If You Want to Succeed in Art, Leave your Shame at the Door

By Rachel Rolseth in Misc > Art Opinion

Last April I found myself creatively stuck, so I booked a weekend trip to Chicago in hopes it would jump-start my imagination. After buying my ticket, I discovered that I would be there for the Creative Chicago Expo, which is a bunch of free marketing workshops for artists. I was thrilled.

I was most excited about a class called, “Cultivating Shamelessness.” I really had no idea what to expect, but for any of you who are familiar with the presenter, Philip Huang, you know that the only thing you can expect from him is the unexpected.

Philip entered the auditorium, strutted up to the stage, and dug right in. I’ll never forget what he said:

“Every other person who gets up here today is going to lie to you. They will tell you that if you have the right marketing, if you have the right website, that you’re going to make it. Bullshit! They are going to tell you that you are entitled to a career. You are entitled to NOTHING!”

The auditorium broke out into applause and hoots, and my jaw was on the floor. Next, he told us that anyone who wasn’t ready to do something really crazy had 10 seconds to leave the room.

We were divided into five groups, and Philip told us that we were going to have 10 minutes to leave the auditorium and hustle money from every other person at the conference. The team with the most money won, and we would have 3 minutes to strategize.

Our team captain asked what our strategy should be, and I said, “Let’s get a head start on everyone while people still have money in their pockets.” The team agreed and we ran off with no plan and a two and a half minute head start.

I walked up to friendly looking strangers and told them I was in a class called “Cultivating Shamelessness,” and that we were trying to win a competition about who could get the most money. Most people (especially in those first few minutes) were more than happy to part with a buck or some change.

I was really nervous at first, but it was second nature by the time the ten minutes were up, and we emerged victorious. (To brag for a minute, our team was composed of about 15 people, and I raised over 25% of our pot. Boo-ya!)

This was absolutely a life-changing experience for me. It made me realize that I already knew how to be a successful artist—I just had to get off my butt and do it. There’s no magic, no mystery.

I realized I could design and redesign my website forever, but unless I went out and told other people about it, it wouldn’t matter because nobody would see it. I could obsess over which galleries I might be able to approach one day when I (somehow) made a name for myself, or I could work my way into some shows at coffee shops, friends’ houses, etc. and keep all the money.

The truth is, great art doesn’t sell itself. Good websites don’t create their own audiences. I realized that the more I tell people about my art and website, the bigger my audience will be. And the bigger my audience is, the more opportunities I will get. Hard work and luck look a lot alike.

Philip—it was an absolute pleasure to take your class. Thank you for making such an important lesson easy, fun and crazy.

And to those of you reading this. . . I can only encourage you to be shameless. Hustle. Pursue your passion. That’s how you’ll succeed.

For more articles and insight from Rachel Rolseth, please visit her blog.


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