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  Art For All People®    Real Talk About Contemporary Art   
THE SUCCESSFUL ARTIST or SUCCESS IS NOT A NOUN

I know what you’re thinking.

How on earth can someone who isn’t an actual artist talk about being a successful artist? Isn’t this in fact the problem? It’s the ultimate in arrogance. Not only does everybody think they can do everybody else’s job these days, but they offer up advice on how to do it better.

Believe me, I get it, but indulge me for a moment. You can judge me when I’m done.

I’m writing this because I was just e-chatting with an artist and it just occurred to me that there’s this common theme I notice in most of my conversations with artists.

At some point during the exchange, the term “success” or “successful” almost always pops up. Many artists seem to be nearly obsessed with getting into a gallery – also called “being taken seriously” – and “being successful.” More on that part in a moment.

The success thing really transcends the concerns of artists and the art world. Let’s face it. Success has become an idol in our world. Everybody wants “success” along with the symbols and icons of success, whatever they might be.

Actors want to win Oscars, NFL players want that Super Bowl ring, pop stars want to win a Grammy … and who doesn’t want to hit the Mega Millions jackpot? You catch my drift. There’s a concrete icon that represents “success” in practically every career and industry that comes to mind.

At some point in human history, “success” became a thing … a touchable, hold-able commodity. It’s now a noun and not a verb. We want success to be tangible and never leave us, which it certainly will, of course.

I think this is why people create idols. Idols are always false, but we think that gold statues or shiny rings or piles of money are ways of making success certain and concrete. If we can trap success and bottle it, we think that we can not only keep it from abandoning us, but we can actually duplicate it.

Aren’t there tons of self-help books out there that claim to hold the “key” to success? “Key” represents something concrete, does it not?

Unfortunately, quick fixes don’t work. The universe doesn’t play political games dreamt up by humanity and besides, the more success we get, the more we want. We’re never satisfied.

The next thing we know, we’re competing with ourselves to be more successful. It’s like being on a treadmill in hell. You’re running away, but you’re not escaping the nightmare.

Those gold statuettes and shiny rings lose their bling and your piles of money go toward paying the mortgage for that stupidly over-priced New York City penthouse you bought that’s nothing but a “designer,” glass box with a stunning view that you can always get by visiting the top of the Empire State Building anytime you want for a tiny fraction of the price.

I don’t know. Am I the only one who sees through these things? Maybe I’m the idiot.

If we live in a material world, why isn’t success more concrete? Maybe that’s the point. Maybe we actually live in a spiritual world where we’re merely material manifestations of all things spiritual. Hmm. I’ll let you chew on that on your own.

All I know is this. Given what we know and have yet to learn about success, wouldn’t it be preferable to give up on “chasing success” in favor of “living successfully?”

I mean, when we chase success, we don’t even know where it is. We don’t know where we’re going. Is success behind Door Number 1? Door Number 2 or Door Number 3? Wouldn’t it be great if we could raise our odds to that extent?

However, in actuality, success is probably not behind any of those doors. It’s hiding behind the curtain in the studio down the block. So much for chasing success.

Yet if we concentrate on living successfully, it seems like we might have a better shot at “finding” true success. Living successfully means we do the simple, mundane, everyday things that lead to success.

For example, if you’re an artist, you have to be very organized with your time. You have to hold onto a day job so that you can keep a roof over your head and pay your bills and maybe have extra money to buy art supplies. When you’re not working, you have to carve out time – either in the early morning or later at night – to create art.

You have to write letters to brick and mortar and online galleries seeking representation or better yet, you create your own online platform to sell your work. You will do all of the work and keep all of the profits. You also have to send out and return email and phone calls promptly. You have to meet with possible patrons.

You totally understand that you are an artrepreneur.

You have to visit galleries to get an idea about how your work stands up to others in terms of insight, skill and quality. You to have take care of yourself physically and mentally. You have to eat right and exercise.

You have to attend social functions to keep your social skills up and make yourself more marketable. Being social helps you keep things in perspective as opposed to getting lost in your own conspiracy theory thoughts. Trust me on that one.

You have to tend to family concerns. There is no replacement for family. Friends are great, but family is forever, whether you love them or not. You have to take quiet time away from things to get a grip and plan your next moves. Despite your plans, you have to give the universe space to do its thing in your life, because God certainly will move you, whether you want that or not.

You have to remain true to your word. You have to BE your word. You have to treat people the way you want to be treated.

Even though you’re working like hell each day, you have to be humble and completely surrender to the process. You have to expect your ego to get crushed time and time again. Fortunately, no one ever died of a crushed ego. You are merely God’s vessel for good.

