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To Be or Not to Be an Artist: What it takes to become a successful artist

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

Many of us dream of transforming our passion into a career!

However, for an aspiring artist, the main struggle is battling with the terrifying stereotype of being another “starving artist”.

Now, I’m no seasoned artist; I’ve been painting professionally now for 3 years, and it would be a lie if I said that that stereotype does not still haunt me. However, through my few years as a professional painter, I know that there are resources and steps that one can take to avoid that thought from ruining your goals. Here are some things you can do NOW to start you on your way to be coming a successful artist.

1. Have a clear vision

This doesn’t mean map out your whole career, because trust me, your ideal path as an artist will change with time and awareness. To have a clear vision simply means to know the basics of what type of artist you want to be: what type of art will you be creating, what is your niche, how would you like to impact the art world and the world in general, etc.?

These are some of the key questions that you should ask yourself before committing to a creative career. Without a clear vision, you may find yourself mimicking and copying, which can hinder your creative progression, and leave you frustrated.

2. Commit

Sounds easy enough, right? However, by committing to an art career you are devoting all, if not most of your time to your art.

This one was personally difficult for me. When I decided to transform my hobby into a career, I didn’t realize that I now had to devote way more hours to my craft than ever before, and devote more time to developing myself as a professional artist. You know when you’ve hit that necessary level of commitment when you feel like all you do is eat, sleep, and breathe art (sounds excessive, but you’ll feel it, believe me)!

3. Define success for yourself

I realized that defining my success was so important when my husband asked me what success looked like for me. I had absolutely no idea at the time. Does it look like selling my paintings for thousands of dollars, or is it exhibiting in lots of shows? Or maybe success is in the number of clients I can acquire (or even the types of clients!). When you define what success is, you’ll discover what motivates you to reach that success, and when you find what motivates you…you’re unstoppable!

4. Treat your career like a business

You are the CEO and your art is the product. Especially if you are looking to be an independent artist who creates and makes sales themselves, then performing business operations such as marketing and brand development are essential for your success. Easy and mostly free places to begin developing your brand and business are social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and online resources such as Artwork Archive.

My education is in business, so I have a natural business mentality. About 1-2 days out of the whole week is devoted to working on the business part of my art, and the other days are mostly dedicated to painting.

Artist Adrienne Brown-David, too, divides her time between painting and other important tasks. Adrienne mentioned that a forty-hour week for her might be 12-14 hours working in her studio. However, she said that those hours “…didn't necessarily look like painting for eight hours every day. Some...were spent on admin work (emails, applications, marketing, etc.). Sometimes it was buying materials, or visiting galleries.” How one individual artist manages work hours will look different for another, but taking time to devote yourself to personal and business development can make a heap of a difference to your overall success.

The Space Between 10 by Adrienne Brown-David

5. Shut out the noise

The Noise! “Art isn’t a real career”, “When will you get a real job”, “You should pursue something more stable”. Shut out the noise, because sooner or later, too much of it will cause you to drop it all.

This does not only include negative verbal remarks, but sometimes the visual ones too. Positive images of successful artists can also be triggering because you begin to question your own art and career. What we don’t often see is where these successful artists started. If only you knew that numerous artists have been through just as many and perhaps similar challenges as you.


There is no written path of success for an artist, which is why becoming one is one of the most exciting yet scariest commitments you can make. If you want to make your journey to becoming a successful artist even the slightest less nerve wrecking, then be sure you have a clear idea of who you want to be, and what you want your art to be as well. Commit to this vision and devote as much time as you can to your craft. Don’t forget to keep yourself motivated and on the right track, and define what success means to you —it will be your fuel! Once all of that is in place, transform you career into a business, shut out the noise, and keep at it. Time and effort will pay off!

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