When I was asked to write an edition of the Portrait Society's Conference Insider, I had to think for a moment about what I have to offer as a member of this year's faculty. I could discuss my working methods, studio habits, or some other aspect of art making, but I realized that sometimes the best I can do is simply provide an affirmative nod to my fellow artists that yes-you got this. All technique, creative processes, and art knowledge aside (I know you're working hard on those already!), we artists are really heart-centric creatures who find ourselves needing encouragement on a regular basis.
Onat the conference, from , I will be part of a panel hosted by the Cecilia Beaux Forum in which we discuss "establishing and managing a successful art career," and I hope you will join us as we talk in depth about our experiences. For those of you who decide to sleep in instead, I offer here some thoughts about my own personal journey, and I hope it is of some benefit to you.
A couple of days before writing this, I presented a question to the Facebook universe asking, "What does success look like to you?" The hundreds of answers that rolled in were diverse and insightful.
"With success comes responsibility: teaching, passing on what we've been given."
"Feeling true happiness and satisfaction to the depth of your soul. The source and tactical steps differ for each individual, where many of the basic needs are common to all, while higher-level needs become increasingly individualized."
"True, honest effort."
"Freedom to live life on your terms, not to be confused with accumulating wealth."
"Setting goals, reaching them and setting new ones."
"Having work that is creative, satisfying, and contributes to society."
"Doing what feeds your soul."
"The idea of success is not only different for every person, but every person has different concepts of success in different aspects of their life. There's career success, personal life success, and even success or failure with a particular piece you're working on! Additionally, life has shown me that what I believe is success or failure in a situation may end up not being the case at all!"
The answers went on and on (thank you to everyone who responded!). My conclusion was that success is an attitude or mindset, not something quantifiable. Success should not be your driving force. It can easily consume you, to a point where the integrity of your life and work are compromised. It can also give a false sense of security and become an idol. And, if you are too busy comparing yourself to the successes of others, you risk losing your authenticity, and your idea of success will become distorted. Success to me is finding a healthy balance between pursuing and achieving my goals, and being at peace with myself and others. It means honoring my Creator by pursuing excellence (not necessarily perfection) in all aspects of life.
For me it was never a question whether or not I would succeed, it was just a matter of how hard I was willing to work in order to get there, and I found my version of "success" by setting goals. One of my goals as a kid was to someday paint presidential portraits (I've since changed my mind about that)... Another goal I had, which was recently realized, was to paint in the Face-Off at the Portrait Society and be considered a peer by the artists I've always looked up to.
In 2014, I had a baby girl, Cecelia (named after the great Cecilia Beaux, of course!). Having a child obviously throws a wrench into things. Many women artists choose not to have children because they don't believe it's compatible with their art. At its worst, motherhood causes you to question everything you're doing, while at its best it elevates your work to heights you never imagined possible. I learned to embrace both extremes for what they could do to help me grow, but I also chose not to dwell too long at the bottom. I will be the first to tell you that motherhood made me a better artist.
Finding one's place in this expansive world of creative talent is not easy, especially as the work just keeps getting better and better. So I keep coming back to painting what I know: the world around me, the people I love-and realizing that maybe it's not popular or trendy right now but it's honest. I have learned to embrace my own unique story in all its beauty and ugliness and its moments of pain and bliss.
So... any advice I have on getting established in one's art career, I offer from my own personal experience. It may or may not work for you, but it's something to consider. Here is a basic and ever-growing checklist of things that have helped me become a modestly successful artist (by the definition I've outlined above).
One more thing: the "appearance" of success is very different from real success, and also very dangerous. It's easy to see all the perfectly curated posts on social media and find yourself wondering, "Why doesn't my life and art look that good?" I can guarantee that every single one of those artists has bad painting days, moments of self doubt, and days where they don't paint at all. Don't worry about it. At the end of the day, it is always about the work. Pick up your brush and keep giving it your all, and you will reap the hard-earned benefits of a life defined by the pursuit of excellence.