Although most of us wish for success with our work and art careers, defining what that means is tricky, changeable, and very personal. Does success mean selling your work, recognition in the art world, or simply your own satisfaction with what you create? How do our ideas of success shift over time? Can we be satisfied with our current level of success or do we always want more? Today, as we look ahead to a new year, we’ll toss around some ideas about success and what it means for working artists.
The dictionary definition of success is both the accomplishment of an aim or purpose and the attainment of popularity or profit. The first is specific, the second vague and subjective. We may use this word often without really considering how difficult it is to define for our individual situation. In an art career there are no defined rungs on the ladder of success. Instead, there are many different kinds of success, and many people never really feel successful even when they do have a lot of accomplishments. We tend to constantly move our own measures of success to just out of reach, which can make us feel that we still have a long road ahead. There’s nothing wrong with having goals but it’s good to give ourselves credit for what advancements we have made.
The accomplishments that don’t include outside recognition, sales, shows and other landmark moments in an art career—the inner, subjective feelings of success-- may be harder to recognize. Yet for many artists, striving for outside validation may not be truly satisfying. For them, success is felt most strongly in their own studios, or with a small circle of art friends or local exhibit opportunities. It’s important to understand your own standards and goals and accept that they may be different from ideals that originate outside yourself.
Ultimately, we define success in our own ways, and if we don’t give it some thought we can easily buy into some vague standard that is not in alignment with who we are. If we don’t understand own criteria, we may feel unsuccessful, unfulfilled, and down on ourselves, as well as envious of other artists. Like so many aspects of an art practice this takes introspection and self-awareness but doing this can bring more peace of mind as we cope with the competitive aspects of the art world.
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