How Not to Succeed

In The Art World

Without even knowing it, artists can sometimes sabotage their careers, compromise their reputations, reduce their chances of getting gallery representation or shows, and sell less art. Instead of achieving success like they think they're doing, they may be doing exactly the opposite. I've been keeping a list of artist no-no's for years, actual things they do that hurt rather than help. So if going nowhere fast is important to you, here's all you have to do to make that happen:

* Spontaneously introduce yourself to anyone who you think has any standing in the art world and/or any ability-- real or perceived-- to buy, sell, show, broker, critique, review, advance, or otherwise represent you or your art. Start by saying something like, "Hi, I'm an artist." Once you've done that, make no attempt to explain why you're introducing yourself, how you know who they are, what the purpose of the introduction is, why you or your art is relevant to what they do, what you expect to accomplish by speaking with them, or what they can expect to accomplish by speaking with you.

* Pay no attention to how interested or disinterested anyone might be in either learning about your art, hearing your artist story, or continuing any type of conversation with you regardless of the content. Just keep talking.

* Whenever and wherever possible say the following: "Hi, I'm an artist. Would you like to see my art?" You can do this in person, on social media, by phone, by email or DM, by mail, etc.

* Whenever and wherever possible, ask people to look at your art, and then once they're looking at it ask, "So what do you think?" You can do this on social media, in person, by phone, by email or DM, by mail, etc.

* In case anyone expresses interest in seeing your art online or visiting your studio, make sure you have fewer than twenty pieces of finished work. The less you have, the better.

* Even though you have less than twenty finished works of art, continually contact established dealers and galleries nationally and internationally and ask for solo shows.

* Whenever you finish a work of art, wait for at least two weeks before you start a new one, preferably longer. This not only keeps your output low but also assures that you're continually out of practice.

* Believe that all you have to do to get known is stay in your studio, create art, show it to hardly anyone, and make little or no effort to meet people online, through social media, in the local art community, etc. Instead, wait to be discovered.

* If you're selling online or out of your studio and someone shows interest in a particular artwork, immediately redirect them to a more expensive one whether or not it's similar to the one they're looking at.

* If someone is interested in an older piece of your work, tell them your newer art is better and that they should buy a more recent piece instead.

* When you're starting out, refuse to get a day job to supplement your income. That way, you put the maximum amount of stress and pressure on yourself to make a living selling your art.

* Even though you may be relatively early in your career, have had few or no gallery shows, or have not yet established a reputation either online or where you live, email random requests to dealers and galleries all over the world asking them to show, buy, sell, or represent your art.

* Even though you're not yet well known where you live or make art, present your art to the best galleries in your area, or better yet, to the best galleries in the world. Make sure these galleries exclusively represent nationally and internationally renowned artists.

* Buy email or mailing lists of art dealers, collectors, critics, curators, or galleries. Then send mass spam emails addressed to "Dear Gallery Owner" or "Dear Collector" or "Dear Sir/Madam" or spend thousands of dollars printing up promotional materials and doing impersonal mass mailings to introduce yourself and your art.

* Pay to show your art at galleries that charge you to exhibit your work. The more expensive they are, the better. That way, you'll likely go broke faster. In the conventional art world, galleries show art they really like, believe in, and think they can sell, not by asking artists to finance their own shows. Artists provide art; galleries provide venues; galleries sell art; everyone makes money. It's a partnership where each provides for the other and everyone makes money when art sells, not before. Also keep in mind that informed art people tend not to take these types of galleries seriously.

* Pay to be included in so-called books, magazines, or directories of promising artists, international artists, famous artists, whatever. The more it costs to get listed, the better. Combined with paying for shows, you'll go broke even faster. Keep in mind that paying to be included in a publication does not make you any more promising, famous, or international than you were before you paid. Additionally, informed art people tend not take publications like this seriously.

