5 Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Art Career


It is quite true that, sometimes, the enemy of our success lies within ourselves. The other day, I found this quote: “Beware of no man [individual] more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.” Charles Spurgeon

As artists, we sometimes feel that we have it all figured out, especially when things seem to be going right. There are seasons in which things appear to go up and seasons in which things go down. The challenge is to recognize the season we are in and figure out the way to get back on track. Oftentimes, we fail to recognize the obstacles we put upon ourselves in order to move forward.

To visualize the five ways in which we may be sabotaging our art careers, I picked some movie titles to illustrate my point and to make it fun to remember. Sometimes laughter help us uncover the truth about ourselves. Just ask any standup comedian.

1. I See Dead People

Remember the movie Sixth Sense? Spoiler alert in case you have not seen the movie. A Child Psychologist, played by Bruce Willies, is treating a child who claims to see dead people only to find out at the end of the movie that he (Bruce Willies) was dead himself. The truth was so hard to accept that he was on denial for quite some time. I do believe that sometimes we see dead people in our art career. Well, not quite that literal but we see the changes in the world in general and we seem to operate in denial as if everything is going to stay the same for the next 50 years. As a result, we fail to prepare for the changes happening around us. About half of the galleries that existed when I was in school are now gone. Half of the artists I went to school with are not living their dreams and are stuck in jobs they don’t want or like. Denial of the present truth may be sabotaging your future. There is a lot of discontent with the present art system, art flipping, corrupt institutions and the taking advantage of artists. This is a time to be informed and prepared for a changing world. How are you getting ready for the future?

2. Mall Cop Syndrome

I have a teenager at home. That means, I get to watch some annoying movies once in a while like Mall Cop. In the movie, actor Paul Blart who plays the role of a mall cop thinks of himself as a police officer. In the entire movie, he is portrayed as a person who thinks he knows it all. Have you met anyone like that? When we erroneously believe we know it all, we stop growing as artists. We don’t think we need to read more or study further. After all, like the character in the movie, we think we know all the tricks to perform well beyond our real capacity. On the contrary, I believe an artist should always be engaged in the learning process. It is how we prepare for the future. Today, there is no excuse for us not to seek professional development. Information is now conveniently available to us in eBooks, podcasts, webinars, online courses and much more. There are many websites where professional development is at your fingerprints such as www.creative-capital.org and our very own www.theartistnextlevel.com to name a few.

3. The Rambo Complex

I was a teenager in Mexico City when the movie Rambo first came out. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking of myself “wow, this guy can do it all by himself.” Indeed, the whole movie is about Rambo taking things upon himself to save the day, overcoming an entire army and dodging thousands of bullets raining over his head. If it only worked that way in real life. lol!  We all know that this is not the case. Yet, I still see many artists who try to go “solo” alienating themselves and not interested in being part of a community. For others, everything has to be about themselves. They get easily upset if they don’t get all the credit they think they deserve. As a result, their ego gets on their way and believe they are somehow above the rest. Over the years, I have discovered the power of community and what it can do for you when you are willing to share first and take later. As a giver and team player, others will want to join you when your turn to lead comes. It is all about providing value to others and growing a community in which everyone can participate, not only Rambo. Is your ego sabotaging your art career?

4. Back to the Future

Do you wish you could go back in time and change your past decisions concerning you art career? Do you feel regrets about not taking that one job or accepting that one exhibition? Maybe you are still hurt because you were rejected from that one show you really wanted to be a part of? Then, you may be spending to much time in the past and therefore sabotaging your future. I still talk to a good number of artists who have a nostalgia for how good things were in the past. Unlike Michael J Fox, we can’t go back in time. And no, the Cubs did not win the World Series like the movie predicted (sorry my Chicago friends). The nostalgia, regrets, hurts and pains of the past are good to inform and to teach us a lesson but that is it. Return to the present and prepare for the future. It may not be what you expected but it is what we have. The most important of it all is how we respond to it.

5. License to Chill

I have been a fan of Agent 007 movies ever since I was a kid. As a child, I would run around the house, hiding from room to room seeking action and with a “License to kill” my imaginary enemies. In all these movies, action is the key of everything. Without action, there are no results. Just ask Mr. Bond. The opposite of that is inaction or what I would call “License to chill.” This to me is the unfortunate position I see so many artists take. They lack the will or the drive to push themselves forward in their art career. They are happy with a show here and there but have no desire to take real action. Instead, they play the License to Chill card. Filled with excuses of no time or money they would rather chill or put things off instead of taking a risk. Procrastination has never won the day. You may have a dream but unless you attach actions to that dream, it will never materialize.  This is what strategy is all about; the ability to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Inaction has the big potential to sabotage your art career.

So there you have them, denial of the present, thinking you know it all, going solo, stuck in the past, and procrastination are dangerous characteristics that when ignored can greatly sabotage your art career. If you enjoyed reading this post, please consider sharing it in your social media outlets.

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