And, so, for a time this means you don’t have the bandwidth to also be a caretaker/cheerleader/nurturer for others? 

    If you can't time find to create, you can't make art to sell

    Finding more time to create, so selling your art becomes viable, is what haunts most artists I’ve worked with. 

    And oddly enough,  even the most productive artists, who seem to easily overcome roadblocks, they also tell me they feel as if they can’t carve out enough studio time to make the art they need for selling their art.  

    Which makes me to wonder if time is the culprit, or merely an easy rationale masking other issues. 

    Often Time Slips Away Because We Aren’t Paying Attention To It  

    When you want to change behavior that operates on autopilot, try this: 

    1. Name, or better yet, write down the specific roadblock, or roadblocks, that take away from your studio time. 

    When we name something directly, it directs our brain to retrieve it from our sub/unconscious to make it consciously available so we can work with it. 

    You can't work with something until you actually know what it is.

    1. Brainstorm options for what you, or those around you, can do to reduce the amount of time you spend on this roadblock. With classic brainstorming, you need to get all the “obvious” options out of the way first before the creative ones come up. So get every idea down on paper, without editing or judging. 
    2. Keep in mind that we operate on a limited amount of will per day. Every decision, or action we take, eats up a portion of our will. If studio time is paramount (and I’m hoping it is), do that before you do anything else. This is the best way I know to maximize any amount of time you have for a project, especially if it has to be limited
    3. Write a mantra for your studio time. Print it out. Or paint it out…and put it where you can see it every day. 

        Here is a list of the most common Studio Time Thieves stealing the very art you need to sell your art: 

        Work/Income Conflicts: 

        • Where you have to balance making art with a day job (or two, or three…) 

        Responsibility for Caregiving: 

        • When children, elderly parents, or other members of your family need you 

        Issues With Your Health: 

        • When physical or mental health issues limit your energy and focus 

        Household Responsibilities and/or Distractions: 

        • When  daily life chores and demands nibble away at your studio time 
        • Where frequent interruptions or distractions break your creative focus 
        • When you don’t have a dedicated, separate studio space to remove you from home life  

        Motivational Factors: 

        • When you struggle with procrastination, lack of motivation, or creative blocks 
        • When you feel guilty dedicating so much time to your studio  
        • When you have an inspiration drought or burnout from life on steroids 

        Time Management: 

        • Where your administrative, art related tasks (exhibitions, teaching, marketing, etc.) interfere with your creative focus 
        • When you over commit to projects with deadlines that collide 
        • Faltering when it comes to a consistent studio schedule 

        Logistical Issues: 

        • When you need to travel regularly, so keeping a routine feels impossible 

        when you make your art, your art becomes visible

        Here are three different perspectives on finding studio time that I’ve lifted straight out of the smARTist Telesummit Revival Podcast #2.  

        • Organizing as a foundational factor in studio time  
        • Defining your artistic direction with concrete specifics  
        • Understanding how both artificial and natural time impacts how we create


        1. Jennifer Loudon (our smARTist Organizing Expert) starts with reminding us how we take ourselves to task for not having enough time in the studio, which undermines our creative mood. 

        With simple exercises, she helps artists find a way to be okay, in this moment, just as we are. Embracing the radical choice to truly believe there is nothing to change or fix, solve or get rid of.

        Because, once you breath in that choice (and Jennifer knows exactly how to guide you toward this awareness), you open up to new moods and new choices that paradoxically, and gratefully, lead to finding more creative time in the studio—no matter what. 


        2. Aletta de Wal, M. Ed (our smARTist Art Career Expert) comes from a more traditional stance where you unleash the forces of desire, will and planning to the studio time you need and want.  

        Two of the building blocks affecting studio time that she explores are 1) how you define your artistic direction and 2) how you approach organization. 

        In her presentation, Aletta has you answer specific question to help you identify where you are right now, and what you need to go forward. 


        3. Waverly Fitzgerald (smARTistâ Time Expert) offers a radical view of time in two distinct realms of experience: natural time and artificial time, and how understanding time in both realms impacts the personal, natural rhythms of our life. 

        As a creative herself, she shows us how to identify our sweet spot for creating, how to use the seasons to trigger a surge in creativity, how to find our “prime time” so we’re ready to work when we’re most creative, and why the ultradian rhythm works so well. 

        But, for me, the most influential part of Waverly’s presentation is her distinction between goal setting and theme setting and how she uses both of these, in tandem, to orchestrate time within her own life. 

        Here then are three, immediate tools you can use to get more studio time. 

        1. Embracing your inherent, human wholeness as you organize and manage your studio time so selling your art becomes viable 
        2. Paying attention to your artistic direction so selling your art becomes part of the artistic vision 
        3. Learning how natural and artificial time impacts you on a daily basis so you are selling your art as a whole artist  

        Now, it’s your turn. When did you last experience the feeling that your time in the studio was “selfish?” 

        I’d love to start a conversation, so please leave me a comment.  

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