Want to prove the exception in 2023 and stand out from the crowd? Here are 10 tips for doing exactly that. And you might also like to engage in a year of creativity coaching. That would help, too!


  1. Understand why “proving the exception” is vital

First, understand this point. There are many places in life where you might want to “prove the rule” and not the exception. In a certain kind of salaried government job where your main task is not to rock the boat, then not rocking the boat is exactly what you would want to do if you hoped to get along and succeed. There are many times and places in life where you want to do exactly what every one else is doing: for example, driving on the correct side of the road for the safety of everyone. In the arts, however, you do not want to be doing what everyone else is doing: you want to be doing both more and different. Is that point clear to you?

  1. Understand how “most artists” operate

If you intend to prove the exception, you will need to learn what is average or typical. Use the evidence of your eyes to distinguish between what most artists are doing and what successful artists are doing. What concrete differences do you notice between the one group and the other? Are the successes of successful artists more about their subject matter choices, their technical merit, their marketing efforts, the stunts they pull, their assertiveness or their sociability? What do you see? If you don’t know how to gather this information, think about how you might gather it. If you can’t gather it, then just use your common sense to answer the following basic, pivotal question: what helps a person succeed?

  1. Articulate the difference(s) between “the normal way” and “the exceptional way”

As you begin to understand what amounts to an average effort and what amounts to an exceptional effort, articulate what you are learning. Write out your own “ten tips” for proving the exception. Be able to say in a clear sentence how you mean to distinguish your efforts from customary efforts. This might sound like, “I am spending the next six months creating a powerful body of work and then I am completely turning myself over to marketing that work with as much passion, pride, and smarts as I created the work.” Create your own plan for “proving the exception.” Clearly identify what you will need to do in order to make your plan work.

  1. Step into the shoes of “someone exceptional”

Once you’ve articulated your understanding of the differences between an average effort and an exceptional effort, you will want to become the person capable of making such efforts. This may mean working on your shyness, your anxieties, your passivity, and your dislike of self-promotion. If proving the exception requires that you do x, y, and z, you must become the person capable of doing x, y, and z. Rehearse being this new person. Set up real world opportunities to be this new person. Maybe what you are doing is crafting a public persona or maybe what you are doing is actually changing, but in either event you must become capable of the exceptional efforts required of you.

  1. Reach out

One of your jobs is to learn how to send clear, concise, friendly, useful emails and other messages to those people who might be able to help you. There’s no need to labor over such missives—they do not need to be elaborate works of art or skillful apologies for why you aren’t further along in your career but rather simple announcements and requests in which you advocate for you and your work and make use of the freedom you possess, both technological and existential, to create success. Reach out to three people a day … to five people a day … to seven people a day. Reach out so that you’re read and published, viewed and collected, heard and downloaded. Reach out regularly and continually.

  1. Follow through

It is one thing to make a sensible plan—for your current novel, for your art marketing efforts, for your financial stability—and another thing to follow through on all the steps required to turn any plan into a successful experience. You will come up against innumerable obstacles, external and internal, as you endeavor to follow through, from doubts and worries to unreturned emails and phone calls to technological glitches to rude, off-handed criticism to deals falling through to contracts not being honored. Persevere; follow through; keep at it! Following through is rather exceptional—most people start and then stop.

  1. Become really available

You could act as if relating in the marketplace is a tremendously burdensome thing and make yourself only grudgingly available—for meetings, for interviews, for audience contact, and so on—or you could invite such interactions, make dates for coffee, accept any and all invitations to speak or be interviewed, and otherwise become really and readily available. Become a recluse after you are famous, not before. Yes, you need studio time; yes, you need time for all of the rest of your life, including time for your day job and your loved ones; and yet you must still find the time and the wherewithal to make yourself really available. Much of your competition will, primarily out of anxiety, stubbornly refuse to do this—you are free to make yourself more available than them and in that way prove the exception.

  1. Create events and the occasional stunt

Create events like shows you curate, readings you organize, concerts you hammer into existence, social media extravaganzas, and so on. Create stunts, too. Occasional stunts may be necessary. A stunt is a splashy event created to produce publicity. It might be you shredding your unwanted paintings in a public place with the press alerted, it might be you attending your opening nude rather than dressed, it might be you marrying and divorcing another artist in a ceremony the two of you design to advertise your “marriage doesn’t work” suite of paintings. Most artists hate stunts. It is nevertheless worth your while to calmly think through your relationship to stunts. Who knows?—you may actually have a stunt or two right up your sleeve that you would enjoy dropping on an unsuspecting public!

  1. Angle for bigger outcomes

Keep your eyes peeled for bigger rather than smaller outcomes from the marketing and promoting work that you do. Convince a friendly gallery owner not to hang one or two of your paintings but to give you a whole show. Use your rhetorical skills and powers of persuasion to angle for that bigger outcome. Ask a friendly collector not only to take a look at your new body of work but also to throw an event in support of it. Use your charm and smarts to angle for this bigger outcome. Each time you think about attempting something, ask yourself, “What bigger outcome could I angle for with exactly the same amount of effort?”

  1. Think globally

It is wonderful to be represented by the gallery down the street but it is unlikely, verging on impossible, that you can prove the exception if your field of vision is limited to your immediate neighborhood. What if the galleries most likely to be interested in you are scattered all over the world? Then you must search them out and reach out to them. It is excellent to fashion and maintain local relationships but to prove the exception you will need to make the world your oyster. Because of our contemporary technology this has never been easier; and while everyone is using that technology as a matter of course, you can prove the exception by taking that technological capability and harnessing it to build your reputation and your best life in the arts.


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