How to avoid sabotaging your artistic career


I’ve been an artist since the late 80s. Actor, singer, musician, playwright, writer. I’ve performed Shakespeare, Mozart; starred on Broadway; been in film and television; written theatrical scripts for adults and children; I’ve taught the arts, lived the arts, loved the arts. I have a BS in theater/communications and an MFA in acting.

So I come at this particular topic with a significant amount of time spent studying the arts and being a member of many artistic communities and professional organizations. Over the last few decades I have witnessed (sometimes first-hand and sometimes from a distance) people completely sabotaging their artistic careers.

You can avoid such an act. How? I have ten things you can do to ensure you never slip your artistic head into a metaphorical noose, only to watch your career do the wacky pop dance to its death.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

NOTE: These are in no particular order.

Always be gracious

We live in a world that doesn’t value the art or artists the way it once did. That means a heightened level of grace must be considered your standard operating procedure. Go out of your way to thank readers, viewers, listeners…anyone that makes a point to offer you even the slightest accolade or kindness. The world is already filled with enough negativity and an overwhelming lack of gratitude. Show it at every turn.

Be patient

When I was in graduate school we had to craft both five and ten year plans. These plans outlined where we saw ourselves in five and ten years…as well as how we plan on getting there. I’ve witnessed so many people assume they’ll find some remarkable overnight success. Trust me…this doesn’t happen in the real world. Make your plan and understand that it…takes…time.

As well, be patient with your craft. Do not rush something into the eye of the public before it’s ready. Art is a beautiful and remarkable thing, one that deserves every second of time necessary to bring it to its most perfect life. This is a very hard lesson to learn for anyone. So trust those who have learned it the hard way…so you don’t have to.

Be ever-improving

No matter what medium you work in, you must always consider this as a mantra: Your current project has to be an improvement over your previous. If that is not the case, your art grows stagnant. Always, always, always be on the lookout for ways to improve your craft and your process. Your art will thank you for it.

Remember, the artistic soul is not your average, every-day, pedestrian thing…it must be fed in ways to expand its horizons. Go into the woods, seek inspiration in the desert, open your eyes, child-wide, and allow the universe to guide you and your art, so that your craft can grow.

Define success for YOU

So many have a very narrow-minded view of success. Said view equates to the mighty dollar. If your art isn’t paying the bills or gifting you in some relatively meaningless top 100 list, you assume both you and your art a failure. I’m going to tell you something that should stick with you for the rest of your life.

Mozart died a pauper.

That’s right, the greatest composer in the history of every damn thing died nearly penniless. If Wolfgang were alive today, and his music were making him that little money, he’d have either retired to a cubicle or been laughed out of every artistic community. Imagine a world without Mozart?

You must define what success is to you. Does it equate to a single sale a day? Ten sales a day? One hundred? A recording contract with a small label or book deal with a mid-sized press? What realistically would make you look in the mirror and say, “You’ve made it!”?¬†Realistically¬†is the key word.

Embrace your fellow artists

The artistic community is a beautiful thing. There are some truly remarkable and wonderful people to be found. Be a part of it. Every day seek out interaction with your fellow artists. You will grow as a human, you will spread your wings as an artist, and you will network in the world you belong. Never neglect this.

Represent yourself as if your life depended upon it

You always want to put your best foot forward in public. As an artist, you are your brand and your brand must be accessible, kind, genuine, unique, and professional. This needs to manifest itself in every possible way: In your interaction with others, in the art you produce, in the materials produced to promote yourself and your art, the videos you create…every single thing must be handled as if your artistic life depended upon it. Do not short-change yourself or your art in any way. Your website must be professional and updated, your tweets and Facebook posts must be well written. Comments you make on other posts and threads must be done with the idea that they represent you and your art.

Make time for art

I cannot tell you how many times I hear other artists say, “I don’t have time to create!” Make time. The urge to create is ingrained in your DNA; to deny that is to deny you. Besides, you deny yourself time for art one day, it’ll happen again and again and again. Find a routine and stick with it. You can set aside an hour or two a day to create…even if it means waking up a bit earlier or going to bed a bit later. Do it. Get in the habit. Make time for art! End of story.

Explore different avenues

One of the single most important things you need to understand is that art begets art. This applies to music begetting novels, novels begetting films, paintings begetting music, dance begetting music…the list of cross-pollination goes on and on. The point is this: Explore different artistic avenues. If you’re a writer of fiction, spend some time writing for the stage or film and turn to music or dance for inspiration. But don’t just listen or watch…be active. If you play an instrument, play it. I keep a guitar in my office. I’m not a good guitarist, but I grab it almost daily to work my artistic muscles in a different way. That almost always leads to inspiration. If you’re approaching art with a narrow mind, you are sabotaging creativity. Expand and explore.

Never attack anyone in public

I would love for this to go without saying, but, unfortunately this is one of the most frequently witnessed acts I see on social media. You may disagree with a fellow artist; you may absolutely abhor a fellow artist; you may be so jealous of a fellow artist that your vitriol begs for release. Keep it in. Never, ever, ever attack a fellow artist in public. Do not attack their work, their ideas, their personality. The world has grown so incredibly small that any attack you make could very easily come back to haunt you and your career in ways you cannot recover. If you have a serious beef with a fellow artist, take it to them in private. Period. End. O’. Freakin’. Story.

And there you have it. Ten easy ways to avoid artistic mortality.