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Advice on Getting Advice Part 1

by Luann Udell on 1/30/2013 7:33:21 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft.  She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry).  Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.  She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art.  She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...." You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.


There are a lot of people out there—most of them on the internet—who have great advice for you.  Or so they say.  They promise to grow your income tenfold in six months.  Or they can tell you how to attract an audience of thousands, ten thousands, in a few weeks.  Sometimes the price is paltry.  But sometimes it requires hundreds or even thousands of dollars from you.


I’ve been giving—and getting--a lot of advice in my lifetime.  I’ve had some great experiences and some awful ones.  And in the process, I’ve heard a lot of stories about really, really bad advice.


So I thought I’d give a little advice today about getting advice.


1)     First, there is no one-size-fits-all piece of advice. 


Not only are we different people with different needs, different processes, different goals and different ideas of success, we may also be at different points of the art-making/art-business cycle. 


If you are at a point on the cycle where you are still exploring your style and developing a body of work, you may need different advice than an established artist who is looking to expand into national and international markets.  An artist just starting to get serious about getting their work recognized may have different needs than an artist who’s in transition, who’s starting a new body of work or who’s dealing with new restrictions on their time, physical health or emotional well-being.


2)    The person who asks you NOTHING about your work, your goals, your needs, will probably not give you advice worth listening to.


There are many people in the industry that can tell you how to make it—in their industry.  Gallery owners know what work they can sell, what prices sell the best, and what kind of artist they prefer to deal with.  That doesn’t necessarily mean their advice will benefit YOU.  I remember one gallery owner telling me I should create handmade, one-of-a-kind work in her favorite colors that would retail for under $50.  Great advice, IF I wanted to do that.


3)    Good advice isn’t necessarily expensive.  Expensive advice isn’t necessary good advice.


In the world of fine craft, there are industry “experts” who routinely charge $150 for an hour of consulting.  Many of them are not artists themselves, or haven’t made a livelihood selling their own work for years.  They may know how the industry works, but they don’t know how YOU work.  I have yet to hear from someone who felt like they got their money’s worth.  I hired one of these experts once.  Despite the information he demanded from me ahead of time, it was clear he hadn’t even looked at my website, my work, what approaches I’d already tried or read any of my questions.  He laid out one path for marketing and selling my work—which either duplicated my own efforts or didn’t fit with my goals.  I did not receive one new idea or insight.


I wondered what I’d done wrong—til a friend called me a few months later.  She’d done the same thing (with a different industry “expert”) and received the same substandard approach.  In fact, the “expert” ate her lunch (a very loud, chewing, slurpy lunch) during the entire phone conversation. Not so “professional”.


Even worse, some of these experts are shadow artists themselves—the bad kind.  A friend recently told me she’d paid for such a consult, and ended up feeling terrible about her work—discouraged, dismayed and confused.


If this has ever happened to you, I can offer you one small comfort:  Sometimes there actually is a small piece of worthwhile advice in there.  I was told not to dilute my message on my website.  I’d listed the dozens of achievements that, although worthy of mention, were not of core value to my higher art.  I removed them.


Another even tinier comfort:  Since that fiasco, I’ve never again been tempted by expensive advice.  At least, not unless they’ve been vetted and recommended by someone I trust.


Next time:  More advice about getting advice!


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Related Posts:

Tackling Myths about Art Marketing / Selling Art

Lucky You Part 7

Avoiding The Tar Pits

Why It's Fine For Artists to Lower Their Prices

Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art marketing | exposure tips | FineArtViews | Luann Udell | sell art | selling art online | selling fine art online 

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Michael Cardosa
Hi Luann,

Another interesting post, thanks!

You're right there's cheap advice and expensive advice but it's hard to find good advice. I think there are things that are tangible where direction based on experience can be extremely worthwhile but intangible, subjective advice not so much.

