Measuring Success as an Artist
[Some background: I’ve struggled with the concept of “success” in my practice for decades. In a capitalist society I never felt successful. If what you’re doing can’t be measured by society’s default (a profit ruler) there’s no way for you NOT to feel like a failure.
So, I started measuring with a different ruler – the progress ruler. Instead of measuring how much MONEY I MADE from my practice, I measured how much TIME I SPENT creating. It made a world of difference in how successful I felt the year had been. This year it became clear to me that I might need a variety of rulers for tracking different modes of success.]
The start of the new year is traditionally a time of optimism. The blank calendar ahead shines bright with possibility. Many of us think about the positive changes we’re going to make – to our life, our business, our self.
While I’m not big on resolutions, I do like to make goals.
I’ve mentioned before than I’m super nerdy about the business side of my practice. I love drafting an annual plan, breaking goals and tasks down into timelines, and logging my studio hours. I even do a mini review every three months, because resolutions and goals don’t mean much if you’re not tracking them and measuring your progress.
One of my early January tasks is to look back on the previous year and review it so I can plan for the year ahead. Normally, conducting an annual review is one of my favorite tasks. For more reasons than just Covid, 2021 was a strange year.
I’d had the collective equivalent of a four-month absence from creating and I knew that when I reconciled my studio hours spreadsheet I’d be nowhere close to my annual creating hours goal. I was dreading looking back through my timelines and schedule to account for how I’d actually spent my hours.
Not surprisingly, after I’d tallied up my numbers I found I’d logged only half the hours I’d aimed for.
What WAS a surprise were all the other things I did accomplish and had forgotten about because I was so concerned about my lack of creating (this is why a physical record of what you do each week, month, year is so critical).
Because creatives who work for themselves wear many hats, it only seems reasonable that we have multiple ways to measure our progress (think of Olympic judging, where technical, artistic, and difficulty levels all factor in). My artistic score may have been low last year, but I rocked the technical and difficulty level of my practice.
I’d applied to many calls, been in several shows, networked like a boss, joined an online artist community that I adore, mounted a pop-up solo show, hosted tours & studio visits, co-launched a collaborative street sculpture project, and co-curated a large group show. And those are just the highlights.
By using multiple criteria it’s easy for me to see that I had a wildly successful year despite being so far from reaching my desired creating hours.
As you move forward into this new year, consider putting a system in place to track your progress. It doesn’t have to be complex or uber-nerdy (unless you want it to be).
I use a combination of a physical monthly planner (events), Evernote (daily task lists), word docs (timelines, submissions), and an excel spreadsheet (studio hours) to track my growth. If this sounds too overwhelming, you could do most of your tracking in a weekly/monthly planner and just jot down studio hours in there.
Measuring success as an artist takes a bit of work to set up, but finding the ways which best tally the growth in your practice and life is a game-changer. Trust me, there’s nothing that motivates more than starting out a fresh new year already feeling like a winner.
What are the ways in which you can measure your progress? Not tracking your progress yet? What simple step can you do to start?