Sunday, March 09, 2008

Defining Success

"Isabelle Glacier"
Oil on Panel

In her blog last week, Alyson Stanfield posted the following quote to spur discussion on Deep Thought Thursday.

“My only advice is to spend less time thinking about success and put all the energy into making art itself. Otherwise your relationship to your art changes. It becomes less genuine and honest. Art should not be born from a pressure of becoming successful but something deeper. This is always a danger and the cause for mediocrity in art…” – Shirin Neshat

A number of people agreed with the quote, but a number of people also vehemently disagreed, making the case that trying to make a living as an artist in no way diminishes the art itself. The discussion was interesting, and I thought it was funny how so many people on both sides automatically jumped to the conclusion that “success” in the arts was defined in financial terms.

I don’t define the success of my art in terms of money, so my response was a bit different. As a realist painter, I define success by the quality of my work, but if you asked me to write down a set of short-term and long-term goals to be benchmarks of success, I would have a laundry list of items that would include things like getting my work into a high level gallery, having a sell-out solo show, being invited to participate in certain high-profile shows, or having my work in the collection of a museum. These things aren’t on my list for financial reasons, but rather because in the very subjective world of art, these are some objective, measurable goals that I can use to gauge how the quality of my work is improving.

That said, does striving toward these goals take away from the quality of my work? I don’t think so, and I’d actually argue the opposite. Having these goals pushes me to improve my work where I otherwise might conclude that things are “good enough.”

If I were striving for success on financial terms, I might get to a point where my work was selling well and develop a formula for sells and what doesn’t, and stunt my growth as an artist as a result. But if I strive for success on my terms, I’m constantly striving to improve my work.

I’m not going to get into that high-end gallery, or be invited to that high-profile show, or have my painting chosen for a museum collection unless my work merits these things. Defining my success in terms of what others might think of my work is a positive – it gets me out of my own little world, and pushes me to seek out the input that will ultimately push my work to the next level.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing, do you?

At the same time, I like the statement at the end about art needing to be about something deeper than success. If it isn’t, what’s the point? As a representational artist, I spend a lot of time asking myself why I paint what I paint. Maybe I’ll post a bit more on that some other day this week.

What do you think? How do you measure your success as an artist?

1 comment:

  1. I think you and I share some similar approaches to how we think about goals, measuring progress, and success.

    Part of my feeling and definition of success is contingent on external factors;I would like to make a sustainable living solely off the proceeds of my art, and that relies on sales. Attracting buyers is a form of success to me.

    The other part relies on the process of my efforts. I've come around to recognizing that on some level, how I go about making a picture is a purer criteria than the actual result of the painting (which is still important to me).

    Without a clarity of purpose, vision, mindfulness, and intent, a picture-- even a 'good' picture that people like, and that sells-- is substantially less successful to me than one without the qualities named above.

    But I do think about success, and more to the point, how I can best foster an environment that encourages and attracts it.