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7 career goals for artists

By in Art And Culture


As an artist you have spent many hours mastering techniques, developing ideas, and working hard to build an audience for your work. As you begin to make sales you might be setting yourself financial and business targets, but alongside these what are the long-term goals that you should aim for in your artistic career?

Here are 7 career landmarks that can help to build your reputation, and unlock further opportunities.

Getting your first solo show

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Many artists are building highly successful businesses selling directly to clients via their website, social media, or at artist-run fairs. Developing a relationship with a commercial gallery can, however, attract new clients, and provide a stimulus for previous customers to become repeat buyers. More importantly, a solo show acts as a signal that your work is viewed with enough confidence by a gallerist to invest in you as an artist, and to take the financial risk that solo exhibitions entail. Solo shows can also provide an opportunity for media coverage, and perhaps bring your work to the attention of curators, as well as collectors.

Undertaking a residency

Residency programmes are often aimed at young or emerging artists, providing them with financial support and the space (both physical and mental) to explore new ideas. There are a huge number of residencies available worldwide, with many designed to allow artists to experience the life and culture of other countries at the same time as developing their practice. Undertaking a residency not only allows you to grow professionally, but may also allow you to expand your network in a new city or country. Some may also provide you with the opportunity to exhibit the work that you create during your residency in a solo show or cultural institution, and of course add interest and depth to your artist bio.

Gaining press coverage

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Press coverage, whether in print or online, advertises your work to a wider audience, and might lead to a greater following on social media, or even funnel into sales. It is a good idea to keep track of media coverage via links to online articles on your website, but be wary of reproducing scans of print publications without their permission to avoid copyright issues.

If you are exhibiting at an art fair or in an open studio you might wish to display a book of press cuttings, as media coverage can not only give potential clients an insight into your work, but also instill them with the confidence to commit to a purchase.

Exhibiting in a public institution

Although exhibiting in commercial galleries can widen your audience, attract press attention, and hopefully lead to sales, the next step you should aim for as an artist is exhibiting in a public institution. Exhibiting in a museum or public gallery demonstrates to collectors that your work has intellectual or academic depth in addition to commercial potential. While few commercial galleries will have the budget to sponsor solo shows for their artists in major public institutions, it’s worth getting to know smaller public galleries in your region, as they might provide opportunities for local artists to exhibit.

Winning an art prize

In addition to the financial rewards that art prizes offer, being shortlisted for or awarded an art prize is a prestigious addition to your CV, and again can provide confidence in collectors to invest in your work. Many competitions also display shortlisted entries in public galleries, offering a route to exhibiting in a public institution. When researching opportunities, bear in mind that some international competitions (such as the USA’s Birds in Art) are open to artists worldwide, and could potentially bring your work to new markets.

Being in a public collection

One of the key markers of an artist’s success and cultural importance is not only exhibiting in a public institution, but also having work in a public collection. Although some public institutions do have the budget to purchase contemporary art, many in the UK do not, but might perhaps be open to accepting donations that fit well with their collections. If you can afford to donate a work to one or more institutions, take time to research those that might be a good fit for your work, perhaps enlisting your gallery (if you are represented by one) to approach curators on your behalf. As with residencies, try not to limit your research to the country you live in, as cultural institutions in other countries (particularly the USA) may be more accustomed to receiving donated artworks.

Selling at auction

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Alongside having work in a public collection, one of the important criteria that art advisers will consider when assessing whether their clients should invest in an artists’ work is whether the artist has secondary market potential, and has sold well at auction. As with sponsoring museum shows, not all dealers will have the means to underpin their artists’ market by purchasing any works that are offered at auction, but patrons and collectors of your work might be willing to do so, particularly if it is offered for sale in charity auctions benefiting causes they support.

Related readingMaking it: Three artists reflect on their first big break

About The Author

Rebecca Wall

Rebecca Wall is an arts writer and researcher. She studied at the University of Cambridge, the University of Venice, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. After completing an MA in Art History she worked as a Junior Specialist for Lyon & Turnbull Auctioneers, Edinburgh, as Manager of Thomas Heneage Art Books, St James’s, and as Manager of the contemporary gallery Jonathan Cooper, Chelsea. In 2020 she relocated to East Lothian, Scotland.

2 comments for “7 career goals for artists

lorenza salamon

November 20, 2020 at 7:18 pm

Thank you, very interesting, lorenza salamon

Rebecca Wall

Rebecca Wall

December 10, 2020 at 4:58 pm

Thank you Lorenza, I’m so glad you found it interesting!

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