10 Things That Should Be Taught in Art School

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For artists and creatives with formal training, it may feel like you have everything you need to “go forth and create.” But at the end of the day, there are a few real-world skills artists need — and they don’t teach them in art school or university.

Becoming an artist requires a dedication to developing these somewhat obscure skills, just as much as developing your creative ones. To help out my fellow artists — so we can enjoy more art in the world — here are 10 skills they don’t teach in art school (but should).

1. How to build a business as an artist

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We may be taught how to create our best work in a specific medium in school or through formal art training. But when it comes to building a business from your art? That’s not something many of us learn or even think is possible.

However, building a successful business with your art is attainable. We, as artists and creators, need to know how to sell our art and ourselves. People buy the artist just as much as the art, so creating a story, a presence and a cohesive image can help build a strong foundation for your art business.

2. How to navigate hesitation and doubt

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Who are we to create art? Who are we to try and make a living from our work, when so many other artists struggled to get by? The long-held societal myth of “the starving artist” keeps many an amazing creative from ever pursuing their skills, let alone creating a business or income source from it. Our work is overcoming it.

3. How to shift your mindset

As mentioned above, part of the work of being an artist is addressing mindset challenges and taking a deep look at where they come from. We have to address our social influences, our upbringings, our stories and our relationships with money. 

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We also have to learn to personify the resistance and give a name to our fears. Elizabeth Gilbert frequently talks about how fear never goes away, but there’s something we can do to manage it: Ask it to take a backseat.

4. The power of visualization

As artists, we have the ability to bring out what we see and make it tangible. We can essentially visualize what we want to see in the world — and that’s a superpower. Visualization is a tool you can use to create art, grow a business and even create the life you really want.

This is not just an artist’s superstition, either. This is rooted in scientific fact. What does this mean for artists? There is proof that visualization works. It’s not some intangible artistic concept — we can leverage this skill to help us create our art and succeed in both business and in life.

5. How to create multiple revenue streams

As a painter myself, I’ve created multiple streams of revenue by selling my paintings:

  • In art galleries (selling the physical canvas, selling art in stores, etc.)

  • Via digital prints (selling paper copies of my original paintings)

  • Through licensing deals (allowing companies to source my original artwork for printing, design, etc.) 

  • Creating, teaching to create and selling NFTs (non-fungible tokens)

I’ve also created courses and programs to help artists like you hone your craft and establish a thriving art business. Other artists have:

  • Taught their specific medium to other artists through courses, workshops, etc.

  • Sold merchandise

  • Commissioned artwork to bidders and clients

6. How to manage finances

As artists, we have to look at our finances. We have to get a little left-brained sometimes. We also have to know the basics — i.e., what a P&L is (Profit & Loss Statement), where our income is coming from, what expenses we have, what our cash flow looks like, our projections for future income and so forth. It’s important to know what you’re spending vs. bringing in and how your art is selling.

7. How to create honest art

To be a successful artist, you need to embrace what’s called “honest art.” This is art that’s true to you, your skills and what you want to bring to life. The most powerful and impactful art is the art only you can create. For those of you struggling to create “honest art,” try going on a cleanse of sorts. Don’t look at other people’s photography or paintings if you’re a photographer or a painter. Don’t compare your art to someone else’s. Remove those inputs and create what comes to mind. You’ll surprise yourself.

8. The value of community

Community helps inspire us and keeps us connected, and it also gives us the unprecedented ability to carve out our own space with our art. Not only can you showcase your art in more places, but you can build real connections with the people who could potentially buy your art (or share it with others). 

If you want to sustain yourself through your art — financially, artistically, spiritually, interpersonally, socially — put community-building at the top of your list.

9. The basics of marketing

Do you want to make a living selling your art? Do you want to share your work with more people? Then you’ll need to understand the basics of marketing. As artists, we can take inspiration from other artists and some of the biggest brands out there to see how they market their creations. The basics are out there for us to learn by proxy.

10. When to ask for help

If we spend all of our time on tasks that take us away from creating our best art, we’re not doing what’s most important to us (and the world, if I’m being honest about it). And if we don’t have time to make art, we can’t create honestly, market well, or build community. These are all cornerstones of a successful art business.

So, let me ask you this: Is your time best spent loading images to your site, or is it best spent creating art to sell on your site? Should you be stressing over what caption to post on Instagram, or should you be building connections in your community? Do you need to focus your energy on learning everything you can about marketing, or is your energy best spent in your studio?

You can’t do everything, and you certainly can’t do everything alone. Like making honest art, don’t overthink it.

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