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What Does it Mean to Be a Successful Artist?

As part of my Diploma Course, we took a field trip to the Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah, also known as the Margaret Ollie Centre. It's a lovely gallery and has a diverse collection and a residence studio. We were given a guided tour, focused mainly on the Margaret Ollie wing of the gallery. She left a large portion of her work and belongings to the gallery, so they have reconstructed a couple of rooms from her house where she lived and worked in Paddington Sydney. As we walked around I saw a lot of parallels between her life and mine; we both went to the National Art School, we both travelled throughout Europe and we both lived a few blocks from each other in Paddington. For some reason this got me thinking about the idea of being a successful artist and what it actually means to be "successful". I first broke it down into definitions of successful, in artistic terms.

1) Recognition - From either the mass viewing public and/or the artistic community or both. This would factor in your style as being recognisable.

2) Financially Independent - Your art practice as a means of income that requires no other need for grants or unemployment benefits or working at another job.

3) Legacy of Work - Your body of artwork that represents a new movement in art. A historical reference.

4) Reputation - Either good or bad.

5) Academic Status - Well educated with an ability to transfer your knowledge and skills as an artist through teaching and informing.

6) Well Exhibited - A large resume of gallery showings, locally or internationally.

7) Well Collected - Seen as a good investment by collectors of art.

8) Self Improvement - This would be how you see your own development within your own art practice. i.e. "I am really getting a lot better at portraits."

There may be more but that's all I came up with. When I started to look at the list I drew lines connecting ideas that crossed into other sections, for example, Well Exhibited may also link or crossover with Well Collected and Financially Independent not necessarily but there could be overlap. What I found after drawing lines from one to the other of where I felt an overlap existed, there was only one without any lines to it and that was Self Improvement. Now you could probably argue that self-improvement crosses into other aspects of the idea of success but it doesn't when you are a working artist, working in isolation, developing a piece, struggling to resolve it and you then suddenly are struck by an overwhelming sense of well being and relief when you KNOW the work is finished and there are no more questions, nothing else to add and no concern about how anyone else views the work. It's just you and the work. It is a success. In that moment. All too often lost to outside influences like "but it doesn't look like uncle Bob" or "what are you going to DO with it now?" or even "I like it...What are you going to do next?"

I guess the final outcome would have to be "What does success mean to you?"

I don't want to get all existential on you but for me, knowing myself just as I am, is the only success. When all questions have gone from your mind, in terms of who am I? What am I doing? What the hells going on here? Then you can be with your art as an extension of your self and it can include all of the above ideas of success or none of them and it doesn't matter either way.

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