How do you measure success as an artist?

A fellow artist Pauline Woolley (who does some fascinating work) recently asked on fb how people measure success as an artist - sales, shows etc. I've been thinking about it for a while and this was my response

My main definition of success as an artist is sustaining work and continuing to question and critically evaluate work – not to give in and just make what people ‘want’. I see it as an inevitable journey – I have to do it – so when things get tough I know I’ll have to find a way of getting through it. (I see that as success too).
Showing work is important – if I lived on a desert island I would still draw etc. as I need it to make sense of my world, but I don’t - and communication is an important element of my definition of ‘art’. Exhibiting work mean I’m not always talking to myself (which as we know is the first sign of madness!!) but I don’t want to talk to everyone all the time, and some people it’s not worth talking to so there is a selection process involved in what shows to participate in.  High profile shows are good as they can give access to a wider/ specific audience and help (on c.v. etc.) when applying for further exhibitions and opportunities to continue the conversation – but small, unknown venues can also do that. I’m aiming for an audience that is open to a dialogue about the content of the work rather than whether it will match their settee. Some of my work will never be seen but it has inevitably informed the work that will so is equally important. The ‘success’ of being selected is irrelevant to how I view my success as an artist.
Selling work – I’ll happily sell work and I’m happy when people want to buy work – but I won’t make work to sell. (If I did that I would consider myself as unsuccessful.)
When I did my degree (back in the late ‘70s) it was considered bad to get a first on the fine art course as it meant you fitted too well into the ‘establishment’. ( 2:1 was ideal as it meant you could apply for an MA if you wanted to – not sure if it’s still the case but back then you could only apply if you had a first or 2:1). When I did my MA 20 years later the final mark was not a measure of my success on the course – what mattered to me was that I moved my work forward and entered into a regular dialogue which at the time was much needed. I consider that it was very successful for that reason (I see the distinction as a result of ticking the right boxes).
The main problem is that ‘artist’ covers a very diverse range of people and different aims and objectives. A commercial artist will absolutely measure success by sales because they want to appeal to a wide range of people. I’m happy to finds a few people who get what I’m doing J.

I think it is a really interesting question - and could have spent a lot longer and written a lot more answering it. One of my day jobs involves selling cards etc. which I design and make. This is a completely separate business (none of the designs are related to work I produce as 'Kate Smith - Artist') - purely intended to make money for day to day living. I am thinking about the customer and what they want when designing products and if they don't sell - I stop doing them. Many people I know don't see a distinction -  Kate is an artist, she draws, she makes cards and jewellery. I see them as very distinct - with completely different aims, objectives and indicators of success. 

Now you see it, now you don't....

I am feeling very pleased with myself as I have finally found a way of sealing my petri dishes. The very small ones are fine as they have a tight fitting lid which just needed a spot of super glue but the larger ones have a lid which is a fair bit bigger than the base. Tried clear tape - puckered and looked awful - so did a bit of research and an order of special tape arrived today.  I'm really chuffed at how well it's worked. - very nearly invisible. Just need to check it stays put over time....

#1 fade test

digital pen, lead pencil, ballpoint pen, petri dish. 9cm diameter

Goodness Me!

Activity, Year 3, 13.09.2012
Considering I've spent a very satisfactory (and much needed) 9 hours drawing today it's amazing how much computer activity has also taken place (above). Admittedly I have taken a wander down memory lane and gone back through all my blog posts for the first time. My first entry back in 2005 started 'For a while now I've been trying to keep a sketchbook on line with limited success. Thought a sketchblog might be the answer?'  It's quite odd seeing all the ideas I have started but not finished (and still want to tackle when I get round to it) so it really does work a lot like a sketch book. It's also made me think about how ideas develop - a lot of them are mentioned over a long period in various guises.I definitely need a great deal of 'thinking time' and can toy with something for years before I actually get around to tackling it in a more focused way. An ongoing unravelling of entangled ideas and thoughts.

'fade' drawing

Alongside the 'washed' and 'erased' drawings I've also been toying with a 'faded' series. Earlier this year I spent quite a while testing pencil on assorted fine art papers. I wanted to do some combined traditional and digital drawings but needed a surface which would be suitable for both. The starting point was fine art papers as this is what I've been using for my stand alone digital drawings (archival and fade proof ink/ fine art paper = longevity) They were absolutely useless - I think because the coating resisted the pencil marks. I had printed some of the smaller 'connect' drawings on my standard printer, UV varnished areas and then positioned in the window to check light fastness - even with this years distinct lack of sunlight they faded very quickly. Light bulb moment! - print on standard paper and then draw on top, the printed parts will (hopefully) fade - an ideal starting point for the 'faded' series. I've already done a few small drawings like this but really wanted to work on a larger scale to fit in with the other large drawings. I went to a local printers with my 2B pencil to test the uncoated paper they used (worked great) and this morning picked up a test print. I used a digital drawing already in progress because I have no patience and need to try it NOW but I may give a bit more consideration to future drawings. As usual  printed 1:1 with no proof (and very weird to see a digital drawing printed before it's finished). Going to use ballpoint pen (as this also fades over time) as well as pencil (which doesn't) and then see what happens....

Drawing Paper #6 and other stuff..

Can't believe it's been so long since I last posted - time really does fly when you're not enjoying yourself! The usual reasons - day job one, day job two, blah, blah.... Today, however I have a couple of  hours in my studio to update, plan and prepare. A few things to share:

Drawing Paper #6 is on it's way to Derby! As usual I will have copies at the Crompton Tavern (46 Crompton Street, Derby DE1 1NY) and will also distribute to other venues in Derby and surrounding areas. If you want some let me know. This year it has been co-curated and funded by Tate Liverpool. Such a great publication (I was in # 2) and I'm thrilled to see it going from strength to strength. Best of all it's FREE!!

Another publication - The Fabelist online issue 3 is available here with some really interesting responses to the theme 'Connect' (music, visual art, writing etc.). The next project is about to start and the theme is 'Synaesthesia and the Senses'. Initially I wasn't sure but I've decided I'm going to concentrate of the 'senses' bit and use it as an opportunity to give further thought to the idea of Touch & Trace - in particular the idea of haptic memory and how it relates to both traditional and digital drawing. This may just end up as a series of ramblings...

ZAP Open - this new open is nearing it's deadline for submission. I am tempted by this because it is an upfront, transparent application process - follow the link for details. If I get my act together in the next couple of weeks I may well apply - still a lottery but  at least you know what you're paying for. The downside is - all my large drawings are too big. I particularly like the fact they accept optional statements which will be reviewed anonymously if needed - sometimes a bit of explanation is necessary. To put it mildly I don't subscribe to the idea that all visual art should speak for itself, I think the sentiment is often an excuse for laziness. This is not the same as saying there shouldn't be a space for the viewer to interpret work - I just happen to think that space should  be constrained. (But I'll save any expansion of that thought process for a future rant....).

I was searching for antique pencils (who needs shoe shops) when I came across the above image on this site I want a house like that - all I have under my floor boards is electrical wiring and dust!