I am convinced that you MUST risk major rejection at least once a month.

You have to continually put yourself out there. If you don’t continually put yourself out there, there won’t be any “there” out there for you. Fortunately, rejection won’t kill you. Risk it and it’ll make you stronger, fitter and BOLDER.

Nobody wants to be rejected. We are all sensitive creatures who want to feel loved and welcomed, but that is not how real life works. If you’re rejected, shake it off and keep it movin’.

You have to go for it. Go for it. Just do it. Throw in your bid and let the chips fall where they may. You cannot win it unless you’re in it.

I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment here, but I also believe that you have to find ways to get along with people you don’t like. The real world demands this of us. Life is not only about us and our individual concerns, it’s about ALL of us. There is simply no way around this.

Also, you can choose to hear this or not, but I believe that it’s absolutely crucial that you have something higher than yourself to believe in. I trust Jesus Christ. He hasn’t failed me yet.

You are free to do as you wish. God speed.

Don’t be fooled. I’m speaking with you, but I think I’m actually saying all of these things to myself. I’m reminding myself to live up to these things. I’m reminding myself to do them every day.

One thing I do know for sure is that ALL of these things are part of the process of living successfully. Doing these things means that we’re not lusting after success or chasing some “success pipe dream,” but we’re actually living and practicing success. Everyday.

It means that we’re pivoting. We’re shifting our own success model from success as noun to success as verb. We’re no longer trying to grab success as a commodity, but we’re actually practicing success on a daily basis. We’re applying the laws of success to our daily lives.

Look … we know that we have to do all of the necessary things like, attend meetings, meet deadlines and live up to our commitments. These things actually CREATE success. And most of these things have nothing to do with art itself.

Here’s the thing …

Even in the midst of failure, we can still put success into practice. We can “BE” success rather than chase success. We can live successfully rather than chase success.

Doesn’t this feel like a better model? I mean, we can screw up every single day, which we will, yet with the falling of night and the rising of day, we can restart our success practice. We can start all over again.

Every day is a new day. We can get back in the saddle or back in front of the canvas, paintbrush in hand and either keep going or try something new.

Living successfully means you have a comprehensive understanding that life itself is probably the most important thing. I mean, you can be extremely “successful” in your career, yet your personal life is in shambles. You can also have a fantastic personal life yet your career sucks. Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but they often are.

So … if your career is horrible, but your personal life is fantastic, are you a success or failure? If your personal life is horrible, but your career is great, are you going to feel like a rousing success?

If you’re a multi-millionaire many times over, but you’re also up to your eyeballs in massive debt owned by China, are you truly a success?

In order for success to TRULY be success, it needs to be relative, comprehensive and holistic. Success should bring happiness and a sense of peace, not chaos and confusion. And every single day is a new shot at success.

We have to re-define success for ourselves. We have to stop looking at other people who seem successful and quit comparing ourselves to them. First of all, you don’t really know their story and you aren’t truly aware of what’s going on in their lives. You only see things from the outside.

You never know what someone else is going through. They may look like a million bucks, but they may also be struggling with a brain tumor. God forbid, but you never know.

Not too long ago, I heard Oprah say that she knows a lot of very wealthy people who are very unhappy. Isn’t that crazy? Of course, we all know that money doesn’t guarantee happiness, but when you hear actual confirmation of it, it still never ceases to amaze me.

You have got to re-define success for yourself and turn a blind eye to other people’s priorities for you. You cannot live successfully by comparing yourself to others or by trying to live up to the expectations of others.

Let me be clear here. I’m not talking about our commitments to others. If you commit to others, then they have a right to expect something of you. I’m talking about when people have unrealistic expectations of you … expectations that are purely based on their desires without consulting with you first.

To me, that feels like a trap.

Success is not a noun. Success is not a warm and fuzzy thing. It’s a verb. It’s a process. It’s a path. And what’s more, success is fluid. Success is organic. It’s ever-changing. It’s not tangible. We cannot bottle it. Success is not concrete. Success is very go away-able.

Can you imagine being wildly successful without understanding how it happened? I would think that unless you’re Oprah, you’re probably always paranoid about losing it. Is THAT true success? Paranoia?

Success is not a noun. It’s a verb. Success is a practice. It’s a spiritual practice.

Thank God we get to get out of bed each day – if we’re blessed – and give it another shot.

Living successfully. Sounds good to me. What? What did you say? No success yet?

Keep painting. Shake it off. Keep it movin’.

 

 


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