Hints 'n' Tips

Goal Setting & Planning for the New Year


It would be far too simplistic to say there are two types of people – those who set goals and plan for their life/work successes, and those who simply sit back and watch life unfold and hope for the best. But if those descriptions represent two ends of a spectrum, chances are you fall somewhere along the line.

Goal setting and planning may seem like one of those left-brain activities that artists don’t readily enjoy, but it can be a very creative process. In this column, I’ll share some experiences, my own and others’, as well as a few planning/business resources for artists.

Where are you today?
Start your planning for a new year by reviewing the past year. What went well? What did you learn? What were some of your accomplishments? What are the strengths you can build on in the coming year? Notice these are all positive-focused questions. If I begin this brainstorming session with myself by berating self for things I didn’t accomplish, self is likely to slink from the room, pour a glass of wine, and postpone planning for another day.

With that long list of strengths and accomplishments, we’re ready to look in the mirror and ask: What could be improved? What disappointments did I experience? If I could turn back the clock, what would I do differently?

Where do you want to be this time next year?
Some of you may want to dive right into your goals and action plans, but I encourage you to engage in a little foreplay: On paper or computer document, imagine your life/work as you would like it to be a year from now. Imagine, for example, that a local arts editor is interviewing you for a feature in the Sunday newspaper and you’re telling the story of your fabulous year. Write this story in the present tense:

“I have just completed my best year yet for art production and sales.” Add details: “I am now painting consistently at least five days per week. Improvements in my studio space have allowed me to be more productive. My work has been juried into six shows, and I’ve had a one-person show at a local gallery….”

Here’s the really creative part: Describe (in present tense) how these accomplishments make you feel. Are you happy, proud, confident, excited, ecstatic? Describe how your lifestyle has changed (including your work schedule, relationships, and other life routines). If your vision includes increases in income from art, describe that, too, whether it’s, “I’ve actually sold enough art to cover the cost of my studio space,” or “I am now represented by two galleries and I’ve been able to quit my day job to paint full time.”

Think vivid colors as you paint this verbal picture of your future a year from now. Don’t paint an unreal, unattainable picture for yourself. But all the details you put into the picture will help motivate you as you move forward.

The Past of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life by Robert Fritz

The Past of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life by Robert Fritz

What are some realistic and stretching goals for the year?
The gap between where you are today and where you want to be next year produce “creative tension,” according to Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. That creative tension helps propel us forward to achieve our goals. So, now it’s time to articulate our goals for the year, based on that vision of where we want to end up.

Perhaps your goals are developmental: I will enroll in two Lifelong Learning courses to continue building my skills. I will find an accomplished artist who is willing to mentor me and provide private coaching.

Or perhaps your goals relate to creative process and practice: I will increase my painting time from once a week to three days/evenings a week. I will complete at least four paintings per month.

Or maybe your goals are business oriented: I will increase my income from art sales by 25 percent this year. I will learn to sell my work on eBay. I will develop my own web site and gallery.

Notice that all of these examples are measurable; you’ll know if you’ve accomplished them or not. But are they realistic? If your goals are so much of a stretch that reaching them would take a miracle, then you may be setting yourself for failure. Don’t sabotage your success before you start; find that fine line between realistic and audacious and write it down. If you accomplish the goal early in the year, you can always create a new one that stretches you further.

What actions will you take to reach your goals?
So far, in this visioning and planning process, we’ve been focused on the big, annual picture. Now it’s time to zoom in and think about the incremental steps we’ll take to get to our goals. For example, you’ve set a goal to enter and be accepted in three juried shows. What are the deadlines for entering each show? Those deadlines will dictate when you will need to complete your work, get it photographed for slide or digital entry, etc. Put those dates on the calendar right now.

The real key to a successful action plan is your calendar, whether it’s a Palm Pilot, Daytimer, or iCal on your Mac. Don’t simply make long to-do lists of everything you need to do to reach your goals. Lists are helpful but unrealistic; they take no account of the time it takes to accomplish each item. But if you actually calendar your priorities, you’re more likely to get them done.

Here’s my system:

Monthly:I start each month by reviewing my annual goals and asking myself, “What do I want/need to do this month to get me closer to that goal?” It may not be necessary to work on every goal every month, but some will be time sensitive, such as completing a painting to enter a show. So, beside the annual goal, “Get accepted in four juried shows,” a monthly goal for January might be, “Enter Georgia Watercolor Society Show.” That goal requires numerous actions: Complete painting; download call for entry and fill it out; have painting photographed/scanned; send entry. Because each of these actions requires a block of time, from small, say five minutes to find/download call for entry, to hours, to complete the painting, I’ll need to block out that time on my iCal calendar.

 Each Sunday evening, I study my calendar for the week and make some adjustments, based on my monthly goals and the actions required to meet them. This may sound like a lot of work, but after a while, this weekly review takes about 15 minutes at the most, and the monthly planning takes no more than about 30 minutes.

