For the past year I have been working with a business coach. One of the things she has encouraged me to do is to look at the careers of successful artists to understand what made them successful. Where they just really good artists or was there something more?
I started thinking about John Singer Sargent, the most successful portrait painter of all time and one of my favorite artists. He earned about $130,000 per commission in today’s dollars. Amazing.
How was he so successful? I used to assume it was because of his talent. Yet there are many talented artists today working in obscurity. He was a wonderful painter to be sure, but as I have discovered talent alone is not enough to be successful. He had to have done something more
His "more" was the unique value to he offered to his target market, the English nobility of his day. He helped them elevate their status in society. That was very important to these people. He celebrated their wealth and status and portrayed them in his portraits as rich, noble, and beautiful. He idealized them. That was why he was so successful. He was also extremely well connected in his target market. He knew people. It was a status symbol to even get a meeting with him. It meant you were somebody. And if he agreed to paint you, well, that really meant you were somebody. He wouldn’t just paint everyone. You had to be the right kind of person with the right connections.
Sargent and I are both portrait painters but with very different missions. He elevated aristocracy; I help people honor and celebrate their family relationships. He catered to nobility; I cater to moms. Their children are very important to them and they invest a lot of time, energy and money into their well-being.
Like Sargent, my portraits are not available to everyone. I can only do a limited amount per year, so I have to be selective about who I take on as a client. We both cater to a luxury market, but I focus on helping them celebrate their family relationships. It’s all about finding your “tribe” and celebrating their values. Helping them, serving them and making their lives better.