The Tenth Commandment - Always Keep Going and Always Keep Growing

Perseverance is of course, a huge component of success in any field ( and paired with social intelligence it is a formidable force), but it is not enough to just mindlessly repeat our earlier successes or the methods that we used.
You always have to be learning, growing, expanding your knowledge and your craft.

There are the inevitable points where you will feel stuck, creatively blocked or just not good enough.

These are the moments you should use to try something new: like learning a new technique or method, or perhaps embarking upon a new series or maybe just working on promoting your existing work and spending a few months just tending to business and sales. then you can come back refreshed and ready to create anew..

The journey of the artist is a life-long one and should not be led by current trends or purely money-making pursuits. It should ultimately be your personal journey of fulfillment and self-discovery.
Now that may sound all new agey and “Spiritual” to the more pragmatic of you .. but it is true.

The ultimate aim (conscious or sub-conscious) of the artist is to chronicle one’s journey on earth (with your thoughts and emotions manifested in a tangible form) and then perhaps - you leave something beautiful or poignant behind that touches people’s lives who haven’t even been born yet..
In a way, it is a quest for immortality - for a deeper meaning and it serves a primal and deep-seated motivation that all humans have - to be able to say on their death bed “I was here, and I mattered”
The journey of the artist .. is the journey of the soul

Light the Way by Thomas Dodd

Light the Way by Thomas Dodd

The Ninth Commandment - Follow Your Passion

This should be the simplest commandment to obey, but often ends up being the most difficult one of all..
Ideally you should create art because you are driven to do it. Because you are compelled to do it.
You shouldn’t worry so much about making a living at it. Follow your passion and create the images you are COMPELLED to create, and people will come to recognize and appreciate your genuineness and THEN the money will come.
But “Ideally” quite often butts heads with “realistically” in the very “real” world we find ourselves living in (of having to pay rent and bills).

So what usually happens is something like this:
You get the photography bug because you are inspired by some particular imagery or photographer..
You basically fall in love with it!
You start doing it as a hobby and are consumed by it - you do it every day and are driven to get better, to learn more.. You live, breathe and eat your art (even though you have a day job).
Eventually people start noticing how committed you are and tell you “you should be making a living at this”.

You agree with them and you start trying to charge people and get frustrated by the fact that no one wants to pay you for your work.
Then you start getting on online forums and searching for how to make a living with your camera.
Maybe you start listening to what “seasoned pros” tell you to do and accept their experience as wisdom.
Then perhaps you enter into a genre of photography that wasn’t really what you originally wanted to do, but you figure the goal is to make money with your camera - so you study hard start assisting, then eventually spend all your time and energy devoted to this money-making pursuit.
Eventually the money comes and with that comes all the headaches of running a full-time business.
But hey - you are indeed making a living with your camera!
You may end up very happy and artistically fulfilled AND with the gratifying feeling of knowing that you are making a living doing what you love.. or you may end up miserable and feeling like you lost your passion along the way.

Please note - it is VERY IMPORTANT for me to say here that I am not putting down any of these valid genres of photography that can all yield a very nice living for you if you succeed at them. Commercial work, Family Portraits, weddings, boudoir, architectural photography , corporate/actor head-shots etc. These are all varied, rich and diverse fields and there are plenty of extremely talented, passionate and financially successful photographers working within all of them.
The trick is, regardless of your chosen field, to stay passionate about photography - bring that passionate zeal you had as a newbie to your money-making pursuits. Continue to grow and to innovate and you will be rewarded in many ways - not just financially.

Above all things: follow your passion - let it drive you on you journey as an Artist….

Me, being “passionate” about teaching.. at Imaging USA 2018 in Nashville Tennessee (photo by Alex VanZeelandt)

Me, being “passionate” about teaching.. at Imaging USA 2018 in Nashville Tennessee
(photo by Alex VanZeelandt)

The First Commandment - Thou Shalt Not Steal a Collector From a Gallery

(The first installment of my “10 Commandments of a Gallery Artist “
Thou Shalt Not Steal a Collector From a Gallery
This is the cardinal sin of all Fine Art sins.
It is the one thing you can do that will not only ensure you no longer exhibit at the gallery that introduced you to the collector, it may also get you blacklisted by every other gallery owner that the curator you screwed over knows.