* When you contact a dealer or gallery either in person, online or by phone, email, DM, or mail, simply say you're an artist looking for representation. Make sure they have no idea what your art looks like or why you decided to contact them. Also make sure YOU have no idea why you're contacting them (other than maybe that they're an art gallery and you're an artist). Have no idea what kind of art they show, whether they sell the kind of art you make, what their history is, whether your art is priced comparably to the art they sell, or whether your resume compares favorably with those of the artists they represent.

* If a gallery contacts you and expresses interest in your art, take a long time to respond. The longer the better.

* Begin all email, direct messages, or mail correspondences to dealers or galleries with salutations like, "Dear Sir or Madam," "Dear Gallery Director," or "To Whom it May Concern." That way, the recipients can be sure you either have no idea who they are, don't care who they are, or don't think it's necessary to know who they are. Your goal is for them to hit "Delete" as fast as possible.

* Send out random emails to galleries, dealers, etc. that contain only the URL of your website, Instagram, or other social media pages, and nothing else.

* Send out random emails or direct messages on social media to total strangers like galleries, dealers, people with large followings, and anyone else you think has a significant profile, and ask them to do stuff for you even though you have no intention of doing anything for them. Stuff to ask for includes asking them to follow you, like their page, look at their art, give them feedback, share their posts, find them representation, refer them to collectors, buy their art, show their art, etc.

* Send out random emails to galleries, dealers, art critics, curators, etc. with at least 50 images of your art (the more the better) and nothing else. Or maybe include text like "My art" or "My latest art" or "If interested, please email me." However to really do this one right, leave out the word "please." And don't provide any information about who you are, what your full name is, why you're emailing them, where you live and work or how they can contact you because you think anyone who wants to contact you will just hit the "Reply" button and email you that way.

* Email a gallery you don't know asking them to either show or represent your art and make sure to CC it to at least 20 other galleries.

* When emailing or making contact with galleries or dealers, say stuff like, "What can you do for me?" or "I only want to deal with someone who's serious about selling art" or "Let's work together" or "Let's collaborate" (translation-- "You do all the work selling my art while I do nothing").

* When you present your art to anyone for purposes of getting shows, sales or representation, make sure you have no coherent or unifying explanation for what you do, why you do it, or what your guiding inspirations or motivations are. Also make sure you're totally disorganized. Show them everything you've ever made, no matter what it looks like, whether or not you think it's any good, whether or not it relates to what you're making now-- and make sure it's not in any order. Make no attempt to point out any connections, similarities, or continuities between any examples of your work. Your goal is to completely confuse whoever's looking at it.

* Even though you're not that well known, spend thousands of dollars hiring someone to build you a website. Ignore the fact that finding you, your art, or your website on the Internet will be difficult except for people who already know you. As soon as your website is finished and online, believe that sales will just roll in. Now that you have a website, make little or no effort to show or sell your art anywhere else on social media or at physical locations. Just tell people to visit your website.

* Make sure the only contact information you provide on your website is one of those forms where you fill in fields and click a "Submit" button. The less personal information you provide, the less likely people will be to contact you.

* Make sure your art is not priced on our website, Instagram, or on other social media pages. And in case anyone is interested in buying anything, provide no instructions about how they can buy it. Better yet, never give any indication anywhere that your art is even for sale.

* Make sure the art on your website, Instagram or other social media pages is not organized or displayed in any order, and provide as little explanatory text as possible. Just dump it all on there. This way, you'll confuse, frustrate and discourage visitors as quickly as possible.

* Have no social media or online presence. Why? Because you're better than that.

* If you are on social media, continually post images of your art with captions like "My art" or "My latest art" or "WIP" etc. Better yet, post the images only with no text or explanations. When you're not posting your art, post things that have nothing to do with your art.

* If you are on social media, especially Instagram, never use hashtags and refuse to learn anything about how they work.

* Email total strangers about your online art fundraiser and ask them for money.

