On Failure and Success.

To be successful as an artist has no exact definition, much like in any profession, but there are several clear indicators that one is successful. Your work sells, you are featured in shows, you are written about, you as asked to do commissions, etc. You can have all of these happening or just some and be very successful.

Or, there’s another way to analyze an artist’s success. An overlooked item that indicates success: being a master of your medium and making art because it comes from an inner drive to create.

There are not a lot of true masterful artists. I know a few. They are epic in their talent, hard work and dedication to being really good. They pursue their work with gusto, with chutzpah, with gal. But the thing is, I know is that even the masters struggle. Perhaps they just struggle better than the rest of us. I cannot know.

All I know right now is that my days in the studio, working away at my art, are a huge struggle. And they feel held down by the weight that many artists seem to languish under: fear, obscurity, ego, expectations and a profound sense of failure.

I walked into the studio this week for the first time in quite a while and actually felt like I knew what I was doing. OK, kinda sorta knew what I was doing. I made a piece I am so proud of, because it is truly beautiful. But it doesn’t fit in with the series of work I thought I was working on, the series of work that is now going to go to the dust heap of history, the literal trash, because I cannot stand to look at it or even think about it. This is a common occurrence for me: I think I will do a body of work that looks this one way, that explores this one thing, and them make a few pieces, realize it was a dud, and go back to making the work I already was making. Waste of paper, waste of paint, waste of time, waste of energy, waste. Then I feel like I’m wasting away as an artist; I need feeding.

I am told by other artists that process is never a waste, that, as one of my artist mentors once said, “Those paintings had to get made.” But that doesn’t mean the art was good, it was just necessary. (Oh, lord, NECESSARY? Like a vaccination or a physical or going to the dentist, it has to be done, for the maintenance of the artist? Get it over with and move on?) Like that, really?

Yes, really.

As this sinks in as my reality, I am reminded that I because I don’t really feel like I have a choice except to be an artist. If I don’t make something, a part of me is not created. I don’t move, I don’t breathe, I’m just a robot. It is not just a part of my identity but how I interact with the world. Perhaps it is and is not a choice. I could stop doing this, but the thought of that seems horrible and crazy. Who does that? Who throws this away? I can’t.

Despite knowing this, the ego bears down on the artist with its fear and expectations, like a bully at the playground. The voice hammering, Why didn’t you sell anything? Why aren’t you represented by a gallery? Why is your work crap? Why doesn’t anyone write about you? And more questions. There are no answers to these questions, because we only have so much control over how the world perceives our work. You cannot force people to engage. They will do it if they want to.

I want to ask a better question. I want to ask, rather, does that artist need to make art? How hard do they work? How good have they gotten over the years, slogging away?

For if we, and I mean I, equate the worth of my work with only its ability to sell or gain recognition, it will lose something.

I will lose something.

Therefore, I keep going. I keep creating. I will fill my closets with art, hoping someone, someday buys it, gives it a home. But I cannot stop.

Guess I’ll just have to go back to the studio.

Happy painting, friends.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “On Failure and Success.

  1. I can relate from a creative person’s standpoint. I was never a visual artist, but an musical artist and poet, and when it got too tough, instead of continuing to create, I shut it out and started saying “I used to be a musician.” The rare journaling or plucking at the keys or picking at the guitar, the random vocal warm ups in the shower… none of those equate to the type of rhythmic, purposeful, creative practice that is making art regularly. It’s your personal pounding of the pavement, and not only does it feel like hard work and bring out all of these emotions, it feeds your soul and those of the people around you who get to enjoy and appreciate the art you share. It is never wasteful, and there is always beauty in it. Failure only occurs when one stops trying. You are already a success.

  2. I think I go through one of those phases at least once a month. That feeling of being an utter failure and that all the work I create is just awful. And, a lot of the times the work I create is terrible, but it is that getting back into the studio constantly that helps me work through the blocks. It’s destroying one piece of paper after another until inspiration strikes. I know now that making art is a process and that some days are astounding, while others (the majority of them) are hard work that require thought, perspiration, diligence, and stamina. It always feels so similar to what an athlete goes through. I have the same thoughts about art as I have about running a marathon. If you just keep going and pacing yourself you will reach the level of success you desire. We all get there if we keep at it. You are astounding, and I am always in awe of your work. It will all find the right home some day!

    1. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement! I love the metaphor of running a marathon- the art process really feels that way!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s