Please welcome Kelly Helsinger to Rumriver Art Center, as today’s guest writer and teacher for our upcoming Business Art classes in October and November.
Planning Your Art Career: The Essential Questions
by Kelly Helsinger
If you’re like me, you’ve dreamed of making a living from your art since you were a child, but turning that dream into reality is quite possibly one of the bumpiest roads I’ve traveled. There is a lot of uncertainty and mysticism when it comes to a creative career. There is no guarantee that it will work as you hope, or even work at all, but that comes with every career path. Planning a career in the arts is a courageous pursuit, but I’m here to help demystify the process and help you strategically move toward your dream.
My name is Kelly Helsinger and I have been selling my work professionally since 2010. In my career, I have sold my work around the world, worked with large brands on influencer campaigns, negotiated licensing contracts, amassed over 100k followers on social media platforms, and more.
When it comes to the arts, there is no one path to take. We are all unique as creators, thus, each art career can look vastly different. But, we all must answer the same key questions to find our path.
First, what are you selling?
You might be thinking “I sell art”, but it’s not that simple. Every business has something to sell, but it is never just the product being sold. It’s an idea, an experience, an emotion, a perspective shift, a dream. As an artist, that is even more true.
When you create a work of art, how does it make you feel? How does it make your audience feel? Is your work meant to soothe? Is it meant to make someone think and ask questions? When you know what you are truly selling, you will have a better idea of where to sell it.
If you are selling conceptual art, you will have better luck exploring galleries with rotating exhibits and themes. If you are selling illustrative patterns or characters, you may want to explore licensing your work with textile and home decor companies. If you are selling your lifestyle as an artist, then you may want to explore affiliate marketing, social media partnerships, and content creation. If you are selling your ideas and lessons, then you may want to explore teaching. There is a market for every type of art and artist.
Second, what is your style?
One of the most common questions I’ve gotten from other artists is “How did you find your style?” When we first explore the arts, it’s unlikely that we immediately have a defined style. We are often trying out every material we can get our hands on, mimicking the masters from multiple genres, and frankly, we are just all over the place, but this exploration is crucial for the eventual development of a distinct style.
Your art style can involve a lot of factors. The colors you choose, your subject matter, the materials you work with, your brushstrokes and markings, the idea behind the work, or even your artist persona. Your style can be broad or it can be limited, and both can be marketed. You do not need to stick with one style forever. A healthy art career will afford you freedom to evolve over time, but you do need some sort of cohesion in your work or artist persona to establish brand recognition.
If you do not have a defined style yet, you will be more limited with the art markets you can enter into. Consider it like having a product that is still in beta-testing. It might not even be time to bring it to market yet.
Third, who are you?
I mention an artist persona and brand recognition above and this is an important element of an art career. When we think of the artist we admire, we often think of their name, their stories, and their styles. Warhol with pop art screen prints and his famous studio parties, Monet with impressionist landscapes, Pollock with splatters and a troubled life.
Who you are matters. Your story matters. Why you create matters. Finding your style as an artist is crucial to sell your work, but your brand is the next step up. You may not think of yourself as a business, but like a brick and mortar shop, you still need a defined brand.
As an artist, you have more freedom when defining your brand. You can decide which elements to include or omit. Your brand can include your art style, your experiences, and how you show up in the world. Your brand can involve your personal style or voice or you can choose to be a mystery like Banksy. You can show up as much or as little as you want, but you must be mindful of how to make a connection to your audience. That connection is key to selling your art.
Fourth, what is it worth?
After your audience connects to your work, what is it worth? What price are they willing to pay? As artists, we are creating and marketing something that isn’t a physical need. We are not selling food or clothing. Yes, art is needed to thrive, but it is not needed to survive for most. Most families and individuals do not have a budget for art in their monthly expenses. Thus, we have to put in more emotional labor to connect with our audience’s less tangible needs to make them crave what we are selling.
When it comes to the actual price to put on your work, it is entirely subjective and contextual. There is no consistent and universal value to your work across all art markets. Context matters. Where are you marketing and to whom? You will get vastly different pricing structures for the same exact piece of art on Etsy, in galleries, at art fairs, at flea markets, and more. Ultimately, to the right audience, your art is worth exactly what you say it is.
When you know the answer to these four questions, you are ready for the next steps on your career path. If you would like to dive deeper into these questions and how to move forward, join me at Rumriver Art Center for my two part class on the subject.
Kelly Helsinger is a Minneapolis based artist with over a decade of experience in the art world. Visit messyeverafter.com to learn more about Kelly and read her free artist resource Blog.
Find her on IG: @messyeverafter
Thank you Kelly for the insightful questions and guidance!
October’s two part classes filled quickly, but we’re excited to announce a new November session:
Planning Your Art Career- Part 1: Markets, Branding, and Pricing, Tuesday, November 7th, 6pm – 8pm
Planning Your Art Career- Part 2: Social Media, E-Commerce, and Calls to Action, November 14th, 6pm – 8pm
Cost: FREE – This class is funded with money from the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA). Ages: adults 18 and older, Location: Rumriver Art Center (upstairs studio suite 201)