Monday, August 6, 2007


I wrote last time about how I was inspired watching the evolution of one artist's work. But success as an artist and business person is multi-faceted. There are many ingredients that are needed to succeed at the top levels. Here is an attempt at coming up with some essentials.

1. Mastery of your media. This is the beginning. It is the time in the studio practicing your media. Learning the ins and outs of how it behaves. The nuances, the limitations, the possibilities. Amy Crawley recently told me about a book her husband was reading. It was about music. In it, the author proposed that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Ten thousand hours of hands on work. Practice. Struggle, and triumph. This is not to say you cannot begin to sell your work until you reach that magic number, but it is essential for really being in control of the process. More time is spent in flow than in battle with mastery. You will not acheive mastery by limiting your studio time to one afternoon or evening a week.

2. Good design. It is more than being a technical master of the media however. It is also about design. Being able to have a sense of the elements of design, and how to best utilize them in your work. Line. Form. Movement. Pattern. For a writer it might be about the flow and structure of good writing. A musician has melody, lyrics, harmony, etc. How do you bring these elements together to create a cohesive piece?

3. Color mastery. A visual artist needs to understand the ins and outs of color. Whether through study, an intuitive sense, experience, or all of the above, color is an essential ingredient in most visual art. Color gone wrong can do more to ruin an otherwise successful piece.

4. Voice. The magical, elusive voice. What are you saying? What are you trying to express with your art? It doesn't have to be esoteric or deep. It can be simple, straightforward, or whimsical. But it has to come from what makes you tick. What tickles your creative muse?

5. Drive or Passion. The phrase has become trite, but "It's hard work." Success in any field, even one seemingly as enjoyable as the arts, is hard work. Without the passion or drive, many drop by the wayside. You have to want to do it. I used to drag myself out of bed to go to work. Now I am literally propelled out of bed with all the ideas going through my head in the morning that I can't wait to act upon. You do not want to know how many hours a day, or how many days a week work. But I love what I do. I feel fortunate to be able to pursue my passion. And when I share my passion for my work with others, it can be contagious.

6. Willingness to go public. You can not succeed by waiting to be discovered. You need to bring your work out into the light of day if anyone is going to discover it. If you want to hope you become famous after you die when someone discovers the treasure trove of work you left behind, go for it. But there never will be a way to know if that strategy succeeded, will there? It may feel safer, because you do not need to face rejection, or criticism. But it is also absent the thrill of having someone react with enthusiasm to your work. Besides, that approach is for the hope that you will end up in a museum someday, not about creating a successful business as an artist. Leaving a legacy is a nice idea. But building that legacy is more likely when you work on building a public body of work in your lifetime. Waiting for after you die is like the eternal hope of winning the lottery. A longshot at best.

7. Problem solving skills. So you have an idea. An idea that won't go away. It keeps you up at night, or you wake up thinking about it. How do you go from the idea to the reality? By being a problem solver. You are guaranteed to run into obstacles and problems you could not foresee when the idea was just that, an idea. The concrete reality is full of roadblocks to fruition. But, the successful artists is engaged in this process of problem solving. I have had the conversation over and over again with other artists. Sharing how an obstacle was overcome. How they started down one path that didn't seem to work, so they went in another direction. Or maybe it took many tries. But eventually they figured it out. And they will be beaming when they share this moment of triumph. It is partly the mastery, and partly persistence. But also that ability to dissect the problem. Figuring out where things might be going wrong, and figuring a new path around the obstacle.

8. Understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Let's face it. We all have things that come easily to us, and other things we have to work really hard at to succeed. Having the awareness of our strengths and weaknesses means we can play to our strengths, and try to get help with, or work around our weaknesses. The weaknesses will probably not disappear, but with awareness and work, they can be managed. And our assets can grow stronger still.

9. Continual growth. As much as we grow in mastery and as much as our work grows in public acceptance, we can and must continue to grow our work. Stagnation is death in a creative field.

10. Persistence. It is hard. It is frustrating. It can be demoralizing at times. But, you need to persist through the struggles to have success. Any successful artist will tell you about the bad shows they had. Or the failed products. Or the after another. If you cannot persist through these adversities, and accept them as just part of the package, you will not make it. How you react to them....changing, growing, asking for help,..or....outrage, rebellion or seeing it as evidence that you don't have what it takes.....all these reactions will take you down a different path. We choose.

Where do you struggle, and what comes easily for you in your journey as an artist? Just recognize, it is a journey. A journey without a final resting spot so much, as many points of inspiration and growth. And each journey begins by taking a step. Moving forward. Bit by bit. It isn't about being the first to reach a goal. It is about reaching our personal goals when we are ready. And doing the ground work to make it possible.

1 comment:

harriett said...

Oh, excellent post! There are too many truths here to single out just one. Very good.