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6 ways to develop strong professional art world relationships


It takes consistency to build good, strong, relationships. In the art world, you can’t survive without them. Good, mutually beneficial relationships are an integral part of everything you do. They’re important to success. But you have to put in the work. A lasting relationship will not develop with out dedicated effort.

For starters, selectivity and engagement are essential for developing relationships.

Your network consists of artists, buyers, business owners, art world leaders, and sometimes government officials. Within this network, you should have a closer network consisting of a more select, qualified group of people you can count on for direction, insight, and support.

In the art world, you have to find a balance of being a giver and a taker. How many people have you known to ask for favors, help, or advice while giving very little, sometimes nothing, in return? The reverse is also true. Always giving but not asking for help when you need it can be fatal.

Here are ways 6 ways to develop strong professional art world relationships.

1. Authenticity is important.

That’s a given, or rather it should be. Accept and embrace who you are and be willing to do the same for others. Everyone has a false persona, a mask that we use. But that’s an impossible way to build a beneficial relationship. As soon as we shake someone’s hand, be it a potential buyer or collaborator, we begin qualifying him or her. Lack of authenticity will guarantee any relationship is short-lived. Authenticity fuels a natural connection by linking beliefs and motivations: this accelerates, or deflates, a relationship. Period.

2. Are your goals and values compatible?

Connections are built on similar goals and value systems. We take mental notes on another person’s behavior, sometimes sub-consciously. Is the person we’ve just met kind? Do they operate with integrity? How do they treat other people? What motivates them? Too often people use their constructed persona to build a false sense of trust only to take advantage later. It isn’t realistic to expect shared perspectives with everyone, but shared values are imperative. Listen to your gut. If you feel red flags, don’t pursue. Without trust, a long-term beneficial partnership with a buyer or collaborator is impossible. I learned this lesson, more than once, the hard way.

3. Be personal.

We are human. We each have experiences, memories, and wisdom to share. Building a relationship, even professional relationships, requires showing a little vulnerability and the willingness to offer support through challenges. Use your best judgment. I’m not speaking to public transparency and not everyone is deserving of the same level. Only a distinct few will fall into this category. Be careful here.

4. Follow through with your commitments.

This should be another given – unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s simple. Do what you say you’re going to do. Always. Don’t accept responsibility unless you’re willing to accept all that that entails. Unreliability puts the other person in a tough spot. Trust me on this: the other person will recover. You, however, will have a tough time down the road. Life is a circle. Many times, you’ll meet someone more than once. More importantly, you never know whom someone else knows. It’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to repair trust. Irresponsibility or unreliability will stick to your professional reputation like glue! It will damage your current and future relationships. Nothing is more powerful than word-of-mouth and that doesn’t even touch on the potential of many missed opportunities, present and future. Before you back out of an arrangement, think hard. Not committing is better. If you have to back out, be honest with the other person. Have the strength of character to speak to them about why you can’t follow through. It should be a solid, concrete reason and the other person will understand. No one understands being left high-and-dry.

5. There has to be mutual respect.

As mentioned above, we prove ourselves over time. Each interaction, activity, and experience increases or decreases respect. The choice is yours. This is a two way street. Be selective. If respect isn’t part of the equation, there’s no value.

6. Give more than you ask.

Again, if you wish to build strong relationships, there has to be a balance. The law of reciprocity states: People will do for you if you do for them. In fact, sharing your skills and expertise inspires others to help you long before you ask for anything. This is true of all relationships, personal or professional. You cannot, and should not, ask for anything if you aren’t willing to reciprocate. You’d be surprised how people will jump to help you, with almost anything, if you help them. This is as simple as sending them helpful information every now and then. Once more, it’s about balance. There’s nothing heroic or admirable about being self-sacrificial or a martyr. I’m talking about mutual benefit.

When you engage with other people in the art world and begin building relationships, you’re not just growing your own network; you’re also building the art community.

Trust is the one ingredient that absolutely must exist. It will make or break you. YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH. Your word really is the most important tool you have.




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