This is of course the (mostly) purest BS. I’m kinda pulling your leg here. Yes, I did have reservations about my adequacy when compared to “successful professionals”, and that slowed down my writing this article, but I’m feeling much better now. Some deep pondering later, I have good thoughts to share with you.
When is an artist successful? There are so many ways to measure success. Most methods are tied to external measurements. The truest ways of measuring success are internal. There is perceived success, based on rank or linear time, and then there is actual success. Most importantly, success is a transitional thing with definitive benchmark. The external / internal vs. perceived / actual ways of measuring success are confusing. I’d like to tackle the questions of artistic success by categorizing the paradigms and then speak to what is really going on.
Outward / Perceived Success:
• Ranking based on title or rank given by others
• Receipt of awards
• Making a living ($$$) from the artistic efforts (art as a profession)
• Recognition of peers
• Recognition by people outside of the artistic community
• Big public accomplishments
Inward / Actual Success:
• Satisfaction from the time / effort expended in practice
• Completing personal goals
• Doing what you enjoy
• Mastering artistic abilities
• Personal satisfaction with the artistic output
• Gradual personal accomplishments
Is outward / perceived success a falsehood? No. These are measures of artistic success. I will admit the headings in each categorization are biased. I give way the game in the qualities of “perceived” and “actual”. I believe that the outward measurements of success are perceived because they are based on what others feel or think about the artist. These external criteria can be difficult to obtain, and once gained, more difficult to hold onto. If the outward were the only measurement of success, there would be only one successful artist for every nine hundred and ninety-nine up and coming artists, and the successful artists would only be that way for their fifteen minutes of fame and fortune.
Artistic success is a journey and not a destination. Artistic expression is ongoing. The success journey can go up, down, and sideways. It can stay in one place for a seeming eternity, then skyrocket to incredible heights before it gently floats downward. A true measure of success must account for the unpredictable nature of success. The direction of success can be as unpredictable as the timing. Art, by its nature, is a mutable emotional thing. People will respond to the some aspects and not others. The public’s response is anybody’s guess. The journey of success will have different views along the way, with the artist being asked to respond to the changing landscape.
Lastly, the inward measurements of success speak to a dynamic, nurturing model. Personal goals should be tracked and celebrated. Small accomplishments, often invisible to the larger world, are counted as successes. The artist recognizes these as actual success because they are the teaching, learning stair-steps in the unpredictable artistic journey. The creation of art, and the time taken to master the skills required, are a hard earned satisfaction. I asked an incredibly successful friend how she knew when success occurred. She told me that she was successful when she enjoyed what she was doing. She, I, and other artists, are on a path of outward successes. I believe that my friend will realize every outward success she dreams of. In the meantime, the actual successes, those realized inwardly by the artist, are her and my guiding light.