Introduction to "Measuring Success": Excerpt from In the Making

The word success indicates fortunate outcomes, but it does not indicate the nature of these outcomes. Artists are free to choose among countless goals, systems of measurements, and criteria of accomplishment. For some, success is measured according to rulers that have developed a patina from long and frequent use. It is common for recent generations of artists, for instance, to adopt rulers that are keyed to increments of wealth, power, and eminence. Many contestants vie for these three limited resources. Such popular definitions of success involve entering a field of operations crowded with competitors, but they also offer rewards that exceed wealth and fame. One benefit is that their efforts are facilitated by having predecessors whose accomplishments serve as identifiable measures of success that are available for emulating. Furthermore, readymade markers of commendation await artists who subscribe to them. In our culture these might include auction sales, media attention, honorary degrees, foundation support, or solo exhibitions.. But this triumvirate of criteria is not mandatory. Rulers can be self-styled by artists who strive to fulfill independent goals. Artists who declare independence from the standard system not only construct their own professional destinations, they forge their own career paths by pursuing their own indicators of achievement, devising methods of realization, and defining their own rewards.  In this open field of endeavor, earning the respect of the masses defines success for some artists, but it defines failure for those who only covet attention from sophisticated viewers. Instead of seeking public recognition as a personal goal, some artists seek it as a social means since it provides a platform from which to have an impact. Anonymity is acceptable to artists who are content with self-satisfaction, or those who seek subliminal or subversive influence. Success may entail instigating controversy or staying out of trouble. It may be measured in constructive increments (the creation of something wonderful) or destructive increments (the disruption of something terrible). Succeeding may mean affecting the self in positive ways, or it may mean the generous act of affecting others in positive ways. The minimum quantity of others needed to make the grade varies from a few to an entire culture. The minimum degree of impact varies from mild to powerful. The minimum duration may be a momentary ripple or a permanent paradigm shift. The minimum delay before delivery ranges from instant gratification to a culminating success which may even exceed the artist’s lifetime.

Success does not guarantee happiness. In fact, it can produce conflict, angst, boredom. It can even inhibit professional growth. The appeal of success is not untainted by dangers of actually achieving it. For instance, are there disadvantages to achieving success in youth? Furthermore, success can be a constant challenge to integrity. What happens when an artist’s sincere inclinations hinder chances of professional advancement? Frustration and discontent might be mitigated if artists consider the benefits of pursuing success as opposed to actually achieving it.

Possible measures of success: Inches of media coverage / Size of your bank account / Hits on a website / Acceptance into prestigious collections / Creating a new art movement / Attracting followers and create a living legacy / Inspiring future artists / Expanding the definition of art / Reaching  new audiences / Offers to trade art / Financial self-sufficiency / Gaining the respect of people you respect / Induction into the Academy of Arts and Sciences / Dinner at the White House / An obituary in a national publication / Invitations to celebrity parties / Offers to model in advertisements / Requests to give advice / Requests to be interviewed / Requests for your autograph / Praise and flattery / Unsolicited favors / Applause / Attention / Laughter / Leisure / Pleasure / Enlightenment / Other people’s envy / To do no harm.





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