How Being a Small Town Artist Can Help Your Career

By Thimgan Hayden

I was talking to an artist currently living on an island in Alaska. A small island. They were struggling with feeling alone artistically and bemoaning the fact that, with so few people, there was little support for building a career there.

If you find yourself in a space like this, let me encourage you. You have a unique opportunity to own your niche! You are “the artist.” If you are one of a few artists, you are still the only one expressing yourself the way you do and you’re poised for a place of confidence.

If you are independently wealthy and an artist, that’s fantastic.

For the rest of us, I’m going to give us some tough love.

Are you blaming yourself for not being a “better” painter? sculptor, singer?

Let’s assume you’ve gotten some honest feedback and you know you’ve got something special. If that’s the case, stop blaming yourself. Your skill is probably not what’s holding you back. Everybody knows of some Grandma Moses or Expressionist painter (I’m a painter so I mostly know about other painters) that became famous in spite of their unpolished art. There are lots of them! Breathe deeply! You can do this!

There are two ways that I can think of to stay alive and be an artist starting out:

Be financially supported by someone or something else.

Be willing to have at least part of your income come from some other venture/s other than your art.

Either one of these choices comes with a mindset that may take cultivating.

Your successful creative mindset is going to look like this:

*Relax and let your art be what it is and stand on its own. Don’t force it to bear all of the financial pressure.

*Most art comes from a place of plenty in yourself; physically, spiritually, or emotionally. If you force it to bear financial pressure, it puts unrealistic expectations on your fans and yourself.

*Be willing to understand that being an artist, to the public, is like you being a story, a theme, a collectible, in their life’s narrative! You, and your story, and your art bring them something that resonates with them and helps them tell their story! 

Because of this last point, I have come to accept and even love the “B” word- Branding.

In a small town, there is no one better at being you than you.

As long as your work/your story resonates with a group of people, you have the opportunity to take center stage easier than you would anywhere else.

If there is a distinct, unifying character to your town and the people that live there-even better! Try to tap into the subjects, the colors, the interests that pull a town together. If you’re a desert dweller, you’ve got sand, muted greens and bright sunsets. By waterways, you have blues and greens.

Most art consumers don’t go into the market with a check sheet of technical criteria.

Initially, your buyers or fans are drawn by your art combined with what you represent to them, then comes your increasing exposure and more people seeing or hearing your story, then come the credentials, the press, further exposure, etc. At some point, those scorecards may come out, but they tend to be judging your popularity, which may come from how you wield your technique, but a large part of that equation is the authentic you.

I hope you find this helpful in your journey. Peace

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