As an artist, whether you're paying a consultant, an instructor or anyone else to help you, it's incumbent on YOU to do your homework about them. References are important. Ask other clients about their return on investment. Once money changes hands this is a business deal, treat it as such. On free advice when its offered think about how the person giving it to you has used their own ideas. Are they successful? Have they moved beyond a place in their work or career where you are today? How do their ideas relate to your work and where you want to take it. Some people are hard to advise and some people take EVERYTHING told to them by a contemporary with a little more experience or success as gospel truth and turn themselves on their heads to do what was suggested to find that they are no better off than before or maybe more confused all based on a throw away comment about color, composition or marketing.

I guess that was a long winded way or saying listen to advice and then weigh its potential changes and effects to your work and career before you jump in with both feet.

thanks again,


Sandy Askey-Adams, PSA
Great topic Luann and great advice. :) Thank you. Glad you are taking on this topic. Looking forward to next part.

We have to know when to recognize and take good advice too. For that, we have to put our pride aside.
Sometimes we need to just be silent and listen.

I would love to have good advice that works.

Jana Botkin
Luann, thank you for providing us with an Advice Filter! For years I've read Jack White's warnings about those types of consultants who prey on artists. I'm sorry you experienced it firsthand.

In my experience, each "advisor" has a particular sort of hammer and views every situation as their particular sort of nail. Unfortunately for those seeking advice, there is not One Easy Method.

Even someone who has experienced success in my exact field may not be taking into account the way culture is changing at lightning speed. 10 years ago, email was thrilling and new instead of continual and overdone. 15 years ago notecards were my bread and butter instead of being almost obsolete.

Sandy, I'm with you - I'd LOVE to have good advice that works!

Brian Sherwin
Luann -- There has been a huge increase in art coaches and others who offer marketing programs / consultations to artists in recent years. Many of them make HUGE claims about how much they have made selling art OR how much their students have made after the program. That said, they rarely offer supporting evidence.

I actually called one of them out not long ago... I asked her to show a portion of her tax return that would prove that she does in fact make over $100,000 a year selling her own art. She has yet to reveal that information. Why? You think she would want to validate her claims. I think you and I both know why... her claims are based in fantasy.

I'm not suggesting that all art coaches are 'bad'. BUT I do think they should offer proof if they make big financial claims. It just makes business sense in my opinion -- what better way to validate their claims? That said, even if the coach has made thousands with his or her artwork (or helped others to do so)... that does not, as you made clear, mean that their marketing plan will work for you.

There is a world of free information online. I, for one, think that artists should seek that before paying for advice.

Brian Sherwin
On the other hand, I've also noticed an increase in art coaches (and others offering services to artists) who have zero experience within the art world -- all of their experience is in the business world. They try to apply rules of the business world to the business-side of the art world. Some of it does apply... but a lot of it doesn't.

I've seen this first hand. I've worked for former Wall Street giants who thought they could tackle the online art market by tapping into their big business expertise. They assumed it would be easy. After all, they had helped strengthen fortune 500 companies... establishing a hub for online art sales should be easy, right? Ha. That project failed.

They were able to make millions in the world of business -- and helped a number of companies get off the ground... but with all of that business knowledge... they were unable to establish anything significant within the art markets of the art world. It is a different game.

Linda Eichorst
Hi Luann,

Good Post. Just this afternoon I was wondering if I was missing out by not hiring an "expert" to help me with my efforts in selling my work. After reading your blog, I am happy with the conclusion I came to---Keep setting goals, meeting those, and then setting more.

I have found artists' blogs the very best source for my specific needs. I also have enjoyed Jack White's books. I continuously explore and pull out what I need to help me be better, work smarter, etc. I do this on a daily basis. I think it is really important to stay on top ideas and philosophies and the common sense opinions of artists I respect. Running to look something up just when you need it is frustrating.

I tend to want "everything" and "right now". I am learning patience with myself to do each step deliberately. Even if I misstep, I'm moving at a pace that I can handle to correct my journey.

Thank You Luann. I needed to hear this voice today.

Marian Fortunati
Happily many of us are able to read the FASO posts about the advice and experiences of so many other artists and gallerists.

We can "listen" and learn and we can pick and choose that advice and those experiences that serve us.

