10 Skills Every Artist Needs For Success

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If you follow this list I can’t guarantee that you’ll be a millionaire or have a legacy like Picasso. You may not have incredible talent or mastery of your craft. But if you combine the following list of skills with talent there’s almost nothing you can’t achieve.

Now, perhaps a few people will complain and say that some of the choices I’ve made below aren’t exactly skills per se’ but are more like character traits. I would argue that a skill is anything you learn. Its something you practice and repeat over and over. By seeing health, or mental toughness, or protecting the downside as a skill to be learned, it gives you the freedom to not be perfect and learn as you go.

CHARACTER VS. COMPETENCE(SKILLS)

Too often, after some business or personal failure, people will beat themselves up for thinking they have ‘bad character’ when what they really have are underdeveloped skills. Character traits like loyalty, honesty, integrity etc will help you stay grounded and healthy as you move toward developing your competence and skills. You need both but I’m assuming and hoping you have good character. What you need are some skills to help you get to that next level as a creative person.

Here is my list of ten skills that you need to succeed in todays world as an artist.

1) Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is about handling pressure and not being impacted by what people think. As an artist there is already a lot of vulnerability as we expose our emotions, but in todays world, with social media, we open ourselves up to massive criticism from complete strangers. I’ve had friends who thought they were being funny with a silly comment to something I’ve shared online but actually it came out really hurtful. Just imagine how it feels when a complete stranger unloads their venom in a vicious attack? You have to be tough mentally and know how to keep going and ignore that criticism and comments. Even more so when its your own inner critic.  Mental toughness helps you face the uphill climb and not give up when you want to quit.

2) Discipline

You’d think this is pretty obvious, and it is, but its amazing how important follow through and work ethic are to success. Not so much the 4:30am workout routines or working 19 hours a day, although the evidence for early rising is pretty strong, I’m referring more to the discipline to see things through. Finish what you start. Even if it takes a year to finish something you should have been able to do in a couple days, the rewards of eventually completing is the greatest feeling in the world. Keep going.

3) Protect the Downside (make sure there’s a way out so you can walk away and try again).

This is super important and where most of my entrepreneurial mistakes have usually come from. Be sure to create an exit plan when you’re hatching up an idea or business. Before you make a huge investment ask yourself what the worst case scenario is and then protect yourself from those outcomes. In the early 80’s, when Richard Branson was running a successful record label, he decided to start an airline. Instead of putting his entire empire in jeopardy by buying an expensive plane and hoping he made money he negotiated with Boeing to let him lease one and if after a year he decided to shut the airline down he could return the plane no questions asked.  Simple but very smart.

4) Willing to Experiment (and fail)

If you are afraid to try new things and possibly make a mistake here or there you’ll miss out on incredible opportunities. Maybe you are afraid of ruining your brand. Unless you try you’ll never know. Maybe you’re afraid people won’t like it. Its also possible you might find a new audience you didn’t know was there. There’s always a trade off. A willingness to experiment is fundamental to being an artist. Don’t be afraid of making crap. Everyone feels this way. Its healthy and important to do it anyway.

5) Have An Open Mind

Visit new places, try a new type of food, try a new experience, be willing to learn new things. You have to be open to the world around you. Its how you increase your archive of ideas in order to create. If you only listen to one kind of music then you’ll only copy that sound. Listen to a lot of different styles and you’ll combine them into something original.

6) Empathy

What makes an artist relatable? Empathy. Why? Because it allows you to connect with your characters, your audience, your collaborators, in a way that is human and real. If you are portraying Hitler standing in the hot sun before a large crowd ready to give a speech, empathy allows you to understand that he got hot and sweaty too, and you wipe your brow. Now, an audience can relate to him as a human. A flawed, psycho, very real human. When we lack empathy we often create art that is flat and one dimensional. If we can be empathetic with our medium or expression the painting or music etc has more soul and life in it. Now we are connecting not just creating.

7) Discernment Of People

You need to know how to ‘read the air’ around people. Beyond what someone says, knowing what they are thinking or feeling is super important. This skill set will give you Jedi like abilities of knowing how to negotiate contracts, how to build trust and love among friends, and how to communicate with an audience.

8) Basic Money Management

If you can’t manage your money find someone who can. Make sure you know enough to be sure you aren’t getting ripped off. Your art is more important than your money but your money is important so you can keep making more art.

9) Ability to Network 

This isn’t as big a deal as you might think but being able to find mentors, teachers, new friends and contacts is incredibly important. Learn to be interested in others. Ask questions. You’ll avoid countless mistakes by being curious about other people’s stories and learning from them. You’ll also find more work, build more relationships and expand your worldview.

10) Personal Health

If you aren’t healthy you have nothing. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is fundamental to the life of an artist. You’ll live longer, be happier, and inspire more people. Don’t sacrifice your health for your art. Its not worth it.

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We Don’t Need Better Artists We Need Better Taste

How many times have we heard the complaint that the internet is giving a platform to millions of talentless hacks who think they can write or sing or create art? How many artists are in the world that a record label or publishing company didn’t give a chance to and we all missed out on their talent?

Yes, the internet has opened the door for anyone to create something and put it out there and this has given us ample amounts of rough to sift through to find the diamond.

What we are forgetting though is that art is a craft and craftsmanship takes time.  It takes lots and lots of drafts and multiple versions of models being made.  Walk into any craftsman studio and you’ll see remnants on the floor of experiments and test copies that didn’t quite make it.  What the internet has allowed is for more and more artists to find a place to practice.  No longer do we need to slave away in the darkness for years creating art that no one sees, now we can create it and share it immediately and get instant feedback, good or bad. And those first drafts or experiments are now around forever and we need to be okay with that.

The internet lets everyone see your art in all its humiliating glory.  Now, there are no secrets or years of solitude.  Now, we get to practice in broad daylight and let the world watch us grow and improve.  It’s a brave new world but one where the process of making art, like sausage, is there for the world to observe, and criticize or love.  So stop worrying about what they think.  Chances are anything you make probably sucks right now.  It will for years and decades.  Develop the thick skin needed to handle the feedback. But keep creating.  Keep writing.  Keep drawing.  Share your art and your craft with all of us.

There’s a lot of more noise out there but remember that a lot of it is first, second, third drafts.  A lot of it is years of art being developed and practiced and tried out before its really ready.

The biggest skill set needed in society is not that we need better artists but that we need better taste so that we can identify which one is the artist in training and which one is the hack wasting our time.

It’s Time To Stop The Self Publishing Harrasment

I’m always amazed at the number of people who still make comments about authors who self publish as not being legit.  Or perhaps its authors themselves who will put their own material out with a secret fantasy of landing a huge book deal.  There are even highly successful authors that will still get mentioned as having self published their first book and then landed a deal, as though they were anointed or something.

To me, this is ridiculous. If for no other reason than simply look at YouTube.  No one watching a YouTube video thinks, ‘Wow, this is a great daily vlog, hopefully one day this guy will get picked up by a TV network so he can have a real career.”  The reason?  We’ve become completely conditioned to the idea of online video being a legitimate form of artistic expression especially as its launched the careers of thousands.  The artist or creator has total control over the outcome.  If its not well done or there are things we don’t like about it we either stop watching or we ignore that part of it because we like the rest of the material.

Whether its fan fiction sites, blogging, or the rise of ebooks self-publishing is here to stay.  Authors should stop feeling guilty for writing and putting out their own stuff.  A poorly designed cover, or bad grammar, are no longer deterrents to finding readers.  What people are interested in is an idea or point of view.  Authors who write and put out their own material should view themselves like YouTubers.

Write as best you can, with the resources you have available, and your audience will come.