* Email total strangers about a contest, show, or competition you're in and ask them to vote for your art.

* Make sure you have no artist statement, no explanation for why your art looks like it does, what it represents, how it's evolved over time, or why you make the kind of art you make.

* Make sure you have no idea how to price your art. If someone asks you how much a piece of your art costs, tell them you don't know. Or ask them how much they think it's worth. If you're in person and they suggest a dollar amount, stand there and say nothing. If you're communicating online and they make an offer, either take a really long time to respond, double it and say that's the price, act insulted, ask them why they offered that amount, etc. No matter what the circumstances, do anything but accept the offer.

* If your art is priced and for sale and someone asks you why a certain piece costs as much as it does, either tell them that's how much it's worth, that's how much you want for it, or that you don't know.

* If someone asks any kind of questions about your prices or seems a bit uncomfortable with how much they are, tell them your art is cheap compared to (insert name of famous artist here).

* Pay no attention to feedback about your art and never respond to it. If anyone gives you feedback, ignore it.

* Constantly complain about who the galleries are showing, who the museums are showing, artists who get lots of exposure or attention, your lack of being recognized, ignorant collectors, clueless critics, and trash as many other aspects of the art world as possible.

* Make sure you're late whenever you have an appointment to show your art. Better yet, cancel the appointment once or twice first and then make sure you're late.

* If you've got a deadline to have your art ready for a show, miss it. If you've got a deadline to have your statement, bio or resume ready for a show, catalog or website, miss it. If an you have a deadline to submit an application for a grant, residency or exhibition opportunity, send it in late.

* Assume that everyone understands your art as well as you do. Assume also that understanding your art is the viewer's responsibility, not yours.

* Disagree with as many comments people make about your art as possible.

* When people ask you questions about your art, act like they're ignorant and should know better.

* As often as possible, when people tell you how they interpret your art or what they see in it, tell them they're wrong. Then tell them what they should be thinking or seeing.

* When someone asks a question about your art, instead of answering it, ask a question right back.

* If someone asks what your art means, tell them it means whatever they want it to mean.

* If you get a show, contact other "better" galleries as soon as possible, preferably before the show even opens. Tell them about the show you'll be having and say you'd really rather show with them.

* Make sure galleries that currently represent or show your art know that you can hardly wait to blow them off and move on to someone better.

* While you're having a show or are currently represented by a gallery, take every opportunity to sell art direct to buyers out of your studio, on social media, or off of your website, preferably for less than the gallery is selling it for.

* When your gallery show is close to being over, email anyone who follows you on social media or who likes your art and tell them that as soon as the show is over, you're going to drop your prices and sell your art directly to any interested buyers.

* Make sure not to cultivate or honor any business relationships or agreements, especially ones that work. The only thing that matters is for you to move up in the art world regardless of how you do it.

* Believe that if one gallery or dealer can sell your art, all galleries or dealers can sell it.

* Believe that your art sells itself, not the gallery or dealer who's selling it for you.

* Talk about attorneys, suing people, your legal rights as an artist, what happens if someone crosses you, that you don't want anyone reproducing images of your art, that you don't want anyone photographing your art, that you keep track of everyone who you send images of your art to, and so on. In short, be as threatening and difficult to deal with as possible.

* If you're in person, try to figure out as fast as you can whether the person you're talking to is worth talking to. If you decide they're not worth talking to, either suddenly walk away or start talking to someone else. If this happens online, stop replying to their messages or emails without ever giving a reason.

* Ignore any suggestions anyone makes about any aspect of how you present yourself or your art.

* And last but certainly not least, never do anything art-related for anybody unless there's something in it for you.


Have questions about your art or art career? Want to make a consulting appointment? Contact the author, Alan Bamberger.


(art by Charles Valoroso)

divider line

Current Features

Services for Artists and Collectors


  • artbusiness on Facebook
  • Artbusiness on Twitter
  • Artbusiness on Instagram