10 Hard Knock Lessons I Learned at Art Basel

Hard Knock Lessions I Learned from Miami Art Basel

I spent the last three days at Miami Art Basel 2015 as part of the SoBe A.R.T. (Artist in Residency Team.) Myself along with four other artists from different mediums and backgrounds were given the opportunity to show our work at the X-Contemporary art fair and be mentored by professional fine artists, art buyers, and media consultants. I found the meetings and talks to be the most valuable takeaway from this entire experience.

As you’re coming up in the creative industry it’s difficult to find blunt, honest advice or finding stories in which the protagonist overcomes a common, daily struggle. By that I’m referring to advice that goes beyond the typical “work hard” and/or “follow your passion.” Instead I rather hear how others have overcome obstacles of having zero in their bank account, buckled with student loans, massive amount of overhead, and maintenance of daily life. Cut the fluff and give me the hard knock truths.

1. Hope is Not a Strategy

Sitting and hoping that something beneficial will happened for your career is an artist will never work. You have to actively go out and make opportunities happen.


2. Always be in Your Environment

Some people need material things to feel like they’re in their environment. Possessions such as clothing, furniture, equipment, cars, or any other items that attributes to your identity isn’t going to sustain you. If you have a solid hold on your values and sense of self you can transform any environment into your own.This means you’ll never be caught off guard and that you’re readily able to rely on solely yourself and not material things.


3. Cut the Middleman Out

Go after exactly what you want. Jump over the gatekeeper and seize your goals. During one of my talks I brought up my struggle with finding an agent or photo rep –he saw that as a red flag. Relying on a “middleman” to build your career is futile. At the end of the day all their job’s goal is to build their own business and get paid. As you’re coming up ignore the middleman and go directly to the source of your goal. At the end of the day no one will work harder to build your career other than yourself.

Granted there will eventually come a time when the daily upkeep of your career will prevent you from progressing forward. This moment would be the appropriate time for you to hire your own middleman.


4. Be Specific With Your Goals

Decide specifically what your final goal is with your artistic career. Of course this is easier said than done. You need to know what your end goal is otherwise how can you expect yourself to take steps and make smart moves.


5. Work Backwards

Think about your goal first, then work backwards to figure out how to get there. For instance if you want to take a particular photograph think about the final image first. Envision it and see every detail clearly. Once you know what you want to create breakdown that image into smaller pieces to take on. Don’t do the opposite by going out and buying a camera and then finding yourself fumbling over what type of photo you want to take.


6. Money, Time, and Flexibility

These are life’s three currencies. Time is the most expensive.


7. Connect with People as People

Chances are that if you try to connect with someone of relative importance at a high profiled event it’s rare that you’ll forge a real, genuine connection. Solution? Find ways to connect with said person in a personal human way. –Even if that means finding out where they hang out and becoming a local at that scene. For instance getting consistently getting coffee at a spot that they’re regulars at. Eventually you’ll become a regular and can strike up a conversation more organically.

Note: Do not misinterpret this as an excuse to stalk a person. Don’t be creepy. No one likes creeps.


8. The Answer is Always “No” Until You Ask

Don’t let your own presumptions stop you from trying something out of the box. Until you step up and ask for what you want the answer will always be no. At least if you try to ask you have a 50/50 shot at getting a “yes.”


9. Support for Fellow Artist

You know how they say that the creative industry is highly over saturated and extremely competitive? More than ever now it’s important to support your peers in your industry. Work together, collaborate, and help each other reach your individual potentials. Don’t let them be taken advantage of in business. –And for heaven’s sake don’t let them work pro bono.


10. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away

Sometimes a deal, opportunity, or negotiation offered just won’t feel right with your gut. Remember you always have the option of saying “no” and walking away. Some would even say you owe it to yourself to walk away from things that don’t align with your values and standards.



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