The Business of Art: Career Self-Assessment and Setting Goals

The Business of Art: Career Self-Assessment and Setting Goals

You are not alone! No matter which discipline you work in, you will find comfort in knowing that many artists face the same challenges. These include being able to define their vision, evaluate their career, and set and achieve goals.

Your career can often challenge you in relation to where you are presently, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there. Many times you can be faced with juggling your career as an artist and supporting yourself through part- and full-time positions. Balancing day-to-day responsibilities, as well as personal and family needs, can also add frustration and challenge. The reasons for career self-assessment and goal setting are therefore not hard to find.

It can be difficult to sincerely ask and answer questions about your career, but this is what you need to do as part of career self-assessment. You may not know the questions to ask, but it is important to identify them and answer them honestly. To do this, you need to be aware of your mission, your values, your vision, your motivations, and your goals.

Your career needs to be developed and planned on a long-term basis: three to five years in advance is a common timeframe. For some, it is easy to think about the bigger picture and where they would like to be in five years; for others, it is more comfortable to be completely reality-based, and thinking five years into the future may be daunting. No matter; take some time and plan where you see your career in five or ten years. Roll it back to today. How can you make this future become a reality? The answer is through career self-assessment and goal setting.

Start with your vision for the future. Where do you want to be in five years? In ten years? What do you want your career to look like? What will you be doing? Will you have altered your current discipline? Will you have moved, retired, purchased new equipment, or built a new space?

Next, ask more detailed questions about where you are and where you want to be within a certain period of time. How are you going to get there? What resources, including time, money, people (creative and technical), and space will be required? Will you need to hire others to help you, perhaps those with complementary skill sets? Will you need to move your visual or performing space? Do you want to shift your focus from process to product? Will you need to alter the chemicals or processes that you are using because they are too dangerous or expensive? Is your studio space threatened because of commercial development?

There is also value in looking back at your career to identify highlights that you’d like to repeat and low points that you’d like to prevent. What has worked for you in the past? Can it continue to work for you in the future? What does today’s environment offer to assist or challenge you in your journey?

Your values are also quite important to self-assessment. It is your belief system, what you value, that allows you to develop as a person and as an artist. What are your beliefs? They are the things that are important to you in your life, the things you will not compromise on. Would you refuse a project if it compromises something you believe in? Would you not sign a contract because you believe the other party is unethical? Note them as you think about your career. They will help guide you in setting your goals.

Once you have contemplated these types of questions, asked them of yourself, and developed honest answers, you can utilize goal setting to move along in your career to newly identified milestones.

As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, a “goal” is “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.” Goals need to be realistic, measurable, specific, and achievable within a specific timeframe. You may want to prioritize them if you’ve developed too many or if some seem too aggressive for the timeframe. “Sell my art,” “Get a gig,” “Find funding,” and “Perform in a show” are not examples of well-formulated goals. “Selling five pieces at Gallery X during the month of November” is an example of a well-written goal. It is realistic and specific, has a time frame, and can be measured.

Setting goals will tremendously benefit you with your career path, direction, growth, and achievement of your vision. It is useful to do so at the start of each calendar year, planning and prioritizing at least three goals for every three months. Include goals that will balance your career and personal life. They could also be goals about a certain project or performance.

After initially working to develop your goals on paper, evaluate them to make sure they are not too lofty and aggressive or too weak and demoralizing. If possible, spend time with a family member, friend, fellow artist, colleague, supporter, or someone whom you trust, and review the work that you have done. Then review your goals and progress every three months. Are you on track, ahead, or behind? What needs changing, adding, or deleting? What will you continue doing?

While understanding that goals are a projection you desire to achieve within a specific timeframe (e.g., yearly, quarterly, or monthly) or for a specific project or program (e.g., a gallery opening, a performance, or raising money for marketing your literary works or production), it is quite possible that you may exceed your goals or not fully reach them. Therefore, it is necessary to develop the means to measure, assess, and evaluate the outcome: the reason that you achieved or did not achieve your goal. What constraints or outside factors positively or negatively impacted the final outcome?

Over time, as you become more proficient in this process, you will notice that self-assessment and goal setting go hand-in-hand with your vision. Achieving your goals energizes you and motivates you to go onward, toward your vision, and, perhaps, to even to bigger things than you thought yourself capable.

Congratulations! You are now ready to become accountable and begin the process toward career self-assessment, setting goals, and developing your vision. You have been provided with several opportunities to begin and work through the process:

  • Determine if anything makes you uncomfortable with the process of career self-assessment and setting goals.
  • Examine and carefully assemble the responses to the questions provided in this essay and others you feel are related to career assessment. Determine the reasons—purpose or mission—for your art and your career.
  • Begin to answer the questions and develop your vision. What other internal and external factors impact your vision?
  • Work closely on identifying your goals for the current calendar year and/or for a specific project, program, or performance.
  • Based on the previous year and the upcoming calendar year, develop a list of targeted and specific points that you want to keep, delete, and add. Evaluate, measure, and assess the entire process on a continuing basis; determine the means that are most comfortable, realistic, informative, and yielding for you. Make the changes accordingly.
  • Share with a peer group or someone whom you trust and feel comfortable with, and enjoy the process!

Helpful Links
“Where to start and grow your business.”
The US Small Business Administration, established in 1953, provides financial, technical, and management assistance to help Americans start, run, and grow their businesses.
Score is dedicated to aiding the formation, growth, and success of small business nationwide.
Information on how to start a business, including research, financing, and hiring employees.

Susan Koblin Schear, president of ARTISIN®, LLC, founded the company in 1995 to offer comprehensive business development and management services for the arts and culture. She is currently teaching leadership and team building at Pratt Institute and has also taught at New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies, as well as the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Amy Aronoff
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