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Interview with Ruud van Empel. Lessons Learned

Updated on October 29, 2012

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Art Success. Interview with Ruud van Empel

Ruud van Empel is a world renowned fine art photographer who lives and works in the Netherlands. The artist originally studied graphic design and despite much opposition from his advisor's went on to pursue a very successful art career. Aged 52 at the time of writing, van Empel has exhibited globally and his work is in public and private collections world wide, including the private collection of superstar Elton John. I recently interviewed him about his views on art and success and the interview was just published on my blog. Here, I just want to touch on a few of the things that struck me the most during the interview. The things that stood out for me and which I feel would be useful for other artists, including myself, going forward.


During my conversation with this incredible artist, what struck me was that this was a man who knew what he wanted and stuck with it despite being told that he would never make money as an artist. Clearly, he did not get into this profession for the money. He was never a "commercial" type of artist. Van Empel is someone who always took on projects that interested him and who has a deep passion for what he does. He is a man obsessed with beauty, to the extent that he discards much of his work if he does not feel that it is up to scratch. He talked about this extensively in the interview and it is also touched upon in a documentary about his work, produced and directed by his brother. When I asked him what advice he would give to other artists wishing to follow in his direction, he was very clear that it was important for any artist to have a strong belief in themselves and in their work. Despite having negative reviews about his work at the start of his career, van Empel had a firm belief in what he was doing and continued. If he had given up because of what some outside person had said to him about his work, he would not be where he is today.


Yes, the path of an artist can be a tortured one! But I believe that just when you feel like giving up, success is just around the corner. Success comes to those who have the determination to persist despite obstacles and set backs. Success comes to those who know what they want and who set themselves goals, consistently and diligently working towards those goals. Whether your goal is to exhibit at the Tate, to put on a solo show, or to get representation by a top gallery, hold that goal firmly in your mind and work towards it. Do not let anyone tell you that you can not do it.


Talking of gallery representation, this is a topic which came up during the interview and a topic which many artists have difficulty with. The gallery system is not regulated in the same way that other businesses are. Essentially, galleries act as middle men, getting artists work in front of collectors and buyers who are interested in it. Ruud van Empel said that one of the challenges he faced earlier in his career was getting honest and fair treatment from some galleries. This can be difficult, especially when you are starting out. Van Empel stated that he got around it by simply being very firm in his agreements with them. I tend to agree. In any agreement, it is important to be confident and firm. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and do not be afraid to walk away if you feel you are not being treated fairly. Clearly, this attitude has not served van Empel badly at all in his career. He is an artist who continues to make work and who is represented by two very well respected galleries. Stux Gallery in New York and Flatland Gallery in Amsterdam.


In summary, essentially, I believe Ruud van Empel is where he is today not only because of his talent and skill, but also because of his determination to succeed despite negative comments and criticisms. In addition, having a firm stance when it came to his dealings with galleries and having solid goals which he worked diligently towards was a significant factor. The more I interview artists at varying levels in their careers, the more I realise that there is no magic formula. The common denominators are hard work, determination and tenacity. Simple.


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