A friend posed this question on Facebook today. It is a difficult one to answer, because neither “artist” nor “successful” has a concrete definition. So first I must explain my definition of both.
What is art? How many times have you been standing in front of a DeKooning in a museum and heard someone say “my kid could do better than that, that isn’t art”?
How many people paid thousands of dollars for an inkjet print of a Kinkaid painting with dabs of paint strategically placed on it by minimum wage interns to make it an “original”? Jackson Pollock got shitfaced drunk and dribbled housepaint on canvas and now it is called a masterpiece.
What is art? Art is anything which is more than functional. Art is any act of creation, any figment of the imagination, anything brought into being by the human mind. So all of the above are art, and everyone is an artist. I don’t care if you “can’t draw a straight line”. Neither can I.
The only difference between me and the person who claims they “can’t do art” is the desire to do it, and the willingness to work at it. I recently decided to do a self portrait a day for a year. The above image is one of my earliest. This is my most recent.
You will notice that I still can’t draw a straight line, but this drawing actually resembles me. I am a person who loves art enough to keep doing it over and over again, even if I am not satisfied with the result, simply because I love doing it and want to learn. I spent 30 years exploring color and design within very narrow non-objective parameters. I sold some paintings, but never made a living at it. I decided to play with photography and bought a nice camera. Five years later, because I knew someone, I was making most of my living with it, and had my own gallery (which did not make money).
After three years, the work dried up and I closed the gallery.
Was I successful? Am I successful? If success means acclaim and wealth, no, I am definitely not. If success means perseverance and productivity, I might be, but I know artists who work much harder than I, who have mastered more skills, make more art, and, often, make more money. So I don’t know if I am a successful artist. I have had successes, the greatest of which is imparting a love for creation to my grandchildren, who have become fabulous artists in their own right. This image is from an opening at my gallery for their work.
I don’t feel “successful”, though, so I can’t tell you exactly what it means to me. I set goals for myself all the time, but rarely achieve them. Most of my dreams for “success” as an artist are dust. I have ceased striving for financial recognition of my talent, and have begun searching for ways to use it to benefit others. I suppose achieving that goal will make me a success of some sort.