I’ve come to realize success means a lot of different things to different artists. Some consider simply feeling good about themselves to be the mark of success. Many get the good feeling just by producing a decent watercolour. Others think success is wrapped up in something like a Porsche 911 Turbo.
For me a ’38 Bentley is all I need–just kidding. But it does have something to do with self-vindication and self-actualization. In my case it was a matter of trying to get what these days is called “a life.” I wanted to do something that I could live in. I observed clock-watchers who sold out short in what I considered to be unpleasant jobs. I wanted a mind-bending challenge that held my interest and fired me out of bed like a rocket. I didn’t want compromise. Preferably I wanted everything I did to be my own thing. The idea of signing my name on things always appealed to me. I wanted to make a contribution and I wanted to enhance the lives of others as well as that of my family. All these wants were a tough order for a person who was known to be inadequate.
Then the problem of talent reared its ugly head. I found out that talent is what you make of what you have left after the other stuff fails. I also liked the type of work because it seemed like play. I was willing to work hard at play–lack of concentration at dull activities made sure of that. And I wasn’t cut out for shopping. Shopping’s a time-waster and a money-loser. I’m sorry, but staying out of stores is the thing. (I’m not talking about your regular tofu stores.) Non-spending is the path to security. That’s how I got an idea about success. Success means having freedom. Freedom to follow your nose. You need freedom in order to create, and you need creativity in order to pay the price for your freedom.
Success may be a sticky business, difficult to pin down. I’m an authority on failure. Failure happens when you lose track of your chosen process.
PS: “Self-trust is the first secret to success.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) “No horse gets anywhere until it is harnessed. No stream drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunnelled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined.” (Harry Emerson Fosdick)
“Only connect!” (E. M. Forster)
Esoterica: Some good questions I’ve been asked: “Is creativity a motive to reach success or is success a motive to create? In what way did success influence your art? Do you need success to exist as an artist? Does success inevitably include recognition? Could a successful artist be claimed as a complete artist?”
Feel free to share your answers to these questions in the comments area below.
This letter was originally published as “Success in art” on February 10, 2004.
Featured Workshop: Michael Richardson
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