6. Define Artistic Success
Show Notes
This episode explores the concept of success and what it means to you. How this idea gets muddied by society and outside opinions and then distilling it down to what authentically resonates to you and your artistic journey.

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'Success is liking yourself. 
Liking what you do, and liking how you do it."
    -Maya Angelou

Episode Transcription: 
[00:00:00] Welcome I'm Kristi Backman. This is my podcast, Cultivating Creativity. It's about helping you build your creative life. Giving creatives a way to make space for artistic growth through the insights for the mind of an artist, instructor and art coach about the creative process and living that crazy creative life.

[00:00:27] This episode explores the concept of success and what it means to you, how this idea gets muddied by society and outside opinions, and then distilling it down to what authentically resonates to you and your artistic journey. 

[00:00:46] Are you a successful artist? I know, that's a loaded question. Let's back up a bit. Do you know, any successful artists? Or can you name any artists working today that you aspire to? If so, what does that look like? Are they famous? Are they published? Are they rich? Are they in big shows? What do you think about their art? How did you determine that they were successful? 

[00:01:13] Now let's consider those same successful artists. What do you think about their life? Do you know anything about their life? Are they successful humans? Keeping in mind that we are whole beings. An artist is only one facet of who we are. 

[00:01:28] All right, I'm going to have you back up one more time. And let's ask, what is success? Well, according to dictionary.com, the first definition: The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors, the accomplishment of one's goals. The second definition: is the attainment of wealth, status, honors or the like, 

[00:01:51] So, what does this mean? The reality is that you get to define what success means to you. Wealth, status, honors are the easiest and most universal way to gauge success. But who is to say that that was the actual goal. And is that your metric? 

[00:02:08] When I ask most artists and students who their favorite artists are, they often list artists who, in the time that they lived were not actually considered successful. They now may have that title, but while they lived, they didn't meet any of those metrics I just mentioned. 

[00:02:24] I've also mentioned before how I have researched my favorite artists in history to learn more about their life. And found some pretty interesting results. Many were not considered successful during their lifetime, many had tragic lives. And honestly, I wouldn't want to be any of those people, despite how much I love their art. 

[00:02:45] Now we will dive into the idea of artistic heroes another time, it is a fun topic to explore. But right now, what I want us to focus on, is that the common characteristic that applies to all the artists in question, the ones given to me by students and clients and other artists and the ones that I identified myself. Is that they all made art. Nothing stopped them from producing the art that they were passionate about. So, I would say that right there, that is also a measure of success. 

[00:03:18] Because there really isn't a single artistic path And because there's not a clear and singular definition for what an artist is and what a successful artist is. It all starts to get a little bit muddy, and people start to apply those common markers. And this may include partners, friends, family members, who through no fault of their own in trying to understand you and what you do may naturally apply some of those common markers. This can actually be very detrimental because you often absorb those definitions yourself without really questioning if that's how you define artistic success. 

[00:03:59] So you can either accept or reject those metrics and define your own. And then part of your job is going to be to educate those in your life as to what your goals are and your definitions of success. So they can support you along your journey. 

[00:04:14] Even beyond this idea of success, artists is find that they first have to defend their title as being an artist in the first place. And this is also related to those outside success markers, as it seems to give the credibility to the artists title. 

[00:04:28] If you make money, if you file taxes as an artist, then obviously you're an artist. If you get a degree, you are an artist. Those are some of the easiest ways for society to recognize you as an artist. But really, it depends on how you define yourself. 

[00:04:43] And I want you to be a little bit open to this idea. We all have a lot of different identities in our life. We have components and facets of who we are. And being an artist can be one part of that identity. It doesn't mean that it's invalidated because you have other components. If you have a different job, that's paying the bills. That doesn't mean that you're not an artist. Are you making art? 

[00:05:09] Many of us have multiple full-time jobs in our life. What I mean by that? If you're a parent, that's a full-time job. And then you probably have another full-time job outside of the home. Those aspects are both part of your identity. And no matter how large or small the aspects are, they are still part of who you are. So, I challenge you to challenge society in defining that on such a limited basis. 

[00:05:36] What defines what an artist is really? It's how they see themselves and what they do. Do they create art? I want us to keep coming back to that idea. 

[00:05:47] Another thing that pops up at this point when people are identifying what an artist is, if they're not rich and famous, then they're probably tortured and in pain. This is a stereotype I wish we could do away with altogether. Yes, some are drawn to the arts because of their pain and the creativity is a wonderful outlet and healing path for them to explore because it is, it's a great way to deal with pain, trauma, and loss. And it's a wonderful energy giving practice. But also, as an artist. You're allowed to have a happy life. We all endure enough trauma in our life just by living, without having to intentionally seek more out in order to validate this idea. Again, we're whole beings. And I, for one enjoy my life, I'm happy. And I consider myself an artist. 

