“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing – and keeping the unknown always beyond you.” – Georgia O’Keeffe
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what success as an artist looks like and the more I consider it, the stronger I feel that it’s quite simply about showing up and doing the work, over and over again – expressing yourself honestly and openly, whether that’s through the creation of figurative/realistic work or alternatively leaning more towards abstraction. I’m still reading about Georgia O’Keeffe at the moment, and I love that she was just as comfortable rendering her subjects realistically, as she was with simplifying them down to their essential shapes and colours, often to the point of painting pieces that look like musical symphonies on canvas (e.g. her six Jack-in-the-Pulpit artworks). She simply focused her attention on making the unknown known, and remaining in a place of constant exploration through her art.
Despite our society’s obsession with money and fame, I don’t think either are great indicators of artistic success, and I always feel uneasy when I hear an artist say that their primary goal is to become famous or make xyz amount of $$. It’s not that I have a problem with the idea of making money from art or becoming well known as consequences of producing great work, but as driving forces I think they’re completely self-serving, hollow pursuits. On the other hand, creating from a place of serving – in the words of James Baldwin: “[making the viewer] conscious of things they don’t see” – now that is something that gets me excited to be an artist. Allowing myself to really see and think about something beyond a quick surface glance, and then passing that experience on to someone else through my work – that’s a great reason to keep doing what I do.
Here’s a few things I’ve been reading and watching on this topic:
i) You’ll Never Be Famous – And That’s O.K. – brilliant (and somewhat confronting) article by the New York Times.
ii) What Makes a Good Life? – with over 28 million views, this TED talk highlights the truly important things that lead to a fulfilling life, as gleaned from a 75 year study on happiness.
iii) 4 Ways Quiet Contributes to the Good Life – a great reminder to slow down, written by psychiatrist and Harvard professor Dr. Robert Waldinger (as seen in the TED talk above).
iv) America is obsessed with happiness – and it’s making us miserable – a thought provoking article, delivered with a British sense of humour.
v) Tips for business success from 21-year-old homeless man turned millionaire and CEO – I found this story so inspiring and I thought Harry’s 5th tip for success was especially good for artists as well as entrepreneurs: ‘Your purpose is your pay check. If you are only opening a business to make good money, you will never find success.”