Friday, September 26, 2008

Success: What is it?

Are you a success? Am I? How do we know if we are or not? Should it matter? What does success mean anyway? There is the textbook definition, but then there is what it means to us personally. Our personal success can be loosely defined, a floating feeling or it can be measurable and marked by certain milestones. As we work through our art and grow into our process, our personal ideas of success will hopefully change and grow just as our work evolves over time.

Is success about money, acclaim, a studio downtown, or is it about leaving our mark in the hearts of people who come across our work? Is success quitting the day job and painting full time?

Success for some, could be as simple as believing in themselves enough to not flinch when they tell people they are an artist. Success is so personal and abstract, yet at the same time we may tell ourselves stories about what it should mean, making it rigid and unattainable.

When I was much younger, I thought success was to have a simple life of my own creation, free of complications, while being able to see as much live music as possible and just being happy or just having fun. A very loose definition. Then as an art student, it became about getting good critiques and respect from peers and professors, and an occasional showing of my work with no expectation of sales. After school, success became about getting into juried shows, getting more exhibitions on my resume, and finally taking a risk and deciding to quit my job to focus on my art. The focus still wasn't on selling, but on building my body of work, name recognition, and additional lines on the resume. After a couple of years, naturally the next step was the gallery route, this is where my personal definition of success got fuzzy. Success here becomes more rigidly defined as I entered into business relationships with various galleries, this brought on an all new set of rules, expectations, demands, and of course pressures to sell, to have a viable product. This wasn't necessarily created by the galleries, but by myself within the gallery structure. I experienced a heightened sense of being a professional and being responsible not only for myself, but to the galleries taking a chance on me and my work. 

It has been suggested at times, that I might want to re-evaluate my personal definition of success, so that I can gauge my progress and celebrate my milestones along the way. However, I find myself a bit stumped. I have at times, lost sight of what my original purpose was, or what I truly desired when I first started showing my work. Not uncommon, I fear it happens to us all. 

Is success a certain number of paintings created in a month or a year, or a certain number sold in that same time period? Is it earning a specific yearly dollar amount? Is it painting consistently even if only a few times a week? Is it being picked up by a major NYC gallery, having a solo show and selling out on opening night? Is it being on the cover of an international art magazine? Perhaps it is simply having lots of adoring MySpace fans from all over the world. I don't really know the answer. 

So, I am asking- what is success for you? 
Please share your ideas with me in the comment section.

For more information about me and my work and the galleries that represent me, please visit my website 
For my affordable small works on paper please visit

Pictured above
Hover Like Ghosts
Mixed Media on Canvas
40x30" $1,200
Megan Chapman 2008
Currently on display at the River Market ArtSpace
Little Rock, Arkansas


  1. For me success is still at an individual painting level. I feel "success" when I have created a painting that I feel satisfied and happy with. When what I see on the canvas or board is pretty much what I saw in my head then I feel I have been successful. While it is very encouraging and inspirational when other people tell me they really like my work for me I only feel successful when I know I am satisfied with my work.

    The next step on from that is when I consistently feel satisfied with (almost) every work I create and building a body of good works.

    I have no desire to measure my success by paintings sold, annual dollar earnings or even by number of shows per year. I have no desire to get into the gallery system or the Art (with a capital A) scene.

    I do want to get to have my own show next year but not in an established gallery. I will do it DIY by creating my own temporary gallery in an empty store. That is what I have dreamed of. When I achieve it that for me will be the ultimate success. I'm not driven by any need for sales success, prizes, Art World acceptance or recoqnition, etc. I simply enjoy creating for the pleasure it gives me and the ultimate feeling of success really will be seeing all my creations all together in one room - open to whoever wants to be there.

  2. Hmmmm a very interesting thought, and like you I think my success has changed as my 'art career' has progressed.

    At this precise moment in time, my job is a huge success, and lots of things make it this way for me... it is in the art business, perfect hours 9 - 2 monday till friday, access to good priced art supplies, surrounded by wonderful inspiring people, paid holidays etc...

