Maybe your artwork is piling up and you just know that you have to make some connections in the art marketplace. Still, you feel paralyzed. Let’s consider the following six obstacles to marketplace relating that may be stopping you—and what you can do to handle them.

1. Finding that anxiety gets in the way.

Strategy: Acquiring an anxiety management tool or two. Few people consciously practice anxiety management. Every artist should. The techniques available to you include breathing exercises (one deep cleansing breath can work wonders), brief meditations, guided visualizations (where, for example, you picture yourself relaxed and calm), discharge techniques (for example, getting your pent-up anxiety released through “silent screaming”), personality work (for instance, practicing acting “as if” you feel confident), cognitive restructuring (that is, changing the things you say to yourself and thereby reducing your experience of anxiety), and so on. Really acquire one anxiety management technique that works for you!

2. Not knowing what to say.

Strategy: First, practice what you intend to say. You should be able to say something like the following about your painting, “This is one of a series of paintings I’m doing that emphasizes the horizontal element in landscape.” It doesn’t matter if that is what you are “really” doing in your painting, since what you are really doing is beyond language. By creating a sentence of this sort you are simply trying to provide yourself with something better to do than grunt, mutter, ramble, fumble, and so on.

3. Feeling one-down or one-up to people who hold the power and the purse strings.

Strategy: Inner work on feeling equal. Although it is not easy to do, it is possible to get a grip on your mind and rethink the way you hold marketplace players, reminding yourself that your goal is to feel neither inferior to them nor superior to them but as if you and they were in the art-buying-and-selling enterprise together.

If your tendency is to feel superior, remind yourself, “No smirking!” If your tendency is to feel inferior, remind yourself, “Backbone, please!” Our typical reaction to power is a version of the fight-or-flight syndrome: we want to strike first or we want to run and hide. The less you hold these interactions as threatening, the less your fight-or-flight reflex will kick in and the more equal you’ll manage to feel.

4. Not enjoying selling yourself.

Strategy: First, begin to enjoy selling yourself! That is what you are doing, so enjoy it. Have nice things to say about yourself, couched beautifully so that you don’t come off as too arrogant or grandiose. Drop well-crafted nuggets about your successes and accomplishments. Be your own best friend and advocate. Who else will be?

Second, disidentify from each of your products. You are not your painting and you do not have to die a little death if a given person doesn’t want your painting. You can—and should—announce its merits and advocate for its worth without, however, attaching to the outcome of each interaction. This can sound like, “I truly enjoyed painting this juxtaposition of floating roses on a traditional landscape background. I think it worked well.” Smile; and cherish no expectations.

5. Dealing with people who dismiss you.

Strategy: Simple professionalism. Try not to burn bridges. Try not to act out. Try not to react much at all. If the person who dismisses you is cruel and insulting, protect yourself from that person but also decide whether it is worth your while to respond and get embroiled in a drama. That drama could cost you sleepless nights and days missed in the studio. If the dismissal is just an everyday rejection, one of the zillions we face because we have chosen to create, you merely shrug and practice your “rejection management skills,” which might or might not include a lot of chocolate.

6. Not feeling up to asking.

Strategy: Often we are unwilling to ask—for a gallery show, space in a shop, the name and email address of somebody it would be good for us to contact, a favor from a friend who knows somebody we ought to get to know, and so on—out of anxiety, pride, and, in some cases, because we feel that we ought to be able to reciprocate in some way.
As to the first, anxiety management is the key. As to the second, you need to have a chat and talk yourself down off your high horse by reminding yourself that you in fact need lots of help in life. Third, if you feel that you have no way to reciprocate, remind yourself that a favor does not have to be repaid the same instant it is granted. Just say “thank you” and remember that you owe a good turn.

Marketplace relating requires both practical and psychological skills. Rehearsing is a practical skill; finding the willingness to rehearse is a psychological skill. Knowing whom you ought to contact is a practical skill; deciding that you will feel equal to the people you contact is a psychological skill. If you suspect that you are less than well versed in either regard, make acquiring these two skill sets one of your next resolutions.

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