Have your biggest dreams about being successful been on the back burner? Have they been unattainable or overwhelming? Do you even know what they are?
I used to think I wanted to be a rock star until I got a taste of it. Once, in the midst of a performance, I realized I felt unsatisfied. I was playing in front of 10,000 people, which was the biggest audience my band had ever played for. As I watched the rest of my bandmate’s eyes light up, I knew I was separate from them. They were having so much fun and felt like stars on the stage. While I was happy for them, I was sad for myself because all I wanted was to be home or somewhere in a quiet place, making art.
This was news to me since I thought this was all part of my Super goal. I had dreamt of this moment since I was twelve years old. However, I never stopped to think about how living on the road with four other musicians in a van really didn’t suit me or my personality. Yes, I wanted to play drums, but there are other avenues for that. Other opportunities.
I was never specific about how my goals might align with the kind of person I was or what I truly wanted for myself–what kind of drummer I wanted to be, what kind of artist. It was time to redefine everything.
It’s pretty important to be specific when setting goals. Write them down! (Oh my god, are you kidding me? More writing?) Yeah, I know, but research shows that writing down your goals makes them much more likely to be achievable. It makes you accountable for them, especially when you share them with another person, and if you lay out effective goals, you can’t go wrong, but we’ll get to that part in a minute.
First, what’s your main objective in wanting to be an artist anyway? What kind of artist do you want to be and why? What does it all look like?
I wasn’t going to bring this aspect up at first, but I’m going to ask this bit of detail about the kind of artist you want to be because I think it’s important to be specific, even if you want to be more than one thing.
One thing you can ask is, do you want to be a commercial artist or a gallery artist? What I mean by that is, do you want to appeal to a broad audience, or do you want to do whatever you want whether millions of people like it or not? Do you want to try to juggle both and attempt to blur those lines? Do you want to keep doing what you’re doing right now and never change? Do you want to evolve or push onto new ideas?
Think about all these things. Now, what does it look like? Can you be even more specific now?
Keep writing! I didn’t say stop.
Now, try to find your main objective. The goal, as they say. What is your aim in all of this as you focus this lens? What do you see?
To get to this dream of yours, you, of course, must make smaller breakdown goals (steps) to get there, like “action” steps. Those are more practical and streamlined, and there’s this thing called SMART Goals. Look it up, it’s an excellent tip. Setting your smaller goals in this way makes everything a lot easier:
- S = Specific: so that the objective is crystal clear.
- M = Measurable: so there’s no confusion about accomplishing them.
- A = Attainable: so that it’s something concretely reachable.
- R = Relevant: so that it’s realistic to your life and the big picture.
- T = Time Bound: so there’s a target for when you can reach it.
There are all kinds of advice about achieving SMART Goals on the internet. Please, research it. I advise researching pretty much everything. Sometimes, when you hear people ask if you’ve “paid your dues,” it doesn’t just mean the practice of art. It also means having done your research. The more you read about stuff, the better, as knowledge is power. (Shazaam!)
I can wing you a super simple example of setting up a goal and following through. Say my goal is to have a successful painting practice. I have already listed out my core values, written my mission statement, and I know why I want to do this (other than not being able to help myself), it also fulfills me.
What is one (of many) breakdown goals I can set that will get me closer to my bigger goal? Something specific. How about establishing a workspace? Gonna need that. Can I measure whether or not this gets accomplished? Sure. I’ll be working and making art someplace, or I won’t be. Easy enough to measure that.
Is it attainable? Why not? Even if I don’t have money to rent a fancy artist’s loft, there’s always a corner of a room where I live, right? I can throw a dropcloth down and figure something out.
Is it realistic or relevant to the big picture? Yes. I need to make art, don’t I? How else can I make it if I don’t have a place to do it, if not my dining room table? I’ll shoot to make it as ideal as possible, but I gotta be realistic too.
Can I put a timeline on it? Sure. I can give myself a week to buy an easel and supplies and a weekend to set it all up.
Done. One step closer to a dream.
I know, I know. You think I’m over-simplifying. But do you think we should look at our goals and dreams as one giant mountain to climb all at once? Wouldn’t that be fucking overwhelming? Who would want to even try at that point? This is why we make breakdown goals into little steps: a To-Do list.
Maybe you’re starting to ask, what about making money? What about exhibiting, building my resume, getting into galleries, procuring collectors, etc.? If you’re asking that at this juncture, then you’re really impatient, and you aren’t fully reading me. One step at a time, grasshopper. This is an ongoing series I’m trying to put together here. Bear with me and do your homework.
First and foremost, I want to encourage artists to stop fearing their dreams. I want them to find their values and align them with their art and what’s at their core. I want artists to set their goals according to what will work best for their lives. This might mean making a financial benefit/living from art, or it may not. It’s about being honest with yourself.
And I will be honest with you. Being a true artist has nothing to do with making money. Being a full-time or a part-time artist has nothing to do with being a true artist. Making art according to your values does. Yeah, says me.
I have made zero dollars as both a full-time and a part-time artist. I have made a lot of money as both of those too. Money, nor time, has anything to do with art or being an artist. Accolades also have nothing to do with this stuff. It’s about the work. And making your best work IS absolutely attainable. Measuring success based on your best work is the best way to measure success, in my book.
In fact, I used to graph how many paintings I did in a year and measured how well I was doing based on that number. This was moronic. I don’t know why I did that. Now (not keeping any graphs, mind you), I measure how many pieces I make that make me feel truly satisfied and happy. This is a much better way to measure my successes. Why didn’t I think of it before? Not enough therapy yet.
But based on what I’ve been blabbering about, how else can you measure success? Can you try to set your goals according to what really matters? Are your goals relevant to your dreams? Dream big, but dream about what’s most important to you in this life you’re living as YOU: your authentic self.
Next time, I’ll be talking about how to build your house. Not literally, of course. Your proverbial artist’s house.