    Having time to work on my art and getting it finished and into galleries is a success. With a busy family life, friends, part time job etc... it can be hard to fit it all in. Sometimes at the end of a day I think, well Katherine, you really are a machine.

    For me sales are concidered a success as that is what pays some of the bills... school rowing fees, new car tyres, plants for the garden etc...

    Getting a letter in the post from a little girl who says she thinks I am very clever and wants to paint just like me when she grows up. That is a lovely warm success and I can't help but feel good about myself.

    But having a series of children's books published and a seeing my work in shops on stationary products (I love stationary) would be a major, the major success for me.

    Thanks Megan it has been really good thinking about this and I think it's a thing that has to be thought about and reassessed on a regular basis.

  3. I feel very thoughtful after reading your post today - on many levels. I would bore you if I wrote them all down, so I'll just tell you what success is for me.
    Success is waking up in the morning and feeling that the life I've made for myself is one worth living. I can look forward to a day where I can partake of activities I enjoy and get paid for some of them. The ultimate success then is doing something I love and feel passionate about, and getting paid for it. That way I can I can continue to live it. :)
    The warm success feelings that JustAGirl wrote about are the added bonuses of living a genuine life.
    My advice is to reguarly evaluate one's success and see how it fits into your life - if you're still happy and grounded, its a success.
    Really good post Megan, and thanks for inviting us to share.

  4. Happiness, love, freedom, inspiration, security, giving, knowledge...

  5. Well... Thank you everyone who has responded so far. You have given a lot of thought to this I can tell and it is appreciated. Success really is an individual concept. And it seems that most of you have a healthy idea of what it means to you.

    Kev- I really love how your version of success is really internal, and not hinged on the external world approving of you. To have your work that you feel good about together in a group, in DIY fashion for whoever wants to see it, is very inspiring to me.

    Katherine- working like a machine to maintain balance of a busy life, work and art, but you still have some ultimate markers for your future success so you can still dream. This is good stuff- and I hope you get your children's books and stationary wishes.

    Debs- your idea of success is more flowing, about general happiness and being pleased to create a life perfect for yourself that makes you excited when you awake each day.

    FS- I understand, some days I have no clue what any of it means, that is why I am asking here in this forum.

    Amber- your version of success is idealistic and about personal fulfillment and happiness, but I couldn't help noticing the word security... We do need to feel secure in order to allow ourselves to feel that peace which you seem to measure success by.

    Thanks again.. you all give me a lot to think about. Whatever it means to you, I hope you find it. I hope to keep this conversation going.

  6. I guess I haven't really given this a lot of thought until just now.

    I suppose success for me is being able to support myself financially with my work.

    I know that might make most artists cringe, but honestly...that's it.

    Success has certainly changed for me over this past year. Before I thought success was merely making work. Any kind of work. As long as it was work and it made me happy.

    That still holds true, but now that I rely on my work as my main source of income...well, it's pretty important for me not only to make art, but to also have a roof over my head to do so.

    I don't know if I'll ever get into a well known gallery, or if I will ever even get solid gallery representation, but I am pretty happy where I am right now.

  7. Thanks for weighing in with your practical response Michele.

    Yes, if making art is our primary source of income, it is important for our art to find paying customers. I don't think that should make artists cringe. If you don't have a modest roof over your head and food to eat, it makes it extremely hard to comfortably keep making art. So if we can meet our most basic needs by selling our art I think we are doing pretty well.

  8. Hello, Megan,
    Nicely said blog, for sure.
    This is Cody, by the way.

    Success? In one sentence: success is the ability of an individual to generously look back with a hint of nostalgia to their most fond mistakes while looking forward elegantly to their most cherished accomplishments.

    I don't think it is so much a retrospective web of events, but more like the spider sitting in the middle, the juicy spider, is thinking about the next catch and regretting having so few legs with which to hug. And looking forward, must sit at the core of success, because the slight nuance between being accomplished and successful differentiates an individual's momentum. So also, success is one's velocity, and in its consistency, I have labeled some people in my life as successes, whilst others have merely done things. Cool things, but...

