Thriving artist in the new arts market

Arts consultant Matz Skoog explains why be believes career coaching for artists is more important than ever before

Coaching has become the buzzword of the decade in personal development, especially when it comes to a change in professional circumstances. It’s true that coaching is invaluable when moving from one chapter in life to another but nowadays we face such transitions constantly.

Globalisation and the digital revolution have transformed the job market and many, if not most of us will have more than one career during the course of our professional lifetime. Career transition is, therefore, no longer a rare event but an endless process of shifting circumstances; and for an artist perhaps more so than for most other professionals. The contribution coaching can make to the arts world in today’s times of change is more significant then may be imagined.

For an artist to be successful it is no longer enough to be master of his or her craft; today, everyone involved in the arts needs to be an entrepreneur and to have many skills at their fingertips.

In fact, it was never enough only to master a chosen field to do well in it. The vast majority of the greatest and most successful artists throughout history were multi-talented, multi-skilled and entrepreneurial: and, more often than not, if they did not come from a prosperous background, were adept at acquiring wealthy sponsors on their march to the top.

In previous centuries, working conditions were different for a practising artist. The pace of life was slower, society less complex, fewer choices were available and cultural conditions more straightforward. Those involved in the arts had more time to focus on their craft, whatever it may have been.

The arts market today demands greater agility and readiness to change than ever before. The digital revolution has brought with it many tough challenges, but also many exciting opportunities to be embraced by the aspiring artist, because there has never been a better time to explore new avenues of creativity.

So how then do we enable artists, whose first duty is to their work and who more often than not toil away on their own, to thrive and to marry their craft with the set of interests and skills essential for success in today’s demanding arts market into a body of good work?

Enter coaching, not only as a one-off intervention but also as on-going professional support, sharing as it does with the arts the spirit of generosity present in every creative act. The ethos of coaching fits totally with the artistic one, so it provides invaluable help for artists who want to develop their work alongside learning to cope with the multiple demands involved in managing a career. The coaching process is totally objective, unencumbered by any vested interest in the artistic product as such, and would therefore not judge its value. Its only purpose would be to support the artist in maximizing his or her talent and skill.

Coaching provides the ideal helping hand for an artist who wants to remain in charge of their creative output but with the benefit of having a personal champion behind them. Coaching will help an artist create action plans and not just make them come to fruition but go beyond what they may otherwise have thought impossible.

To be a thriving artist today requires resilience and, as was mentioned earlier, mastering the many skills the modern world demands. To be successful contemporary artists need to manage their careers and carve out a place for themselves within this highly complex and competitive system. They will face many challenges – cultivating patrons and make funding applications; finding collaborators and building partnerships; dealing with marketing and social media; managing relationships with exhibition and performance venues; dealing with copyright issues and, crucially, learning to charge an appropriate fee or price for their work to enable them to make money and to survive another day to create more work

Artists have always faced these demands and the successful ones have always managed to do so efficiently, so in this respect nothing has actually changed. What’s different today is the magnitude of the task.

One could take a cynical view and argue that market forces should dictate who succeeds and who fails. However, if we accept this in a world where instant fame is now a reality some truly talented artists with a less worldly approach to career management could well run the risk of being overshadowed by commercially more savvy, but potentially less worthy, operators.

And therefore, now that skilled coaching is widely accessible, and if we accept it as a truly effective and kind facility, what’s not to like about it? And given that, I would suggest that as a matter of course, funding bodies, both public and private, should insist on providing coaching support for any artist or creative project that receives subsidy. We owe this to the taxpayers, to the wellbeing of a thriving arts market, and finally most importantly to artists and the creation of excellent art.

Matz Skoog has worked many years in the changeable world of performing arts, as a performer, artistic director, teacher and consultant. As a coach he now draws from that experience to enable clients to manage the multiple demands of a successful career in a complex job market.