How to Succeed in Art Without Really Trying

The title of this post is, like the 1952 satirical business manual and musical I'm referencing in it, a joke, as much of a riddle as any a Sphinx could come up with.  Success in art can mean a number of different things and straining need not be one of them, but no matter how fortuitous one's circumstances are or how astounding one's talents, real achievement generally involves some manner of work or challenge.  For the purpose of today's musing, I will limit my discussion to career success, because I grew up being told by more than a few people that being an artist was not a valid career choice or that making money off my art was akin to "selling out", so choosing to become an artist sparked many questions that I imagine doctors and engineers do not have to concern themselves with (but more on that in another post).

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?  After drilling yourself with questions and re-affirming all your self-doubts one evening, perhaps after a particularly disappointing festival or having to suffer hearing your friends make starving artist jokes yet again (those people are either in need of an education or not friends, by the way), you have found yourself Googling "How to be a successful artist" or "Why is my work not selling?" on your cellphone at 2AM (and clearly lots of people type these questions into search engines, because the lists abound).  You gaze out your window and note that only one other window in your neighborhood glows blue and pink-- that one fellow who plays video games all night and drifts off around 4AM in his chair with the Weather Channel on TV for background noise is up too, and you wonder what he does for a living and how he manages to stay up all night and still get up early enough in the morning to leave for work in his battered mid-90's Nissan.  You have never met him, but you are beginning to feel a level of kinship with him that is not quite normal.  You have not made any art all week and you have not spoken to anyone but your cat all day.  You like to complain to your friends that there are no opportunities for you in your town, but you have not even visited half the local stores that sell original art or gotten involved in any of the arts organizations near you.  Not only is your insomnia far less poetic than you thought it might be in your moody teens, but getting a good night's sleep would probably help you far more than anything you can find on the Internet at 2AM, the online equivalent of lingering around too long in a smoky bar, but without the cover band playing "Closing Time" to remind you that you ought to call a cab.

The above description does not represent my current situation or feelings, mind you, but I have done my share of late-night Internet soul-searching, and while I have picked up more than a few good tips along the way, there are many things I would like to tell my younger self about not worrying or complaining so much.  The best and most practical advice that consistently works for me can be distilled down to four words:  Show up each day.  I cannot remember whatever 7 things I should or should not do or why number 15 was supposed to blow my mind or what I should never write in my cover letter, and reading up on such topics as "How to become rich and famous as an artist" seems to turn up useless generalities, but I can remember to show up.  By show up, I mean both to the easel or drafting table and the interviews, shows, and receptions.  That also means that my mind and heart have to show up too-- showing up half-heartedly is no use.  Circumstance and tastes and people can be unpredictable. . . only experience will confirm what exactly works and does not work, who likes which kind of work enough to buy it, what aspects of working are most fulfilling, and which venues and opportunities ought to be pursued, but in the meantime, I can show up and find out.  Is what I have to say about success original or profound?  Perhaps not. . . but it seems to be more efficient than frustrating myself with vague questions, and if I am going to be up doing something at 2AM, I would rather it be something more enlightening than read generic lists on the Internet-- reading a good instructional book on technique, putting the finishing touches on a mini painting, researching specific shows and galleries, or writing this blog post, for instance. . .

Is there any particular trait, quality, or advice that has helped you to become more successful in art or any other career path?  Weigh in below in the comments!

No comments