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How our Expectations Directly Affect our Success in Art

Like the elephant in the middle of the room, expectations are rarely the topic of conversation at art events. We could save a lot of time and trouble if we explored and explained more of what we expect from our art.

Here are 3 things I hear quite often:

1. The response to my new work far exceeded my expectations
2. My results at the exhibition were far less than what was promised
3. I had a good month but I didn’t make any sales at the XYZ Exhibit

An expectation is a strong belief that something will happen in the future or that someone will, or should, achieve something. Expectations often sound very official, especially when they come from people in authority. . . but if they are unexplored, they are no more than wishes, hopes and conjecture.

Without exploration and explanation you may as well be building castles on sand which could be washed away at any moment.

Let’s look deeper at each of the comments I mentioned above.

1. The response to my new work far exceeded my expectations

I asked one artist about the responses she was getting to a new series she’d been working on in her studio. She said that the people who had seen it so far (mostly friends and family) were hesitant to comment. She interpreted their silence as disapproval and kept her expectations low.

She had even shared that fear with many of the people who came to her next opening, in order to downplay their own expectations. She explained to me that she didn’t want to get her hopes up, in case the people who liked her old work didn’t like the new work.

If only some of her friends and family had told her what they liked or disliked! If so, she might have been less pessimistic at her opening.

It’s possible that sharing her fear with potential buyers had a dampening effect on their enthusiastic response, and may have cost her sales—at the very least, it certainly dampened her own enjoyment of her success during the show.

2. My results at the exhibition were far less than what was promised

For many artists a foreign biennale like the one in Venice is the pinnacle of exhibitions, and expectations typically run high. Organizers know this and pump up enthusiasm further with promise of what could be.

When we want to believe that something could be our “big break,” sometimes fact-checking goes out the window. Let me explain.

An artist who creates large works was looking for the next big jump in her career. She had stalled locally and thought that an international show would help her credibility and recognition.

She was approached by a biennale I’d not heard of. Her expectations were very high—it seemed as if a dream come true.

Unfortunately it was too good to be true.

In my research I found many warnings about the new event so I advised against participating. She had already begun promoting her involvement, however, and felt that backing down was not an option. Aside from her pride, she had paid several non-refundable deposits.

Instead of a big break she went into debt for the event and the legal costs she incurred in taking legal action against the organizers.

3. I had a good month but I didn’t make any sales at the XYZ Exhibit

I know an established artist who always sets his income targets for each month slightly higher than he expects is possible. He says it helps him work much harder, and as a result, he’s always able to reach the truer, yet slightly lower number he has in mind.

Interestingly, when he started tracking his sales, he discovered that he actually reached that higher target more often than not.

He was also of the opinion that a good event means getting sales. So he was disappointed when he didn’t sell anything at a recent exhibit.

I asked how many new viewers had stopped by and were now on his contact list (there were many). Had any other artists popped by to connect? (Yes, that too.) In the end, I learned that he had barely any time for any breaks during the event, because there was always another person waiting to speak with him.

It turns out that this exhibit was what the business world would call a networking event. Getting to know other artists, agents, viewers, and more through an event like this is definitely an asset to an artist—just by being there and learning how you can help others engenders goodwill and creates new relationships and opportunitites for all parties involved.

So despite having no sales, the artist is now following up with people who expressed interest in one or more of his projects from that event, and is finding many new ways to grow his career.

Take a minute and ask yourself this question: what are your expectations for your art? Financially, is it:

• To make enough to get by and keep your art studio going?
• To have all your art business and living expenses paid?
• To retire or ‘take off’ whenever you want to?

I hope my examples of these other three artists demonstrate that your expectations always affect your outcomes—quite literally, in many cases.

So maybe a better question to end with is this: How will you explore and explain your expectations differently, from now on?

Want more insight on selling your art? Check out the links below for the rest of Aletta de Wal’s articles in this series:

Want more insight on selling your art? Check out the links below for the rest of Aletta de Wal’s articles in this series:

A – A is for Audience

B – Channeling your Inner “Buyer”

C – Connecting, Communicating, and Completing Conversations

D – Seeing the Decision Making Process As it Happens

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Cassie Rief Niki Hilsabeck Lisa Orgler Carrie Lewis Aletta de Wal Phawnda Moore

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