What does being a successful artist look like?

What notions of success guide your artistic decisions?

What does being a successful artist look like?

I always thought once I had my work exhibited at galleries I’d feel like I’d made it. Or, that after my first sale of art it would finally feel fully comfortable to share, “I’m an artist.” Yet, with each milestone met, I create a new expectation and definition of success just out of reach.

What about you?

I observe my own notions of artistic success are defined by external expectations of success. These are socially cultivated and culturally maintained. A hoard of artists, like me, were told good art is art that exhibits and sells. But what of your internal expectations of your art? What do those really look like?

I was brainstorming for this article and wrote down two questions based on my external expectations:

(1) Do you want to sell your art?

(2) Do you want to show in a gallery?

What does being a successful artist look like?

Do you actively consider your feelings and the positive, internal messages you have about making art when you define “success?”

As I looked at these sentences a new question emerged. I realized a slight change to these questions had me looking at them in a new light:

(1) Do you create to sell your art?

(2) Do you create to show in a gallery?

When I read my amended notes I feel my hackles rising. I feel arguments popping up in my head, “hell no I don’t create for these goals!” They sound so…without soul.

It made me realize I have a more important question to ask. A bit reflective of recent readings into Desire Mapping…

What makes you FEEL like a successful artist?

As I began to brainstorm qualities of life I want as an artist, I immediately thought: time. Space. Consistent practice. These were in no way like the external notions of success I place on myself and my work. I make art because of how it makes me feel. Making art is about listening to how I feel.

Interestingly enough, those qualities of internal success could also make room for my external ones.

When my inner critic, that voice that so easily puts down my work or credibility, shows up it asks me specific questions: “If you are successful, why aren’t you showing in a gallery right now? When is the last time you sold an artwork?”

There have been many times, after listening to this inner dialogue, I return to my practice focused on what my artwork “needs” to look like to meet these external goals. Each time this becomes a driving focus, surprise: the quality of my work drops.

The question becomes: how do I focus on the internal expectations and notions of success. How can they drive and fuel my external expectations?

Collage it Out

Create a visual representation of your expectations. You could do this digitally, using something like Pinterest, or get those fingers sticky with glue sticks and tape. Decide which internal and external expectations you hold are most important.

Want to dive deeper into looking at your internal and external expectations and notions of success? Join the community here and get access to today’s ARTsheet.

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Ready to artgeek out? Use this template or draw your own. Paste in colors, words, images that resonate with your internal and external expectations of success for your art. Draw, doodle, paint into it as you wish. Let your intuition guide you. Be sure you share it in the Facebook Group!

Are external expectations bad?

The external expectations that sting or trigger me most are super important to me. I have sold art and exhibited art. Making a choice to continue on this path excites me. This is why my inner critic uses them against me: I fear I’m not any good at art when I’m not participating in these activities.

Yet, as we’ve already discussed, if these goals are too much in the forefront when I create, it can stall my work.

Rather than work like crazy to change your mindset, why not cultivate a practice that honors all of the expectations (and thus, notions of success) you hold for yourself?

My external notions of success can become so loud in my mind that I lose sight of my internal notions of success. And my internal expectations for successful art fuel everything.

Because of this I know I must make more time and space to cultivate the internal. In doing so, I may achieve more in both internal and external expectations of success. A simple strategy I use means I make my creation time and promotion time distinctly separate events.

Every artist deserves to know this: your unique goals, hopes and dreams for your art are valuable and important. Let your internal, intuitive notions of success guide the external.

“What does being a successful artist look like?” (Click to Tweet)

Be Creatively Courageous: What do you do or can you do to honor your important internal, intuitive notions of artistic success? I want to know! Talk about it in the comments below.