I was asked recently if I feel successful, who or what is the arbiter of success, and what does it mean to be a success? These are deep questions which need proper consideration and which have been gnawing away at me for a while. I think that there are two measures of success for me in the context of my art making.
The first measure that I consider is one of financial fulfilment. The financial situation is always a worry and I don’t believe my situation to be any different to other artists during the last 500 years or so. The struggle to make ends meet whilst creating something is definitely a problem. It’s compounded by the fact that often my outlay is increased by greedy galleries who want to charge the artist to ‘rent’ their space whilst freely taking grant money for themselves and knowing full well that without the artist any viewer would not visit. I refuse to be placed in this situation and would rather work as a co-operative with other artists to make stuff happen. But this is not really the issue here is it? The issue is whether I feel financially successful.
Financially I am able to keep my head above water through means other than art which seems the only way to survive. There are so many artists out there with additional incomes that I suppose I am more successful than most because at least I don’t have to work a full-time minimum wage job in order to supplement an additional full-time unpaid job as an artist. Perhaps I am being unrealistic in expecting that eventually my income will be 100% from art sales at any point in the future. People are not queuing up to buy my art so should I lower my prices and/or compromise on quality? People will always want to pay less if they can get away with it and demand more for their money than they possibly deserve. I would rather consider myself a financial failure than compromise on my art. I would rather not sell a piece than sell it for lower than its base worth*. I would rather not be a financial success if it means compromising on my unique way of creating.
This leads me to my second measure which I consider to be one of spiritual fulfillment. I feel at ease with myself in continuing to live the life of an artist. I am challenged daily in how I see and interact with the world. The quality and concept of the art that I create is right because I say so and I am the arbiter of what I feel to be my own spiritual success; nobody else. I am content with my place in the world and the work that I create. I am happy that the art I am creating is innovative, challenging, and of the highest quality in materials and craftsmanship. I will not compromise on these values because these are fundamental to who I am.
So in response to the original question, I am the arbiter of my own criteria regarding success. Nobody can determine for me whether or not I am a success other than me and my body and spirit are in a healthy enough condition for me to know that I am doing well. Yes I feel successful to a certain extent although there is always room for a more direct financial success through art sales. The more I talk to people the more I realise that this success criteria is unlikely to happen but this does not mean I will ever give up on trying. If I ever feel unsuccessful then it is because I feel that I am not making the impact I would like to be making in getting my art seen. Perhaps in this respect my blog post from Sunday (Pointless,Futile, Meaningless…) only paints the darker parts of the overall picture. If I look at the space between and again at the whole picture, perhaps I’m not doing so badly.*I consider this base worth to be minimum wage plus the cost of materials. I’m not greedy. I know professional organisations recommend this to be far higher but I’m still very much a realist even if I still refuse to compromise on my craft.