Me at my solo show at Chaddock-Morrow Gallery, Athens’ Ohio
“Success is when I touch someone’s heart with what I do.” ~ Edina Picco
“I would earn enough from my artwork to continue to paint what inspires me and is meaningful to me.” ~ Anonymous artist
What is Success in Art?
- “You’re so talented, I don’t know why you don’t sell more.”
- “I’m sure you’ll be ‘discovered’ soon.”
- “I wish you could be more successful.”
- “Have you sold anything lately?”
Not Taking it Personally
Publicity photo for Flight, three-person exhibit at Covington Arts Gallery
“So many of you, and rightfully so, are concerned about the financial side of the success conversation. I know that you didn’t get into your career as an artist for the money, nobody would choose this profession with that goal. Unfortunately, our society often propagates the idea that our income level is tied to our worth or value.” ~Antrese Wood, The Savvy Painter
Am I a Failure?
When people make those comments referring to my lack of success, I find myself wondering: Am I really a failure as an artist? And what exactly constitutes success in art? How do I know if I’m a success or not?
With feelings of insecurity and self-doubt growing ever larger and louder inside my head, I begin to take stock of anything on the positive side of the scale. I show my work in about five to seven group exhibitions a year on average, I tell myself. I’ve even gotten enough recognition that many of them are invitational – meaning I don’t have to apply to be in them. I’ve had solo shows, and even won awards. My work has been published on several book covers, in many books and magazines, and even used on a wine lable.
A few examples of books/magazines that have published my work.
Bragging or Whining
Before I go on, I think I should clarify my purpose. I’m not bragging about my accomplishments here. I’m just saying that I’ve done more than nothing – certainly not as much as some artists, and probably more than others. My husband was dead set against me writing this post, which he saw as “whining”. I hope it doesn’t come off that way, because that wasn’t my intention, either.
In a prior post, I promised that I was going to be honest, and write what I really feel. For one thing, I have no use for bullshit, and neither do you. I believe these things need to be discussed, even if they’re painful and difficult. Because it’s pretty likely that I’m not the only one that’s wrestling with these questions. If that’s so, then what I write here might help other artists to get a handle on this.
“…all signs point to a reality in which no artist, no matter how famous or successful, spends 100 percent of their time on their art, nor do they earn 100 percent of their income from their art alone over the course of their entire career…” ~ Alexis Clements
A shot from my solo show at the Frable Gallery in Richmond, VA.
How We Measure It
As usual, I have many more questions than answers. There are no rulers, scales, or devices that can measure how successful an artist is. Sure, we can look up who the top-selling artists are. Quantity is measurable, and we often equate money with success. But I also know there are those who would argue that money (i.e. quantity) does not necessarily equal quality, particularly in art.
Recently, the words of artist and writer Mark Edward Adams really struck a chord with me (link to article below). He writes,“The process of selling art involves a myriad of variables….Many artists tend to put the blame for low sales on their artistic ability without considering the larger picture. It is easy for an artist to feel like a failure when they judge themselves purely on sales.”
Me giving a brief talk at an exhibit at the Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington
“You really have no control over whether you will be successful as a creative person or not. It’s a weird mix of discipline and luck, and it doesn’t always make sense. But, there is a solution to all this: We can change our definition of success.” ~Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios
I don’t believe we can judge the success of other artists, only of ourselves. That’s because each artist has their own definition of success. What it comes down to, in the end, is intention.
It makes sense that we judge ourselves successful when we achieve what we have set out to do. What do we intend our art to do? Not all artists set the same goals, or make art for the same reasons. Here are just a few of the many views on success, as articulated by artists:
“My definition of success is first and foremost having the opportunity and time to make artwork that interests me, that I find personally challenging and gratifying.” ~ Johanna Goodman
Fly Away v2
“You are a successful artist if you make work that pleases you, that challenges you, that lifts your spirit and raises you up. You are an artist if your work does that for other people, too. If your art expresses something deep in you, and you put it out in the world, and it changes someone, something, even if you can’t see it–you are a successful artist.”~ Luann Udell
“Having a consistent income from selling originals, to a growing list of enthusiastic collectors.” ~Anonymous artist
Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen Gallery in Berea, KY
“Success to me is finding/creating the time, space, and conditions to thoroughly explore your vision. Once you have achieved this and are ready to take it into the world you have succeeded. From there, there are just so many variables beyond your control.” ~ Alvin Eng
“I became an artist because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people…. I view the artist as a modern day shaman. My primary motivation was about connecting as many people as possible.” ~ Mark Edward Adams
Me at Art After Hours exhibit
What Success Means to Me
On my website’s home page, I state my intention to reveal the underlying unity and connectedness of everything in the universe: “Art is a form of communication, and my message of interconnection is more important in today’s world than ever.” If I’m able to get my work in front of people, and it affects them at all, I consider myself successful.
Sacrifice, monotype with mixed media on paper, 22.5 x 15 inches
If I only cared about sales, I probably wouldn’t be making pieces like the recently completed Sacrifice, above. I’ve been told there are many other subjects that would sell better, and I’m sure that’s true. I need to be able to remain true to my vision; to me, that is a key part of success as an artist.
How do you define success as an artist? I really would love to hear from you and find out what you think, so please share your comments below. I sincerely hope you all are able to attain success, dear friends, in whatever endeavor and by whatever defintion you choose.
And, of course, I wish you peace, love, and art…
References and Further Reading
- Define Your Success as an Artist, Mark Edward Adams
- How Do You Define Success as an Artist?, Lori McNee, Aletta de Wal
- Rethinking Success as an Artist, Christine Nishiyama
- What Are the Chances? Success in the Arts in the 21st Century, Alexis Clements
- “Ask The Artists” Part 1: What Is Your Definition of Success?, New York Foundation for the Arts
- What Does Successful Artist Mean to You?, Luann Udell, Fine Art Views