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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Art vs. Commerce

Have you ever noticed how so many artists hate talking about money or business? Why is that? Where did the mindset come from that the two are mutually exclusive? Why does someone who loves art need to hate the entrepreneurial tasks of making a living?

 

Now, some will say its a right brain/left brain thing. That creative people don’t always enjoy the mundane number crunching of business. But that seems short sighted to me. Business is as much an art as painting is. You don’t have to enjoy numbers to be a business person. I know plenty of entrepreneurs who are terrible with money. They just love to create and businesses are their canvas.

 Art is about ideas. About challenging the status quo. Its about connecting with people at an emotional level. Businesses and brands do that all the time. Its storytelling at its finest.

Perhaps you find yourself as an artist being forced to deal with numbers or facts and figures and things that don’t interest you. Find the story in it. Find the emotional hook. Its possible to become as interested in building a business as you are any story you create in your mind whether that’s expressed through painting, music or film.

When that business is you, the emotional hook is knowing how to protect your creations and make money so you can continue to create for years to come.

Realize that art and commerce aren’t mutually exclusive. They are two sides of the same coin. You are expressing yourself through something you create, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s important, right?