In my interactions in the art world, I frequently hear artists refer to themselves as “emerging”. This used to be even more common as the term seemed to take on trend status, but it is still pretty common.
The term “emerging artist” originally indicated an artist who was still in the early stages of his or her career but was beginning to build a reputation. As originally defined, an “emerging” artist may have caught the attention of an art critic and may have received some media attention, but hadn’t established a strong base of sales or collectors and may not have gallery representation.
The term was soon picked up by savvy art marketers who used the phrase to indicate that a particular artist was currently producing work that was a great value because, though the artist is certainly going somewhere, they haven’t arrived yet and their work is priced accordingly.
Over time, however, the phrase has become overused. Eventually almost every artist who hadn’t yet achieved fame and fortune seemed to adopt the label, and, in my experience the term has become a meaningless catch all used by artists and galleries. Artists want to capitalize on their inexperience by using the term to signal art buyers that they will get a good deal.
I would argue that this isn’t a great approach to marketing. I discourage you from using the term in your marketing efforts.
Think about what you are saying to a potential buyer if you label yourself as an “emerging artist.”
“I don’t have much experience.”
“My talent is still developing.”
“My art isn’t as good as established artists.”
It’s that last message that I find particularly troubling. Would you want an “emerging” brain surgeon to perform an operation on you? Would you want to take a trip on a flight with an “emerging” pilot? Why should an art buyer acquire artwork by an artist who isn’t a master of her craft?
I find that many artists, whether they use the term “emerging artist” or not, look for ways to excuse something in the quality of their work. They feel inadequate as they look at the art market and see the many well-established artists already out there selling their work. They feel intimidated when gallery owners or buyers look at their work critically and judge it against the work of these “more established” artists. I can completely understand why an artist would be tempted to say, “cut me some slack, I’m new at this!”
I want to let you in on a little secret though, almost every artist you see out there feels the same way about their art that you do about your work – insecure, unconfident, scared. If they appear more confident it’s only because they’ve put on a brave face and projected that confidence. In other words, you should fake it til you make it!
The art business is very much about perception. Rather than spending a moment trying to excuse yourself for not being as well-established or skilled as you could be, I would encourage you to spend more time establishing yourself. When talking to gallery owners or collectors, and when writing your bio, keep the focus on your experience, your talent and your unique, creative voice. You may not feel confident, but if you act confident, people will believe you. Your work will sell, and pretty soon you won’t have to act anymore.
The art business is no place for humility – share your successes, emphasize your triumphs, and toot your horn. You can do this without sounding like a braggart or coming across as arrogant. You can believe in yourself and your talent without feeling superior to those around you.
I encourage you to work toward projecting confidence in your art business. Think about the way you talk about yourself and your art – and refine your marketing and sales efforts to focus on your experience and success, rather than your inexperience.
I know that together, we can stamp out the term “emerging artist”!
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