In my last blogpost, the first in this year, I mentioned that I am thinking about the questions what it means for me to be successful. I decided to write about it, hoping that maybe this helps you a little, too.
Being self-employed and self-taught, the lack of a pad on the shoulder by a boss or teacher can be a problem. Or maybe it’s just the lack of co-workers to compare ourselves with. We decided to not run with the flock, go our own way, be measured against our own values not those society imposed rules. But while it is often easy to see where we fail, it can be harder to know where, maybe despite short-comings, we still are doing well. – At least that’s the case for me.
And so, my quest if not for this year, then for the next weeks and maybe months to come, is to have a think about it. — It would be great, if you could share your thoughts on the matter!
But before I start, – those of you who have been following my medical problems over the last months might be waiting for this – a quick update on that front: My GP had me have a full blood count on my last visit, and it turns out that I am “extremely” aenemic. I don’t know what that means in numbers. It’s what she said. And finding slightly different lists of syptoms online, I find that I usually tick all the boxes: exhaustion, raised body temperature, eratic pulse, short of breath,… Before you ask: No, although I consume few meats, I am not on a vegetarian diet. And while I might consume too few iron, the main problem actually lies somewhere else.
The diagnosis came just in time for me, because the reprieve I experienced at the beginning of the month from a thorough rest over the holidays, is now all used up. And once again I find myself fighting to stay awake and alert during the day. But I now know that there is a reason, and I learned not to push myself too much an especially not too long into the evening. When I am in bed early, I find I can avoid total crash-out days, or at least could so far.
So while I am in bed, resting from the strain of climbing the stairs, it’s time for me think about what success means to me. So what is success?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, success is:
the fact that you have achieved something that you want and have been trying to do or get; the fact of becoming rich or famous or of getting a high social position.https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com
The last three seem kind of linked: A famous artist would hopefully be able to make a substantial amount of money from it, and both of it together would hopefully earn him or her a high social position.
Riches, Fame, High Social Position. – Sounds good?
And what’s with Happiness, Friends and Family, a Comfortable Life?
I assume, we all want the things on the latter list. And for those who also have an eye on the first, I suspect that the hope would be that one gets you the other. But what’s with “money can’t buy you happiness”? (It can though, to an extent; especially if you start out with very little money and also, see this TED talk.)
When I started out thinking about what I want, I thought: well, I want to be successful, and I know how I can see that I am successful: It will be when I earn real money throught my art. But once I started to think about why this was most important, and what is it I *really* want ultimately, it became rather more difficult than I first thought.
To explore the question further, I did what we all do these days: I googled the question. From that I came to think about it a little in reverse and look back instead of forward.
When have I felt successful in the past? What kind of situations were those?
I suppose I felt successful when I had my first solo exhibition in 2012. At the time I was convinced that this was the start of something new. It turns out, it wasn’t as such, but it did boost my self-esteem and it afterwards felt much mor legitimate to call myself an artist. I’d definitely would like more of that!
What else? I find it hard to think of specific events and dates. But I suppose 2015 felt successful as such. Since 2014 I had been exhibiting more frequently, and 2015 was my most successful year so far when counting exhibitions. After than I got wrapped up in several long term projects, more and more frazzled, and I have hardly shown work since then.
The decision to pay less entry fees than before, in part fuelled by the felt success rate, would have to have had an impact, too. I am not sure anymore whether that decision is as closely linked to my success year 2015 as it is manifesting in my head now. But that decision definitely came from feeling moderately successful. I increasingly thought I should not pay money for making and showing art, and maybe even start to earn some. And thus I refrained from participating in some calls for art where you have to pay upfront for participating in the selection process. – Mhm…
Last year I was shortlisted for the Writing East Midlands Mentorship program. This was a very competetive thing, and the personal interview I had with these people gave me a huge boost. For the first time I didn’t feel like a fraud when calling myself a writer. But it wasn’t so much that I felt successful, more appreciated, and as if success was possible, maybe.
On the other hand, even when a long time ago: Finishing my PhD and then earning the right to call myself a Doctor didn’t really fill me with the sense of success. You’d think so… But it just didn’t feel quite right to me.
