The Plight of the Emerging Artist

Emerging ArtistIt’s tough starting out in the world of the arts if you’re a Visual Artist, Singer, Writer or any creative for that matter, and many learn the hard way when they venture out after their studies and discover it’s really not what they teach you at college.

Just as the song “Video Kills the Radio Star” of the 80’s suggests, times change as technology changes. The old makes way for the new. The Art business and the Publishing Business are changing – just as the Music Business did a short while ago.

In the past a creative person with an idea for a book or a screenplay, a collection of paintings or sculptures, artistic photographs or a written song would approach the appropriate business directly (if they were allowed to do so without an Agent) or seek representation through an Agent in the hope of signing a deal and starting a career. It was a tough enough road even then, but now that there are so much more artistic people seeking to earn a living from their talents, this industry is changing in so many ways. One would think the markets would be saturated but instead it is just transforming – and not necessarily all negatively either!

So What’s Changing Nowadays?

I understand that traditional Art Galleries are taking on fewer emerging artists these days, preferring to spend time and money on established artists who are guaranteed to make them money. This is partly due to the recession perhaps, where the wealthy can still invest in art and yet the person of more modest means shall not extend his or her budget considering there are more vital expenses to handle first.

Emerging artists are hence advised to have a strong sales record and client base before a gallery will consider taking them on and yet there’s an irony at work here because if they have a strong client base and making a success of their career, one wonders if they really need the gallery at all? Especially a small one in their local area that may bring a few sales and serve as extra exposure but isn’t really going to “Make your career” as in days of old. Yes, in the past galleries could take on an emerging artist and market them in all the right places, introduce the artist to new collectors and establish a liaison with the press, but it appears this is not happening as much any more. In most cases, emerging artists are basically on their own until they have established some value that will appeal to the gallery. This value is essentially work that sells consistently, a strong online presence and collectors and followers of their own.

Similarly, I understand that authors are expected to assist the publishers in marketing their book too and yet they can simply upload their own book to Amazon and a multitude of other sites (as well as their own websites) to publish it themselves, put some effort into marketing this work and make sales without the publishing house behind them. We’ve all read amazing success stories of authors who have made a million Dollars on Amazon and then been approached and signed by a traditional publishing house. The author must have been delighted because of the prestige factor we associate with “being signed” as it enforces the merit of the work, (because we trust it has been validated according to the traditional methods of the past,) but the author had really done the groundwork alone.

Likewise, Singers and Bands upload their music to SoundCloud, You Tube and other sites where they can also be shared, recommended and ultimately go viral. Again, some of the most unlikely musicians have been discovered this way.

However, the emerging creative need not despair – there are other ways of developing a successful career and it need not be the “plight” it appears on first glance.

Social media has certainly done a lot to change how we live or communicate and even promote ourselves and our businesses. Marketing ourselves has become a new trend on its own.

New Gateways and Avenues To Pursue

In the days of van Gogh, the artists had the Salon as a credible gateway for getting seen and known, and in the past an artist represented by an Agent or a Gallery was esteemed more prestigious than one who exhibited at fairs and markets for example. This is still true to a certain extent now, only Artists have so many other avenues to explore and a phletora of opportunities available to them as well.

Because Artists, Writers, Singers and other creative people are avidly taking advantage of the social media networks available, such as Facebook, they are actively building his or her own presence online – sometimes a very strong presence too – and are simultaneously establishing themselves in the eye of the public and creating a name for themselves.

In so doing, they are also slowly gathering what marketing guru, Seth Godin, calls “The Tribe,” as they attract an increasing number of followers interested in these talented people and their products. Among these followers can be Collectors and Buyers or Curators, Music and Film Producers, Gallery Owners, Publishers, Art Organisations, Associations and a host of other potential business – who, let us bear in mind, have Art Critics, Reviewers, Journalists and Marketers and everybody else concerned in all these industries busy themselves promoting their services and companies on their own pages on social media at the same time , as well as also on the lookout for who is making a buzz in their industries on the web!

General Advice Regarding A Positive Strategy

The Work Itself

My advice to you today from one artist to another, and whether you Write songs or books, Sculpt, Paint or Weave, is to always try and follow these few pointers:

  • Be yourself in every way – let your own personality and who you really are shine through in your work and in your promotions I.e. Be Distinctive – tell your own story! (Show this in your corporate image, your blog and the work itself)
  • Set realistic prices according to the value of your work
  • Make Good Art! – always strive to be better than your last creation
  • Associate with people who do the same or similar work as you do but who are better at it than you are – you are bound to improve and learn from them – but do not endeavour to replicate their style or you are just promoting them and you want to be unique and promote yourself!
  • Set a short-term and a long-term plan and look for ways to achieve this.


  • Engage fully in creating your career – get involved in every opening that arises.
  • Don’t scoff at the most unlikely avenues – these sometimes lead to great new opportunities and you never know who you may meet!
  • On Average, aim at devoting 30% of your time to creating your craft and 70% of your time to marketing it – unless you can afford to employ someone to help you!

Create a Promotion Strategy Using These Outlets

1) Social Networks like Facebook (Your own wall and a Fan Page) and Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram

2) Distribution Platforms especially for specific creative activities as follows:

  • Artists – Sell originals and prints through sites like Saachi, Fine Art America, Deviant Art, Daily Painters etc
  • Musicians – Upload your songs and promote yourself or your band through sites like Soundcloud etc
  • Writers – Self-publish your books through Amazon (CreateSpace), Lulu, Bookbaby etc

3) Competitions – Research and enter as many competitions as possible to keep abreast with what’s happening and obtain more exposure in the art world. An award will look good on your CV! There are free competitions and some you need to pay to enter, but be careful as some of the take your money and you have no way of knowing if there really is a competition or whether you were selected or not.

Competitions can be found online on specific sites and ezines and also in art/publishing magazines and newspapers.

Enter Talent shows if you are a singer, like Idols, UK Has Talent etc

4) Web Campaigns:Emerging Artists can also take advantage of platforms offering a variety of ways to launch ideas and create a buzz to attract some attention to your work. You can really get creative!

  1. Crowdfunding campaigns can be really innovative ways to raise funds for Indie Projects. Kickstarter and Indiegogo, to mention but a couple, are sites that favour film, the arts and creative projects. Depending on the effort put into the networking of one’s campaign, these too can go viral sometimes and some people have been really fortunate and received millions to really set them on their way.
  2. Marketing Apps – Anybody can drive traffic to their products, boost sales or generate engagement online through creating a campaign themselves, using sites such as Shortstack for example, who or even Facebook itself. They offer a range of very good and easy to use apps, which offer a host of different ideas such as:
    • Photo-Vote Competitions
    • Giveaways
    • Promotions
    • Webinars

5) Video Creation – it is easy these days to create a video and upload to sites such as You Tube. You can create a series of shots of your artworks in a slideshow format or a demonstration of you actually creating the work. Share your video on other social networks.

6) Create a Blog – Use Blogger or WordPress and build an audience to subsequently boost sales of your work through your Blog. It’s a good place to display your work, impart your knowledge and engage with readers. Draw traffic by promoting your blog on other social networks too and share it on Tumblr, Google +, Stumble Upon, LinkedIn etc

Get with it!

So although you’re presently an emerging artist and up against a lot of competition, take heart that you have so much potential of many new outlets to distribute and market your work and drive an audience and sales. Take advantage of these opportunities and try your hand at all of them! Think up some of your own too or ways you can implement them in getting your work seen in as many places as possible, both online and in your local area or nation.

Watch this video for extra inspiration and let me know if you have any other great ideas to assist emerging artists.