The Artist Who Loved to Help Too Much

Artist who loved to help too much
The artist who loved to help too much.

An artist friend I've known a very long time lives in Brooklyn.  We met at the Art Students' League when I first moved to NYC in 1998.

She makes some awesome figurative paintings and portraits.

I've known her so long, and rubbed shoulders with her so many times, I was tempted to assume she "knows everything I know." (ALL of us succumb to that temptation. It's not true AT ALL. The very familiar people around you do NOT know what you know. Not even close. Especially if you've sharpened your saw for a long time.)

Early this year at a gallery opening in Manhattan, I ran into her and she asked me if I would consult with her about her art business.  She made an appointment to come by and we started peeling the layers of the onion.

I quickly discovered her #1 problem is:

She LOVES to help people. LOVES to solve clients' problems. Loves to apply her knowledge, experience, and insight. LOVES to work hard on her clients' commissions.

She hates to say no.

So much that she over-delivers and under-charges. Chronically.

I relate. I'm tempted to do that all the time, myself. (More about that in a minute.)

A moment came in the consultation where the picture snapped in place. I was able to see what was really going on. I gave her a stern lecture:

"OK,. I am going to give you some new rules. From now on you are to abide by these rules with every new client you get..."

I went on to describe that no one is going to get her services for pennies.  Nobody gets to her at all without paying dearly.  She's going to charge extra for every other service she renders, and make sure her clients understand the full value of what they're getting (that's another BIG one).

She was so excited, if she'd been a puppy, she'd have been jumping up and down licking my face. She KNEW she needed all of this in place, but she didn't know how to explain it to her client base, let alone enforce it.

That was four months ago.

I just talked to her on Wednesday. Business is up 400% over this time last year.

This is VERY typical of [OptinLink id=4]Smart Art Marketing [/OptinLink] people. Truth be told, most of us are more interested in being of service to others, celebrating our professional artist celebrity-dom, and getting something accomplished than we are in extracting every last dollar from the marketplace.

It's one of the reasons Smart Art Marketing Pro, our private members only forum, is such an awesome place to tap people for advice. There's a tremendous level of generosity. (It might be the best private artist networking forum in the entire online marketing space.)

This also comes from always wanting to prove ourselves. Many of us somehow believe that if we do enough good in the world, some magic fairy will wave a magic wand over us and we'll suddenly know that we're earning the space we take up on planet earth.

(Good luck waiting for that to happen.)

When you are an artist, when you run a small art business, when you service customers and clients, you can't afford to be too generous. There's always some idealist who loves to prattle on about how you can never be too generous in business. But he's got nothing but lint in his pockets and he had to borrow money from his grandma to go to another Tony Robbins seminar.

You CAN be too generous. It keeps you small and obscure. You get small clients instead of big clients because you charge small fees instead of big fees.

This is a virtuous problem to have, but it's still a problem.

Your Artist mission, should you choose to accept it:

1) Assert your value

2) Charge what you're worth

3) Move up the food chain

4) Expand your borders


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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Paula

    Thank you Gary. Very timely advice since I’m meeting with a commission potential client tomorrow. I always over deliver and now need to work on charging what the artwork is actually worth.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks for commenting Paula. Good luck with your client tomorrow.

  2. jorge lovato

    Thanks for info. I took classes at the Art Student’s League. Fab experience.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Good to hear from you again Jorge. I love the Art Students’ League. I go back and take classes there just for fun.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      You are very welcome. I look forward to hearing more from you.


    THANK YOU, sometimes artists need to hear this to assert our own value. It´s hard nowadays since at least here in Spain the art market is dead.

  4. Patricia travis

    I have been guilty of over-delivering and undercharging for my art. Gary,Thanks for sharing this priceless information. I also will share it with other artists who exhibit at the gallery where I assist.

  5. Alina Oswald

    Thanks Gary for another great post! Great advice! Just what I was looking for.

    1. Gary Bolyer

      You’re welcome Andy. And I agree, it works for all business plans.

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