I realize that the temptation to do this can be almost overwhelming for an artist, but don't do it!

This is how it usually goes:
Someone buys your work from a gallery and the gallery takes a hefty commission (usually 50%) from the sale.. Then a few months later, that same collector looks you up on the web or social media, contacts you directly and says they want to see more of your work.
Now perhaps the collector is thinking they can get a better deal buying directly from you and they want to cut the original gallery out of the transaction....and you are probably thinking "I can get a lot more money for this piece without having to pay a big commission to the gallery and then the client will be mine for life"!

Wrong! You may be acquiring one private collector but you are losing many, many more potential clients by screwing over the gallerist who introduced you to each other.. and again - you will possibly be blackballed by other galleries if the word gets around that you are not loyal to the unspoken rules of the Gallery/artist system.


The right thing to do when a collector contacts you directly is to copy the curator who introduced you to each other on the return email to keep them in the loop and let them know that you will give them their commission on any further sales that result from this relationship ..
Not only because it is good business and good karma - it is also acknowledging that if it weren't for the reputation of that gallery the curator has painstakingly built, that collector would never have seen your work in the prestigious position of being displayed in (and promoted by) a top-tier gallery.
A lot of artists tend to minimize the importance of gallerists/curators , but a good gallery owner has a client base that trusts their tastes and buys exclusively from the stable of artists they represent.
Gallery owners also act as unofficial PR agents and managers for their artists - getting you coverage in local and national media, talking your work up to the movers and shakers and monied interests in their community (as well as placing it with designers, interior decorators and art consultants), and finding you commissions and private collectors , all the while adding prestige and gravitas to your artistic brand
( not to mention the numerous hefty expenses that are involved in keeping a top tier gallery afloat)


In short - just don't it!
So much of success in the Art world is based on maintaining long-term relationships. Acknowledge the importance of those you work with and they will do the same for you!

photo of Thomas Dodd by Jon Kay

photo of Thomas Dodd by Jon Kay

Why Artists Should Listen to Criticism

There is a meme currently making the rounds in the online art world and especially in the growing “art coaching” scene..
It goes like this:

”A young artist exhibits his work for the first time and a well known art critic is in attendance.
The critic says to the young artist, "would you like my opinion on your work?"
”Yes, " says the artist.
”It's worthless," says the critic
The artist replies, "I know, but tell me anyway."

In my opinion this meme is actually giving very bad advice to young artists, inferring that they should just ignore ALL criticism, especially the criticism that comes from a respected art critic (not just a random stranger on the internet) while also postulating that a professional art critic would walk up to a young artist and just try to crush them with a two word assessment of their work. Perhaps that may happen in some extreme scenario, but I guarantee you that the majority of critics would be much more likely to simply ignore your work (if they found it “worthless” ) or maybe tell you what they thought you needed to work on to make it better (if they thought your work had promise).

We must be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect from either extreme (ie - unjustifiably thinking your work is great or self-defeatingly thinking it is worthless).

Agreed, artists should follow their own paths/visions and not be slaves to trends and/or the comments of random strangers, but we should also listen to intelligent criticisms of our work and actually seek out critiques from industry insiders whose opinions we respect.
You may discard the advice which you think would take you down a different path from that which you are currently on (the one which your passions and intentions steer), but I guarantee you that there is something to be learned from every intelligent and thoughtful critique you will receive in the course of your artistic life.

I realize ultimately this is just a meme trying to bolster confidence in a world where people are often unsure of themselves and their work, but again - any art critic worth their salt would never say that kind of thing to a young artist..
An intelligent critique/criticism lists your strengths and weaknesses and gives you a blueprint for advancement - especially if you can detach your ego from it and actually use it to your advantage and growth process..

The path of the artist is often like a tight rope walk: there are a lot of outside influences and distractions trying to pull you off of that rope, and while there are indeed many success stories about people who proved the nay-sayers wrong, there are many, many more of people who learned from the criticisms and critiques they received along the way in their lengthy careers and grew as artists as a result..

My ultimate advice to artists is “Use everything” - even if it is just using criticisms for the fuel in your artistic fire..

photo by SNAP! Orlando

photo by SNAP! Orlando