[00:06:41] I am so passionate about this topic of success. I feel that as it stands, it creates a lot of harm. Defining this idea by common factors makes creatives feel helpless, hopeless, and like a failure a lot of the time. 

[00:06:56] I want artists to understand that they can empower themselves by individually defining this concept. So, I have a course called Identifying Artistic Success. That goes more in depth than I will here today. It's also one of the first conversations I have with my clients, because really it sets the stage for all future growth and direction. 

[00:07:18] I'll take you through the process of this. First, you need to identify your values. Depending on where you are on your own spiritual journey, you may have thought about this. But for some, this may just be coming out of left field…values, what do you mean? 

[00:07:34] Our values are the foundation of who we are. And really understanding what those values are and thinking about and structuring our lives in a way to fulfill those values will give you a much more aligned life. I constantly go back to this idea because I think it is so important. So, the first thing I'll have you do is to think about your values, identify those. And if you need a little help with this, I have an amazing freebie on my website, I'll put the link in the show notes and it walks you through this activity. 

[00:08:07] The next step is to learn more about what's possible to achieve. What can you do in the art world? What can you involve yourself with? Are you interested in selling? Are you just interested in making, are you interested in participating in a community? Are you interested in showing or exhibiting? Are you interested in merchandising or licensing? Are you interested in teaching? Are you interested in working with others to help them discover their own artistic practices? There's so many things that you can do within this sphere. And a lot of us don't even know what all those things are. And so taking some time to investigate what established paths already exist and then maybe considering how you might like to put that together for yourself, it's a really important step. We don't know what we don't know. And so, figuring out the bigger picture is a crucial part of this process. 

[00:09:08] So once we have a better idea of what's possible, then we start to select goals that are of interest and that align with your values. And then you can define your own success. Now, this may require a little bit of help or a sounding board. And I am happy to help people through this process. I recommend wherever you are in your journey, taking some time to reflect on this because it might change your mindset and your perspective on where you're at and where you're going. It may not change what your daily actions are, but it can really reframe how you are approaching your artistic practice. 

[00:9:46] It's such an empowering concept, to think about something that aligns with us. For example, I've mentioned before, and I'm sure I'll talk about it again, but for me. I do not assign success to monetary value. So I make art. I am passionate about my art. I love showing my art, participating in exhibitions and shows. But I don't determine success based on sales of my art. In fact, I have looked for other ways to create income so that responsibility does not rest on my art itself.

[00:10:24] I found that when I was represented by a gallery, there was this push to change the work in a specific way. And I decided that was not what I wanted to do. Now, I am not judging those who do that, we all need to make our own decisions. It's not about this idea of selling out. I think there's nothing wrong with selling and I encourage those who have that as a goal. It's just, for me personally, I did not want to compromise what I felt was the creative intention for my work, just to sell. Now, again, this may not be a solution for you, and you may be thinking, excuse me, what? Is that even valid? I think it is, this is my definition of artistic success. 

[00:11:05] I'm using this as an example, to explain that this can look a lot of different ways. And this aligns with my values. And I have decided on this path through years of experimentation, disappointment, feelings of failure, trial and error. Wondering what the right way was before I really got into tune with what my values are and starting to understand the bigger picture about what's really important to me in terms of being an artist. And helping others do that is something that I am very passionate about. 

[00:11:40] So my definition of an artist? Someone who makes art. 

[00:11:44] My definition of a successful artist: someone who is working to achieve their goals. And yes, I said working as a life is a journey and the act of walking that path is as successful as arriving at the destination. 

[00:12:01] That is something I truly believe. And so, if you're working towards that, you're already there, you're already successful and reaching that destination and achieving that end goal is just the icing on the cake. It just, it feels amazing, but it doesn't invalidate all the steps that you are taking to get to that point. 

[00:12:22] My favorite definition of all time of the idea of success comes from Maya Angelou, the goddess of wisdom. Her quote is “Success is liking yourself. Liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

[00:12:37] That works for me. And applying that to artistic success and the wholeness of you as an individual, all of the parts, it shouldn't feel disconnected. Your artistic life should be enhancing to your whole life and thinking about it that way is I think a lot healthier than we're taught to approach it. And I encourage you to look at it that way. 

[00:13:02] In closing. I also want you to go back and look at this episode’s cover art. That little girl embodies raw creative, artistic energy. We all have an energy like that inside. Tap into that power as you consider this idea. 

[00:13:19] So I hope this helps you think about success in a different way, and that you spend some time defining what it means to you. Check out the show notes for a link to my Values Activity. And if you enjoyed this, make sure to subscribe to my podcast, follow me on Instagram and rate this episode. Until next time. 


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