Art vs. the Day Job | Define Success and Chase it

In chasing that illusive thing called “success” it is important to define what that means to you.

The “big win” may be quantifiable….like having a record that goes platinum, hitting the NY Times Bestseller list, or having one of your works acquired by MOMA. The thing about chasing those dreams is that 1) it can prevent you from enjoying the “now”; 2) the big win can seem so far out of reach that it can generate negative emotions that zap the creative process; 3) the big wins are someone else’s definition of success that may have nothing to do with who you are and where your talents should take you.

Start to chase success in the ways that really matter…

Connect. Art needs connection.  Songwriters need people to sing their lyrics long after the show is over, writers need readers, poets need to inspire and painters/sculptors need someone to consider the meaning of the work.  Are you in a position where people can connect with your art?  If not, explore whatever opportunities for exposure you can find and get it out there.  (ArtLoveMagic’s main mission is to create opportunities for this connection.)

Improve your craft. Sure you have talent, but are you growing in that talent?  Are you experimenting, reaching, stretching yourself?  The best investment you can make as an artist is an investment in yourself.  That might be about mentoring or being mentored, experimenting with your style or simply spending more time at your craft producing.

Take joy in the few. The movie, Avatar’s commercial success doesn’t mean that the indie film, Persepolis, has less value. If your art connects truly and deeply with only a few, are you okay with that? If not, you may need to commercialize your art to become a best-seller. (Avatar–while fantastic–followed a formula for guaranteed movie success. Persepolis didn’t, but is also a fantastic piece of movie art.)  Static art is simply decoration.  Real art moves people.  Value the times you discover your art actually moved someone.

Sell something. It can be huge validation to find out that people are willing to pay money for what you create. (Conversely it can be hugely disappointing when you take chances and your work doesn’t sell.)  Mentally divorce “market value” from the value you put on yourself as an artist. It takes homework to find out what people buy and where to find the buyers that will most likely connect with you.  High-end pieces are rarely bought on a whim.  (People have to connect with the piece, then it has to bug them for awhile like a brain ninja until they can’t live without it.)  In music, your name has to become known to get the next gig.  Venues, galleries, agents and publishing houses are all about “the market”–which can be translated to “what sells”–and what sells may be different than what inspires you.  Never for a moment confuse the “market” with the art.  The market is simply the market, and getting good about engaging it is more about salesmanship than artistry–it is a learned skill.

Deciding and acting creates motion. You may have big dreams, but if you don’t make decisions and act on them, nothing will happen for you.   Ever heard the phrase, “suit up and show up?”  Sometimes just showing up puts things in motion that you couldn’t have possibly imagined on your own.  If you aren’t experiencing motion with what you are doing, make a decision and do something new.

Follow the opportunities that are the most satisfying to you. If the desire for fame is what drives you, then people knowing your name may have more value to you than money.  If being able to support yourself with your art is the goal, then you may find yourself exploring avenues to create a product that will have appeal.  If creating perfection drives you, then you may focus on creating one great work that will last beyond you rather than the commercial success of creating many things.   Knowing what you really want can help you recognize success when you find it.

Don’t overlook the fact that the best success is doing what you love with people you enjoy being with.  That isn’t defined by someone else.  That is completely and totally created by you.

–Cathy Hutchison

Cathy’s Art vs. The Day Job is a multi-part series:
You can read each post here:

Part 1: Free Up Resources

Part 2: Define Success and Chase It

Part 3: Do the Math

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