Art Business 101: Having the Right Attitude


My very first group show was an art party in a private residence. I was very excited about the work I brought, and I had high hopes for sales. The art’s meaning  was personal to me, but I still believed that other people would “get it”.

I spoke to dozens of our guests, explaining my concept and techniques. They asked questions and seemed genuinely interested. I thought for sure that one of them would feel the need to own something I created.Dean Johnson with his artwork 3

In the end, nothing sold. I was devastated. I fought back tears as I took my work down off the walls. I wondered, will my future in the arts be as dismal as this?

I had the wrong attitude, but it didn’t last long. I needed a solution to the problem, so I asked the question, “How can I improve my chances for sales?”

I let that experience make me better as an artist and a business person. I paid attention to the feedback I got that night, and I began to analyze what made other artists’ work sell. I stuck to my basic pop aesthetic, but I developed and adapted it to meet real market needs. Ultimately, I started producing marketable products that do sell.

This doesn’t mean every show is financially successful. When the market is saturated, my sales suffer. Sometimes, I spend more on event costs than I make on art sales. Other times, sales are marred by logistical errors, such as poor timing or a troublesome location.

No matter what happens, nothing justifies feeling defeated or disappointed. To stay in the right attitude, I stick to the following Essentials.

3 Essentials for Artists


  • Gratitude – Always be thankful, even when things don’t work the way you want them to. Every experience can be a learning experience that will steer you toward the kind of success you want.
  • Patience – Expect that your success will take years of hard work. Each show you complete is a small step on a very long path. Stay in the moment, and graciously enjoy where you are on the journey.
  • Humility – Make obscurity your friend. Embrace being at the bottom. Enjoy your role as an outsider. Work quietly and humbly at your craft, and focus on serving others. Never forget that there is more to learn, and never burn bridges.

Dean with his artworkWith these Essentials on your side, there is no pressure for you to charge ahead in your career. There are no specific quotas to meet and no expectations to fulfill. You can take the time to fully absorb the valuable lessons that each new experience brings. More importantly, you can have fun no matter what.

Approach every show as if you were a guest rather than a sales representative. Have a drink, mingle, and have some good conversations. Be more interested in the people who are there than they are in you. In short, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A GOOD TIME. If some of your work sells, then your income will be icing on the cake. If nothing sells, then at least you enjoyed your evening.

You alone are responsible for the way you feel about a show.