Um, artists are different…

Everywhere you go this time of year, the talk is all about resolutions and goals. Some of it has been reminding me, once again, how fundamentally different artists can be from non-artists. Not always, but sometimes…

Over the holidays I overheard a conversation between two non-artist friends, about one of my artist friends – someone they admire – and they were saying how hard the last year must have been on him, since “X” project didn’t work out quite as hoped, and “Y” project was on hold, and who knew about project “Z” – since he hadn’t talked about it in months? Such a rough year, hopefully the coming year would be better!

Honestly, I was baffled – they never even mentioned projects A, B, and C – which were all wildly successful – and if you’re going to measure someone else’s year, shouldn’t you consider the really big successes too? That seems sort of basic – right?

But the part that really got me was the way they wrote off X,Y, and Z as disappointments, when in reality, my friend produced some damn fine work – work he’s proud of – and just because it somehow didn’t connect commercially, or the project is on hold, that means it’s a disappointment? No! Absolutely not.

Damn fine work is damn fine work. If you stretch and grow and create something new and wonderful, and evolve as an artist that counts. Not all projects connect in the same way with the public. Or end up financial successes. Sometimes brilliant work never even gets completed – it gets stalled for some reason. But does that make it less brilliant? Shouldn’t you still be proud of brilliance, even if it’s in an unfinished state at present?

It’s called artistic fulfillment – and it’s a driving force for some of us – more so than money, or status.

But here’s the thing, measuring worth based on something other than money or status isn’t limited to artists. I’m sure if you talked to real estate agents, some of them would be irritated if they were judged solely on the number of houses they’d sold that year – what about their impact on the families they helped in finding that perfect new home? Doesn’t that count? Or what about teachers? It’s not the number of students they taught. There’s more to it – right? What about software engineers? Isn’t it better for them to write fewer lines of code that do more, and fight bloat? Bottom line, it’s ridiculously difficult to evaluate the “goodness” of someone else’s year, if you don’t really understand their world.

These two non-artist friends are good people, and they care about our artist friend – they just have no clue what’s important to him, and how he evaluates success. He actually had a phenomenal year in 2009 – and more of that kind of “goodness” is lined up for 2010. If only they could see that…

7 Replies to “Um, artists are different…”

  1. Great post…and I totally get the divide…I think it’s almost cultural as well as a state of mind difference.

    Success in one’s line of work – profession as it were, is often measured by tangible things, ie bonuses, raises, evaluations, etc…

    Missing out on fulfilling those projects, and perceiving those as disappointing, is totally relative…in part it is looking at the glass as half empty sure…but it is more, IMO, favoring the tangible bottom line success of someone’s professional succes, over, artistic growth, which is much less tangible, IMO to outsiders, especially non artists.

    I work in a world where it’s all about numbers, a bottom line world, so I tend to fall into the same line of thinking as those folks:)

    Whilst I get the artistic growth, for instance I think I have had huge growth in this area and in technical skills in my photography in the last year – almost overwhelmingly so…But…I have not made it anymore than hobby – which is totally fine. Until I can see tangible professional output, it lacks what I would typically consider success.

    In all, I think success is a relative term. It requires context and point of view. And I think being of the artistic culture, there were always be a divide from the more typical material bottom line culture that drives the more common non – artist mindset…

    Or I am just making it all up…but that’s kind of how I see it;)

  2. I agree that there are a variety of ways to grow. Professional growth, whether it is artistic or otherwise is important. Without it, we stagnate in our careers of choice. However, I don’t think you can disassociate artistic growth and financial success completely. There has to be balance. As long as your artistic friend can meet his financial obligations, then not being able to realize opportunities x, y, and z probably isn’t a big deal. Not every project we start will be a success or can be carried out fully due to a variety of factors. However, if projects x, y, and z kept your artist friend from making rent and meeting other financial obligations, I can see how your other friends might see it as a stumbling block or “disappointing”. Yes, artists often have a different mindset than the normal public, but they still have to function in the same world as the rest of us and fulfill their responsibilities and obligations. Just saying, “I’m an artist” doesn’t get you out of those basic realities.

  3. Great points – artists don’t really measure everything by the numbers, so to speak. Being a painter, I don’t sell every painting right away, some take longer than others. For me to try and quantify success based on paintings sold in a year is super misleading, besides the fact that it’s not really an indication of where I am at professionally. The picture is so much bigger and I think it’s important to point out to non-artists the differences.

  4. Just for the record this particular artist had a strong year financially too – that’s just not the primary way he or most other artists measure success. Like Amber mentioned, the picture is so much bigger!

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