The success of an artist

20June 2012

My time in Minneapolis is about to come to an end as my wife and I are going to move to Maui, Hawaii at the end of August.  Our hopes for Maui are simple; I am going to make art and work on tattooing, while Athena prepares to relocate her dog training facility with boarding and doggy daycare.  We have been working toward this for a very long time, and we are grateful for this amazing opportunity.

Looking back over the last 17 years of my life here in Minneapolis, my reason for moving here (to become an artist), and how it all played out, I find myself retrospectively looking at my own personal success as an artist.  So I ask…

…How do we measure the success of an artist?

1.  The obvious yard stick is money, are you making any?
I have sold nearly everything I have ever painted.  Sometimes for good money, and others for greater than was deserved.  I have taken financial losses, but my finances always balanced themselves out in the end.  Regardless, I feel that sales and financial prosperity are not the “end all” of an artist’s success.
 Van Gogh was poor, crazy, and not well-liked in his time, but everyone knows his name now.
Let us say that the financial success of an artist is not simply wealth, but the means to support oneself by the production and sale of original works alone.

2.  Quality of the work itself?
When we consider the quality of a work of art, the variables are so subjective that we can only look toward the total development of an artist.  That said we can not lie either.  Some artists are very very good, masters even.  Others just suck, and the art world needs to leave subjective critique behind and label bad artists as bad artists.  As we measure the quality of an artists work we inevitably look inward to our own tastes at first, and if we can move past our personal bias, we can then honestly critique a work of art.
Outside ourselves we look for content, aesthetic, talent, honesty within the work, and possibility.  I spent 16 years developing a language that I call compositional oil painting, naturally exploring what I enjoyed about painting.
3.  Philosophical and spiritual growth?
I see being an artist as being a philosopher.  Philosophically evolving as your work evolves is a definite measure of a successful artist.  When honest, the work is revealing in a way that no truth sayer, psychologist, or loved one could ever be.  It can be expected that an artist will grow philosophically.

4.  The social popularity of an artist?
Who does your work speak for?  Who are our fans, your clients, your patrons?  Who is moved by your work and is anyone influenced artistically by what you do as an artist?  Having influence is important in that ideas must be viral in order to be effective.

Regardless of all of those reasons, It is the timelessness of the work that defines the success of an artist. Having a following while you are alive is great, being remembered for the rest of time for what you created is better…remember Van Gogh.
5.  Are you happy?
The answer to this ought to always be yes.  If the answer is not yes, then something is wrong.  Regardless of any measures of success, being happy is by far the most important idea.

I like to think of myself as a successful artist.  In 1996 I set out to become an artist, and other than that I had no profound goals.  I simply wanted to create works of art as often as possible.  I became that, I sold my paintings (nearly everything I have painted has sold), built up an extensive and constantly changing portfolio, developed my own language as an abstract artist, and truly became more than the artist I expected to be.  
Now what?

I have no idea what happens next…
…I have no expectations other than becoming a new artist.