What does it mean to be a successful artist?

The first issue that must be addressed when attempting to answer this question is defining the term artist. For many years I have considered myself an artist, but I never spent much time analyzing what exactly that is. Perhaps artists are simply people who make art. However, this definition proposes a new question: what is art, is it an object? Art encompasses a large variety of activities from performance and music to painting and sculpture. Perhaps even nature itself is art, from the landscaping to the nests in the trees. In the end it is the individual who must answer these questions on a personal level and then decide if he or she is a success.

Last semester I was introduced to the formal act of studying art history. According to our textbook, art started with cave drawings from the Paleolithic age around 20,000BC. However, one might ask why the cave isn’t considered art. The creation of anything, or any simple action from the breeze that blows to the snake that sheds his skin, could be considered art. None the less, it is too easy to say everything is art. In order to communicate it is necessary to define it in less generic terms. For this essay I will say it is individual intent and social context that makes art. Any individual who chooses to classify their actions as having an artistic intent is free to do so. However it is the reaction of the public and the influence on culture that defines the art. This fact is frustrating to the individual whose artistic act is lost in an indifferent world which chooses to pigeonhole groups by giving them unwanted titles, like; “The Impressionists.” Despite the attempt to keep art pure it is a fact that the repercussions of releasing an image or object into the world is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Unfortunately it is the twisted view of history, which records the artist and defines his actions for future generations to study.

History records the major events of art and gives us a definition by which to hold up our own actions and search for similarities. I can say with security that my activities fit into the mold of what an artist is according to society. I paint on canvas; I draw what I see and so on. According to the world it is the recognition and popularity of my drawing and painting that makes me a successful artist. I am a good artist if I sell my work. I am a great artist if I get my work on the cover of Art in America. I am not going to pretend that this aspect of art is not also part of my personal definition of what the term “successful artist” means to me. It would be very gratifying to find myself in a museum looking at my own painting or to see someone discover something new while looking at my work. However, the joy of seeing my work appreciated by others would be non-existent if I did not believe, in my heart, that my work was a success to me independent of outside influences.

At this point I must define what makes my art a success to me. I believe that art is about discovery, experimentation, observation and questioning. I choose to live my life in constant search for excitement giving myself room to follow through on momentary whims and odd notions. Being an artist is a lifestyle and I believe I would live my life as one by night even if I was an accountant by day. When I make art it has no greater meaning and I find great satisfaction in the action. It helps me to understand more about the world and how I feel. I show my images in the hope that they will inspire others to see the world with the same excitement I do. It is not always easy to find people who are willing to take the time and understand the motivation behind my work. Images that speak to me may not say anything to someone who didn’t participate in the process.

In the past I would have considered myself a successful artist if I just worked all the time. I believe I was influenced by the modernist idea that an artist can create independent of the world and simply show art within the elite gallery setting. After all, it just so happens that ‘artist’ is a job our culture makes room for. Lucky us, we get to belong to a group which simply gets paid for doing whatever we want. To a certain extent it is this unquestioned freedom to explore that I expect to be given by society as an artist. However if I remain within my own world what do I return to society? In the past I would say the beauty of the art is what I give back. I now believe art can be more than a pleasing image or a distraction from life. After reading, “Man and His Symbols” by Jung and “ The Reenchantment of Art” by Gablik, I have a new idea of what the artist’s role is. I think it is the responsibility of the artist to examine and expose the shadow of humanity.

I enjoy researching subject matters I find interesting and translating them into images. Art is the language I use to communicate to everyone, in gallery settings in shopping malls and in nature. The work I release into the world will change as I obtain new information. A lifestyle of constant questioning incites growth and I consider myself a success as I continue to discover for the unexpected. I believe the only constant is change.


Gablik, S. (1995). The Reenchantment of Art (Reprint edition). London: Thames & Hudson.
Jung, C. G. (2012). Man and His Symbols. Dell.