    I regard you as a success because you are constantly moving while sitting still in the middle of your web, letting the momentous winds extend your lines, a bit of sunshine.

    Take care,


  9. Cody- " velocity and consistency..." I like these concepts. Thank you.

  10. I'd love to be published professionally as opposed to published by Kinko's. I'd love to have students study me someday. That would feel like success.

    But there are a lot of artists in the world in each of the many mediums, and we can't all be that successful. So in the meantime, I've defined success as something much more attainable.

    If one person tears up after a poem I've written, if one person breaks into uncontrollable laughter after a line, if ONE PERSON says to me, Jesus Christ how did you write that poem about my own exact emotions? Then I consider that success. Making people feel something with what I do, that's success.

    And based upon that definition, you are WILDLY successful, madam.

  11. Ginna- thanks for your input from a writer's perspective. You are right, there are so many of us out there vying for an audience, so there must be various levels of success to fit us all in. Success can be as simple as moving a person to feel something, or to feel apart of something rather than alone. I have read things that you have written in the past that moved me, so ditto.. you must wildly successful yourself!
    Thanks for the comment!

  12. success to me is the little things

    peoples hands following the strokes of paint i have painted the energy from my mind has moved to the painting to there eyes then to there hands

    thank you megan great post i enjoy your blogs

  13. Hey Tim! Thanks for commenting- always glad to see you here. As more people respond to this post, it appears that success really is in the little things. Like you said, the viewers hand following the energy in the paint that you have put down.

    I am a bit surprised that this particular group of readers do not appear to feel much outward pressure or burdened by the typical definition of success. I am really impressed and a bit shocked by this, but if it is to be believed, it is very hopeful.

  14. I have to agree with parts of all the previous comments. Being able to support myself doing what I love is huge. I also think we should put our God given talents to use.

  15. I consider artistic success when I initiate the process of discovery and learn something. Or gain a new level of skill and awareness. For these are the reasons I love art. If I can can look at a piece of artwork that I've done after some time and discover a new way of seeing it, then the success is amplified. Funny thing is, if these discoveries don't happen, I do not feel that the process was a failure, but I will feel a renewed hunger to get 'there' again. thanks for reading-

  16. In response to your surprise Megan, for me its because I tried the usual route of success (demanding, under pressure, over driven, pleasing others etc) and it nearly killed me. Thankfully I came out the other side and chose a much happier route, and my definition of success has changed. :)

  17. Thanks Karine and Charles for weighing in and Debs for returning. I think that it is great to see everyone's responses and to attempt to have a conversation about this subject. I am a person who is not easily satisfied. Even when I reach my goals, there are always more things I want to attain and more levels I want to push through and past, perhaps this is a type of success as well, that despite all the obstacles, I feel compelled to keep fighting and rising to the challenges of this career when it is not easiest, most sensible or easily understood field to be a part of.

  18. That drive is healthy! Its what makes you stand out from the rest. Someone came onto my site the other day and commented in response to something I'd said about you (nice of course), and he said you were up there with the best. That kudos comes with the drive to strive and keep on breaking through the barriers. The only thing to write into your schedule is time-out. Don't do what I did and burn-out. :)

  19. another success was when i showed at the pence gallery and a man stood in front of one of my paintings and looked confused and said "what the hell is it" i felt like for a second he questioned his own reality

  20. I really smiled like a big goofy pumpkin when I read your very first 'definition.'
    "believing in themselves enough to not flinch when they tell people they are an artist."
    Man, is that me.

    I guess I'm succeeding because I'm using my tools, my paints, my supplies. I'm noticing things, and getting ideas all the time, whether to paint, draw, photograph or write.
    But so much of my time and energy also goes to the boys, and right now, that is one ball I can't take my eye off of.


  21. Hi Megan, meeting you in other little part of the virtual world...feeling identified with your thoughts and glad for you for the coming exhibitions. See you anytime. Ro