So what do I gather from that? What is it I want?
I suppose I do crave more external validation. I kind of knew that when I started out, but well, there you have it. How did I get that validation before? From entering calls for art (- maybe I’ll have to start paying again; at least when I can afford it; it seems to make me feel better about myself), but also from putting in the work and organising an exhibition for myself.
To go forward from here, and following the advice that I found on the internet (so it has to be right, no doubt) I now should make a list of things and events that I can tick off as they occur, so that I can then use this as a measure of my success.
Ultimately “I want to be (more) successfull” this year, can then be replaced by “I want to sell a piece of art to a millionaire” (Haha!) or whatever.
So: How will I know I have a successful 2020? Looking above: By being included in art exhibitions. And for the sake of being concrete, how many? When am I going to say this was a successful year?
Well, I am currently working on a) two sculpture/installation type artworks – or make that three, I just started another one. I must be crazy! That might be another reason why I failed to exhibit so much in recent years: Moving slightly away from more centre-stream book art made it harder to connect with my known outlets. And also not staying on target and being distracted by nice new trails of thoughts like this one, sight…
But I did make some books, and I’d like to a show for one of those as well.
Hm, so to call this a successful year, let’s put down:
- one solo show
- 1 or 2 curated shows
Yeah, I’d call that a successful year, art-wise.
Then there’s the project message in a bottle. – What do I want for this one? I was seeking to arrange workshops and more publicity for this project. But I’ll have to have a hard think about whether I indeed want to pursue that this year, or whether this is one of the things that I am calling more of a sideline project, in which I give up being sucessful for whatever that means.
Bookbinding Workshop, I do offer them as a general rule. – I do like small group teaching (very much), but I think I give up trying to get a crowd together. I rather teach in my studio than going to a location where I have to schlep all the materials and such. So I won’t apply for anything, or take any effort to organize something like it myself. I might do one should I be asked… But I’ll rather commit to not feel bad for not putting any work into that this year.
There’s my printing. – I love it, but I feel a bit clueless what to do with it. I’d love to incorporate more printmaking into my artwork-portfolio. I have been calling myself a printmaker for a while. I am going to do the open studio in May as a printmaker… But I feel especially unsuccessful in that area. Maybe it would be sane to call it a hobby. But I think I want to keep on trying. And if I am honest, I have not really given it a proper try because I always thought that all the 2D work I was making was just preparatory for making a printed book one day. – Something that not only didn’t happen, I also have no plans for one. So I want to spent more time and effort on this. My goals would be to:
- Sell a print (one that’s not a postcard) and to
- get into a curated exhibition with any one of my prints.
There’s my writing. – It would be nice to get something that I wrote published this year. I started to seriously work on that last year, but it caught caught up in feeling so low of energy. With the promise to get my mental capabilities up again in about 3-6 months, maybe I can still make it. Will have to look deeper into those calls for entry. But I definitely don’t feel like paying for entry for my writing… And I want to finish my novel! So let’s put down as a measurement for success:
- publish a piece of writing
- finish the novel (draft)
There’s my skillshare channel. – This is where I seek more money than fame or renomee, I suppose. I am already putting together a new class, and my goal here clearly is to get the sales up. To make it concrete, let me say: I’ll call it a success if I can
- publish at least one new class
- go to a stable 100$ or more per month.
Well and there’s Buechertiger Supplies with its usual growth expectation of >10% (because you need to grow on paper to counteract inflation). This is my main source of income, so that’s not really negotiable. And with the current economic climate a challenge.
- 10% increase in revenue for non-failure
- >15% increase in revenue for success
So, that makes quite a list. Too ambitious? Very likely. But we’ll see. I’ll do some more thinking about the matter in the time to come. Maybe I should print that list off and hang it on the walls. Because now that I know my goals much better, I can work on it. I’ll have to actively search more for calls of art in the printmaking section and for writing. And it gives an indication of what to spend time and energy on, and what not.
Have you worked out something for yourself? Care to share your thoughts? What was/is important for you to feel successful?