Daily: Success depends on my ability to follow the plan, which, of course, is influenced by all sorts of external conditions. And, I must admit, there are days when I don’t even want to look at my calendar and, like a small child, rebel and do only what I feel like doing at that moment. But at least I have a plan and can choose to follow it. I’m accountable for my choices and my own success.

Don’t go it alone
CEOs have their boards of directors and shareholders to help keep them accountable, but the business of art can be a lonely pursuit. A staff meeting for us is spent talking to ourselves. A quarterly or semi-annual report on the business…well, what’s the point? If we beat ourselves up for any perceived failures, we may not want to go back into the studio. But if we fail to hold ourselves accountable for what we dream of achieving, we’re wasting our gifts.

The solution is to create an “accountability team,” a group of like-minded friends or fellow artists who will agree to meet on a regular basis to listen, encourage, advise, and nudge. There were four women in the group I belonged to until each of us achieved goals that moved us apart geographically. We met weekly, either in person or by phone. We took turns sharing goals and action plans, celebrated successes, and nudged each other with questions like, “So, why do you think you’re having a hard time doing that? What seems to be getting in your way? What would it take to make that a priority?”

Knowing that I would report each week to my team supported my sense of accountability. And when I was consumed with self-doubt, I could count on the team to help me put those doubts into perspective and tame them with a clear action plan.

Find resources that work for you
Even though I find my own goal setting/planning system comfortable and workable for me, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be open to something even better. That old saying, “Doing what you always did will get you what you always got” is true here, too. I searched on Amazon for some books on planning and business for artists and came up with a few worth noting:

The Artist’s Marketing and Action Plan Workbook, by Jonathan Talbot with Geoffrey Howard, published by Talbot in 2005. This is truly a “workbook” with forms and checkboxes on every page to guide you through a thought process leading to a marketing plan. There’s an excellent section on pricing your art, with a form that helps you analyze the costs of producing the work and your desired profit margin. Again, to improve accountability and make the process more fun, I’d suggest finding a group with whom to work through the book and share responses to the questions.

The Artist’s Guide to New Markets: Opportunities to Show and Sell Art Beyond Galleries, by Peggy Hadden. First published in 1998, this book is now nearly 10 years old. Yet, the basic information is still sound. The book outlines various markets, from museums, interior designers, consultants, government agencies, and licensing. Then it offers solid advice for preparing yourself and your portfolio to tap into those markets.

Corporate Art Consulting by Susan Abbott. This book, published in 1994, is really aimed at those who want to be a liaison between artists and the corporations that collect art. Though this may not be your career path, the book provides valuable background for the artist who wants to get the attention of corporate art consultants. If we artists understand, for example, what it takes for the consultant to get a contract with a corporation, how much easier it is for us to provide the consultant with information about us in a form that would be most useful. This book also has an appendix with contracts and forms, a resource directory (though probably out-of-date), and a toolbox/checklist.

Talk to Other Artists
Jonathan Talbot’s book, listed above, includes a worksheet asking us to identify one or more artists whom we admire, not necessarily for their work but for their ability to promote themselves and succeed at the business of art. If you aspire to launch your career nationally, you might study artists who have been successful in that larger arena. Or, if you’re not ready for the national stage, you might select a role model closer to home.

Recently, I met a young man who is energetically promoting himself and his work. His conceptual art is signed Qi Peng, though he tells me his employer knows him by a different name. We got into a conversation about goal setting and planning after he told me how much time he spends researching appropriate venues to show his art. He told me his goal for 2007 was to do a solo exhibit (as well as group shows) in Salt Lake City. He carefully researched the local galleries to determine which would be a good fit for his work. By the end of 2007, he had succeeded in having two solo shows (Model Citizen Gallery and Modern8 Gallery) and two group exhibits (Atelier 180 Gallery and IAO Gallery) – four shows in three months!

I’m impressed. “So what is your goal for 2008?” I ask.

“To be represented by a gallery in New York City,” he replies. Then he told me how he plans to make this happen. He spent three months in 2007 researching every gallery in New York City, eliminating those that clearly would not be a good fit for his conceptual and sometimes controversial work. He concluded that about 80 percent of NYC galleries would likely be good targets. When we spoke, he had just returned from several days in New York where he had visited dozens of galleries to drop off his portfolio. About the only thing that wasn’t well planned, he admitted, was that his trip coincided with the big Basel art show and the principals of the NYC galleries were there instead of in their galleries. However, he made the most of the trip, taking the opportunity to speak with gallery assistants and look at current exhibitions. He plans to follow up with calls to those that seem most promising, and will make another trip if necessary.

In addition, Qi’s artist statement is intriguing, clearly stating the themes and points of view that inform his work. He is an artist with something to say. I have no doubt there are galleries in NYC that will want to represent him.

So what did I take away from this conversation? I’ll build into my own plan for 2008 the intention to revise my artist statement and research and build a database of likely venues for my work.

Qi Peng in front of his work at the IOA Gallery

Qi Peng in front of his work at the IOA Gallery


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