Success: What is it? Who gets it? Why do I want it so badly…or do I?
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you are successful.”
If you haven’t taken the time to think about how YOU define success, you are doing your career a disservice. With all the artists I have talked to over the years, I have found there is a wide spectrum of what an artist wants. Some artists could care less about ever showing in a museum or gaining any historical significance, they just want to make enough money so they can quit their day job. Other artists may have an independent source of income, money is not an important factor in their definition of success. They want recognition from their peers, critics and curators to write about their work and the museum or gallery shows that go along with it. It true most artists fall somewhere in between and want a little of both. But, before you can develop a strategy to acheive your goals, you need to identify them…and, you need to decide which one of these two definitions resonates to you. Occasionally the path to each may overlap, but, more often than not, you will need to make very different decisions depending on which of these areas is MOST important. So, take a moment to really think about what it is that you want.
Your next job is to take an honest appraisal of your work to see if your work is congruent with your goals. This is a little reality testing here. This can not be just your opinion, as we know, artists may often have an under inflated or over inflated sense of their work. You need to get the opinion of 3 other people…another artist whose work you admire, a gallery person that is NOT a potential gallery for you, and a friend of a friend who likes art. Remember, this is important: You are NOT asking them if they like your work. You are merely asking them to confirm your assessment of your career goals. Assuming they agree that the goals for your work are realistic, i.e., to aim for museum recognition or go the commercial sales route, then you can start to develop your definition of success and create a methodology to acheive it.
It’s no accident that artists seldom, if ever, make a diligent effort to market themselves or promote their work. It is completely against their nature to do so. If you have read my previous post Whose Got the Remote? you would know that I believe artists are genetically different. The results of their creativity are so integrally a part of who they are as a person, it would be like someone saying “Hey, I’m left handed, so can I have that job?” or “I’m left handed, why isn’t anyone buying me dinner?” The irony of this state of affairs, is that every artist wants and needs recognition and validation for their work, i.e., validation for who they ARE…but, can’t bring themselves to ask for it because they can’t recognize that IT even exists. Therefore, when an artist tries to define success for themselves, it can sound like wanting to have shows, reviews, recognition and even sales, but in reality, success for most artists already exists by the mere fact that they have acknowledged that they are artists and have the ability to create.
So next time you are sitting around your studio, getting depressed because you think no one will ever see/buy/experience your work and you keep asking yourself “Why am I even doing this?” remember that the mere act of doing it, makes you one of the luckiest people on earth.