How Do You Define Success?

by Carolyn Edlund, ABI Executive Director

Is success defined by making sales of your work, or another factor? How do you measure it and how do you reach it?


Is Success About Making a Sale?


What does success look like to you? Is it connected with money, sales volume, or beating the competition? Does it appear by being featured in press articles, is it bestowed with awards, or does it result from having a solo show of your art?

Or is success making the best art you can make and loving the result?

I’ve worked with hundreds of artists on overcoming challenges in their businesses, both in workshop settings and private consultation, and have found the answer to be as individual as the artist. One question I’ve learned to ask clients is “How important to you is making money?” You might be surprised that quite often it’s not at the top of the list.

As artists define their own success, I’ve found that satisfaction in one’s work is essential. Artists want to feel that what they are doing is important and exciting and they want to share their passion with others. Your art is valid whether or not you sell it to anyone. The creative process in itself is empowering, energizing and often a healing force as well.

There are a few key elements to reaching a place of personal success, which are as important as the actual work involved in getting there:

Creating a vision. What do you ultimately want to do as an artist? What does that look like, on an everyday basis? If you haven’t got a vision of what it is that you want to do, and how you want to live, then how will you create a roadmap to get there?

Making a plan. Planning involves setting down concrete and measurable steps to reach both short and long-term goals that lead towards the realization of your vision. Having a checklist where you can tick off those actions you have taken is both satisfying and motivating. Write down the steps toward your goals in bite-sized pieces that aren’t overwhelming, and that logically lead towards completion.

Taking action. There is nothing like jumping right in and taking the first step that will have impact on fulfilling your goals and ultimately reaching your vision. Once you have your written plan, what can you do today to get started? This first action propels us forward, as we take on items on the list. Perhaps it’s a small step, like making a phone call, or doing some internet research. Don’t put off that first step; it’s easy to get sidetracked, which is why the next essential element is …

Avoiding distractions. This means saying “No” to projects and opportunities (even money-making ones) that come along that do not propel you towards achieving your goals. It’s easy to fill our days with other, easier tasks than building the art business that we want. Do that often enough, and down the road you will see a string of distractions that pulled you off course, and thwarted your plans to realize your vision. This is an easy path, but not a very satisfying one. It takes focus, motivation and persistence to work steadily towards your goals to achieve the success you envision.



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  1. Very well said, Carolyn… there seems to be a popular debate on which is more important, the end result or the process of getting there… the truth is, they’re both important!

    Thanks for shedding light on the practical aspects of this, and how artists can better focus their time to not only get the results they want, but fulfillment of the moment as well. Success then grows out of achieving a proper balance of the two.


    • Thanks for commenting, Mike. I’m sure that debate has various answers depending on the artist, but in my own experience, it’s like running a marathon. I figured I might as well enjoy the journey!


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