Relationships in the arts are complicated. You may be very friendly with a fellow painter and also quite envious of her. You may actively dislike a gallery owner or a collector but decide that he is too valuable to cast aside, maybe because he is your only advocate or your only customer. There may be no such thing as a genuinely straightforward relationship anywhere in life but relationships in the arts are that much more complicated and shadowy.
Here are 5 cardinal rules for marketplace relating:
1. You can’t succeed in the marketplace without the help of others. You can do whatever you like in your mind and you can do whatever you like in the studio but if you want your creative products to have an audience you need help in the marketplace. Likewise, you still need audience members if you want to feel successful. So, the first rule is, you can create as if you were on an island but as soon as you want to share your creative efforts with others then you are embroiled in a world of others—there is no getting around that.
2. Your side of the relationship equation is up to you. You get to decide how you want to be in your relationships, even if there is a lot of pressure on you to be someone else. You get to decide if you want to be honest and straightforward even if others aren’t, if you want to be polite and diplomatic even if others aren’t, if you want to be quiet and calm even if others are stirring the pot and making dramas. It may not prove easy to be the person you want to be at all times and in all situations, as the marketplace has a way of throwing us off our game, but you can nevertheless hold the intention of trying your darnedest to be the “you” you would most like to be.
3. You may need to upgrade your personality. You can’t be the “you” you want to be in relationships if you’re an addict, if you’re running too scared, if your unhealthy narcissism has outstripped your healthy narcissism, if you approach life too defensively, and so on. You need to create a powerful, upgraded “you” that is equal to the challenges that a life in the arts bring. This is especially true as you begin to deal with the high-pressure dynamics of interviews, appearances, and the other publicity features of relating in the marketplace. Try not to make those already-tense interactions tenser by showing up as a weaker version of yourself.
4. You do not have to be real in all of your relationship dealings. You can make calculated decisions that in your marketplace relating you will act friendlier than you actually feel, put on a more optimistic, positive face than the one you wear at home, not let people know about your secret reservations about your work or your secret doubts about their expertise—in short, you can and should create a persona that serves you.
5. Know your intentions and choose them wisely. Do you want to blow up your relationship with your gallery owner because you’re embarrassed to tell him that you don’t have paintings ready for your show or do you want to do the strategic and smart thing, which might be to buy yourself more time and turn the negative into a positive by gushing about how wonderful your paintings will be, albeit a little late? If you come from your shadowy place, from a defensive place, from an unaware place, you’re likely to ruin marketplace relationships that may be fragile to begin with. Be aware and try to arrive at smart decisions about your intentions.