In the past several weeks I’ve been exploring the question of “success.” What do I really want? What is my ultimate purpose? I’ve repeatedly been advised to discover my own definition of success rather than accepting the assumption that it’s the same as other artists’. I was surprised, as I dug deeper, to realize that my definition of success includes a sense of joy and satisfaction that has little to do with sales or financial gain.
Certainly sales and income are both inducements to continue and a means to support my pursuit of painting. But I find greater joy and satisfaction in teaching, mentoring, and sharing my love of art and understanding of artistic principles with others who want to learn.
I enjoy teaching others painting skills and artistic appreciation. Totally aside from my own drive to continually improve, the act of teaching motivates me to continue striving to hone my skills and to achieve greater understanding of artistic principles.
This blog and my monthly newsletter also provide outreach arms to those of you with whom I may have no other personal contact. They also remind me to work regularly enough to identify and develop topics of potential interest to my readers. (Though if any of you would like to suggest a topic, I’m open to that, as well.)
Teaching in-person classes helps me to establish clear goals not only for student learning but also for my own studies, since it requires that I stay well ahead of most of my students and at the very least remain on a conversant par with the most advanced of them. By providing deadlines of scheduled class meeting times during “high season” in our largely seasonal community, teaching also ensures that I work consistently without slacking off, even when I may be tempted to postpone studio work to socialize in other ways. Despite spending so much time in my studio, by teaching I also have the opportunity to get to know artistically inclined neighbors, both old and new, with whom I might not otherwise have crossed paths.
So, to me, success means finding joy and satisfaction in teaching, mentoring, and encouraging other artists while continuing to improve my own skills. Pricing of both my classes and my artwork is more to establish a sense of value and respect for myself and my art than to earn an income.
Do you find this surprising? Fair or not, the value of both art and services are usually perceived by the general public on a financial basis. Students who do not need to pay for classes tend to attend class irregularly, granting higher priority to other interests and momentary whims, whereas those who have paid for classes are more inclined to attend regularly, apply themselves more assiduously, and express greater respect and attention to the instructor and the course content.
Similarly, artwork that is given or sold at unrealistically low prices garners less respect or appreciation than work that has been priced to reflect the artist’s skill level in comparison to that of other artists of similar experience or achievement. So sales both help to cover incurred expenses and provide positive assurance to others of the intrinsic value of my artwork, while helping to establish my credentials for potential students.
Of course I like to be paid for my work. Who wouldn’t welcome this kind of positive feedback and encouragement? Sales that support my work are lovely, but they are only a secondary goal. My sense of real success is much more closely related to my pleasure in helping others find satisfaction in their own art, as I have found satisfaction in mine.