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Saturday, 22 September 2012

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. 

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