When Success Comes to You...
Many of you are new friends, and we've only known each other for a few years. You may be noticing that my career has taken an upward trajectory recently, and may be surprised at how quickly success comes.
Well, here's the real deal.
I started painting professionally in 1986 after graduating from University of North Texas and some undergrad work at San Francisco Art Institute. I had my first exhibit show in a Dallas Gallery in 1985, and others in California, before moving to New York City in 1988 and becoming an artist's apprentice for many professional artists.
I learned much from the artist's I worked for who had many years of experience making a living in the arts as professional artists.
This is one of my earlier paintings from 1985 art school days, I was interested in Semiotics of the way we connect symbols in our minds, this painting was a feminist statement for me, it may be a stretch to see it now-but I was very conceptual at this time. Pastel, 24x36
I've been painting now, as a professional, for over 30 years. I didn't have any real success in terms of professional recognition, gallery representation, press, etc. until more recently. It may seem quick to outsiders, but to me it feels like a pretty long haul!
I started my career in Texas with little opportunity, and moved to the art Mecca of New York City just in time to watch it explode with the boom of the East Village art scene. Galleries popped
up everywhere with opportunities galore. I worked with other artists to create exhibits, alternative spaces, and help each other build careers and sales.
Success happens in clusters.
The work I made back then was still in the vein of realism, but was angry and political. Not the kind of art that can be commodified and sold. Art is a business, and it took me many years to learn how to treat it that way.
"Mary/Mary" Oil on Board 6' square diptych on female archetypes and the role of women in religion and culture based on the virgin/whore stereotypes. I did a series of "angry young woman" self portraits like this which have never seen the light of day (exhibited).
It wasn't until I settled down a decade later and learned the business of art. I began a nonprofit art org that became a school for about twenty years. During that time, I had to learn marketing, and how to sell other artist's work & classes. This was immensely helpful experience when I later applied it to my own career.
There is no shortcut for marketing your work, or learning the business end of art.
Artists who promoted themselves and their work sold better in the gallery because people recognized their name. They may have the same skill as the other artists we represented, but the edge was that they put themselves out there. People who came into our gallery in NY bought work because 1. they knew the artist and liked them, or 2. they loved the painting or place depicted in the painting.
Also during this twenty years, I painted every week; still life and figurative in the studio, plein air on the weekends. I taught these classes, and attended classed taught by other instructors for twenty years. This helped me hone my craft and build my skills.
We learn from each other, so self-taught means you are cheating yourself of the benefit of other's experience; both as teachers, mentors, and colleagues.
Typical still life from my weekly still life painting class that used to happen every Weds.night for about 15 years at Wallkill River School in Montgomery, NY.
Skill-building is gradual, and happens over time; usually long periods of time. For me, there have been leaps here and there, usually based on a workshop or class, but progress has been a slow accumulation of mistakes followed by a few good paintings.
The main point is I did it regularly regardless of the results. If my paintings sucked that week, I still showed up next week, and tried not to repeat the same mistake. If the painting was great, I summed up what I did differently and tried to replicate the results and let go of what didn't work. Over the course of years, you cannot help but to improve.
In the past five years, I retired from running a nonprofit and focused all my energy on building my own career. I started to enter more competitions, win a few awards, join organizations I never had time to join, like Pastel Society of America, at a national level, and Pastel Society of Tampa Bay at a local level. I'm a member of every arts center I work at and teach workshop at (6 total) and every organization that I can comfortably work with (4) keeping in mind that it does you no good to be a member of an organization if you don't participate in their activities.
These organizations have brought me in contact with peers and friends who have helped me tremendously as I have helped others, and continue to help and mentor when the opportunity presents itself. Again, success happens in clusters!
I have encountered artists who are very competitive with each other, and have a hard time working on a team as a team-player. Doing service in organizations will help you let go of that attitude and develop a sense of cooperation. I pray for the success of those around me as much as my own, because when I see one of my peers achieving a milestone, it shows me that it is possible and that I may be next.
I've watched most of my peers over the years be featured in major magazines, win major awards, and be making larger prices for their work than my own. I cheer them on, and learn from them. I monitor several artists who are at the "same level" as I am and watch their prices, careers, and what they are doing differently than me. When something wonderful happens to them, I send them a congratulatory message on social media or email. I am truly glad for them, because their success is my success, and their mistakes are learning opportunities for me if I chose to pay attention.
Last year, I made the decision to aim higher. I am happy teaching at the wonderful organizations I work with, and selling through the small handful of galleries I have. It's a good life. I am very grateful to have made it this far.
But it isn't what I think of as success. Success for me, is measured by the lives I touch and difference I make while I'm here on this planet. Money and press are good, but not necessarily measurements of success. I want it all to MEAN something, I want to MAKE a difference, not just a painting.
Success for me means feeding that spark in a person that makes them burn passionately about their work and pursue it with a vengeance! So I teach to inspire, and my goal is to teach workshops around the world eventually. Success also means make art that makes people talk, and think, especially about environmental issues which I am deeply passionate about. This means changing minds and hearts, getting people to value what we have before it is lost, see it through artist's eyes and preserve it.