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How Proving the Exception Makes an Artist Successful

How Proving the Exception Makes an Artist Successful

Eric Maisel

Dear Dr. Maisel:

I don’t see that many artists really making it. Is there something special I should be doing to help myself stand out from the pack?

Martha R., Los Angeles

Thanks, Martha.

Tens of millions of people produce visual art of one sort or another. It is a straightforward matter of supply and demand that not all of these people will be able to make money from their efforts. It is therefore the case that if you want to be one of the relatively few who do make sufficient money from your efforts, you must prove the exception. It follows that it will not make sense to do exactly what most artists do, as most artists aren’t making sufficient money. You must do other things as well. Here are ten tips for doing just that: for proving the exception.

1. Understanding why “proving the exception” is vital

If you intend to prove the exception, you will need to learn what is average or typical. Use the evidence of your eyes to distinguish between what most artists are doing and what successful artists are doing. What concrete differences do you notice between the one group and the other? Are the successes of successful artists more about their subject matter choices, their technical merit, their marketing efforts, the stunts they pull, or their sociability? What do you see?

2. Understanding how “most artists” operate

“The reward method works for me. Think of something that you really, really want. When you accomplish your goals, you get to do that thing. My trip to New York City last month was just such a reward trip for meeting some very hard long-term goals. Another reward I give myself is a break from my overactive dog by dropping her off at a doggie day care place for a day.”

3. Articulating the difference between “the normal way” and “the exceptional way”

As you begin to understand what amounts to an average effort and what amounts to an exceptional effort, articulate what you are learning. Write out your own “ten tips” for proving the exception. Be able to say in a clear sentence or two how you mean to distinguish your efforts from customary efforts. Create your own plan for “proving the exception.” Clearly identify what you will need to do in order to make your plan work.

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