Donald Fox
I know a number of consultants and/or coaches that help people with small businesses. They generally personalize what they do according to each client and help them set goals, create plans of action, and keep commitments (be accountable), but none of them are experienced with marketing art. Some generic advice can be useful for anyone, but this is mostly common sense planning and follow through. It's hard to imagine anyone advising an artist without looking at the work.

Sandy Askey-Adams, PSA
Marian.. You are so right.

And not to forget to mention how encouraging and supportive each artist is on these blogs of FASO.
It seems like a family at times. :)

jack white

As you know I've been giving free advice to any and all for years. I have found when I give a book for free most don't read the material. If they have to pay $9 for an e-copy they read every word. I still share freely knowing most won't listen.

Hugs jack

Brian Sherwin
Jack -- You have a point there. That said, there is a huge difference between a $9 e-book and an hour long 'consultation' that is nearly $400. Heck, it would take at least an hour to grasp where the artists is with his or her work -- especially when the meeting is conducted by phone.

I've seen a few programs that cost upwards of $4,000 for what amounts to several phone calls throughout the month and access to a member-only newsletter. It seems like a HUGE gamble to me. Sure... might be considered a tax write-off -- but that is a HUGE chunk of coin no matter how you try to slice it.

My 'gut' tells me the artists who sign up for those programs would learn just as much, if not more, from your books. Daniel Grant is another author I admire (I don't agree with all of his opinions... but he has a solid reputation). Better yet... an artist could make friends with artists who have had the kind of success they desire -- they are bound to learn something if a friendship is formed. I observe artists teaching each other all the time.

I do know a handful of coaches who have established a solid reputation. They are 'known' in our little world. BUT I see these prices demanded by coaches I've never heard of -- some of whom claim to have had exhibits at influential galleries -- yet they don't list them OR the galleries they list are known vanity galleries.

Marsha Hamby Savage
Fantastic Advice ! :)

Really well said, and the comments that follow. I know I keep reading articles, blogs, posts, to find things in them that would apply to me, and where I am in my path. I don't remember who above said it, but there is so much stuff you can find on the internet that is really common sense and worth reading... and you don't have to pay for it.

I think the best thing I read above is about our connections with other artists. I have learned so much from those artists that have become friends and are sharing their experiences. We learn a little from each one! And, you also have the added value of finding a wonderful friend. I know because I have many, many great friends that do care about what they do, and also about what I do. You just know it when you find those friends.

Thanks for talking about this... it helps me with my goal this year of not reading everything that comes across this laptop!

Sharon Weaver
Is it just me or is the money spent teaching how to do something far exceeding the actual money made doing it. I have always been skeptical and questioning of the one size fits all method of advise. I think the art gurus are running a little short on credibility and a little long on just taking your money. Take what you need and forge your own way.

Tammy Vitale
I started with the premise that one size does not fit all (after a coach - we lasted 2 months - tried to jam me into her one size - yes, she indeed does make seven figures....and I helped her! My bad). In working through what size might fit and how to make that accessible I have arrived at the conclusion that it's more about the paradigm of business plans and linear thinking that doesn't fit all BECAUSE we are in the midst of a paradigm shift from linear to intuitive, from local to non-local, to embodying understanding of our business rather than playing it out in numbered goals that may or may not have any basis in anything and that usually wind up as dust collectors anyways. I'm being accused of rainbow and teddy bear thinking and the truth is, I am so delighted with that phrase that it is taking on a life of its own and actually starting to lead me to my next step. Business is amazing - practicing outside the box thrilling (and scary as hell but fear is the wrong direction). Great post - always good to find a tribe member on the same page.

Thanks for the insightful article. I think so many times we want a "magic bullet" like we do when we want to achieve weight loss!

What we really need to do (I need to do and am trying to do now) is get good. Its a long process maybe, but I think when you get really top notch work, your avenues are going to be more obvious.

Carol Marine wrote to Michael Shane Neal, an artist she (and I) admire asking him what to do to be an artist. He told her to paint every day and look at where she is now! Of course she had to figure out how to sell it, but with work like that, it was not a problem.

Thanks for the great information!


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