How To Be A Successful Artist

How do you define a successful life in the arts? Is it selling a painting for six figures? Do the heavens part when you make the cover of Artforum? Does achievement come with an invitation to show at a biennale? Or is success defined by the quality, dedication and passion of the artist’s journey?

Believe in Yourself

It’s not about whether you succeed or fail as an artist. It’s about the kind of person you become as you do the work. Does it make you feel more authentic? Are you coming from a place of integrity? Do you share generously? Are you grateful? And most importantly, are you actually making art, good art?

As you move closer to your goal, you will suffer setbacks and challenges. It is what it is. And during those dark moments, ask yourself, “What do I believe in?” Because you can’t do your best work when you come from a place of fear.

Believe in yourself. And if you don’t, then do what it takes to get there. Don’t wait for someone else to believe in you first. You have to show them. This is your work. Let nothing and no one stop you.

How to be a successful artist?

Pretty much the same way that any young person can pursue success in any field: by being articulate in speech and writing; by possessing useful skills including familiarity with software, the ability to write coherently, and by understanding of how business and group relationships function. The young artist who is MORE than an artist–who has a second (or third) language, who can do accounting, who has good writing mechanics, who is well read and well informed in a variety of areas–will come across as being a better artist because he or she will come across as being a larger and more impressive person.

Think less about what you believe yourself to be as an artist. You ARE that artist and you will become more of that artist over time. Think of yourself more as a person connected to a larger world. You are already a child; maybe you are a parent. You make art; can you also cook a meal or tend a garden? You think a lot about your personal creativity; to what extent do you bring creativity to your finances, to the management of your household, to the furtherance of your friendships?

Spielberg directed “1945”. Stephen King wrote “Pet Cemetery.” No artist puts out 100% Masterpieces. It is all subjective, isn’t it? Art is growth, and a journey. If I have a series, the first few may be “not quite what I want” while the last ones might be “the best thing I have ever done.” I disagree with the quote “every piece of work shown to the public must be a winner if you want to make it in the art world.” Just think “Picasso.” Art people of his day probably thought he was high, kidding, a fool, and other things. Nu descendant un escalier by Marcel Duchamp was seen as the work of a charlatan and talentless idiot by some people, and so, if you recall from art history were the works of Paul Gauguin (my favorite) and Van Gogh.

What is “good” anyway? Who decides taste? I know there are certain things I like, and certain things I do not like, but I understand that it is me, not the artist, who has the likes and dislikes. Someone’s “best” might be mediocre, cliched crap to some. Someone’s worst may be world-changing genius. I don’t know, you don’t know, no one knows.

Being successful in the art world is part and parcel of being successful in your life generally. Expand your education. Learn new skills. Broaden your horizons–all of them. By education, I don’t mean acquiring college degrees. Read fiction, nonfiction, journalism, criticism, everything every day. The artist should be the person most fully a part of contemporary life. Be that person.