Every artist has a different definition of success. Whilst some artists dream of turning their passion into a career that generates a sizable income until retirement, others see success as reaching a certain number of followers on their art page or using their expert knowledge to educate the next generation of artists through publishing literature or teaching as a lecturer.
There is no right answer for defining what success for an artist is, but here is a list of 5 things that most certainly do not define success:
You don't need an art degree to be an artist
It's sad that we live in a world that equates a university degree to success and expert knowledge in your studied subject.
Art degrees are incredibly useful in the sense that they teach you fundamental artistic skills of research, focus, discipline and resourcefulness. Studying traditional artistic techniques can also help you to develop your style, but the study of old techniques can also equally stifle the creativity of an artist whose success will be found in taking risks with new and original work that deviates away from what's already been done before.
Whether your art style is traditional or boldly experimental, studying art at university will rid you of essential time that could be better used practicing your skills at home or in a studio. It doesn't matter how experienced your teacher is, how prestigious your art university is or expensive your tools are, if you are not consistent with your practice of your art, then your skillset will suffer and your art will not be as good as it could be if you invested more time in practicing your craft.
Even if you do find ways to learn new skills and practice them efficiently during your study of art at university, chances are that your degree won't put you much further than a self-taught artist. Results from Jane Chafin's 2011 study of artists on ArtFacts.net reveals that only 22% of their top 50 living artists have art degrees.
From my own experience and that of people I know who work in creative industries for a living, employers, clients and art buyers are far more likely to ask for a portfolio or to see examples of your artwork and where its been exhibited before they ask about your degree (if they ever do).
Last but not least, art degrees are useless for artists who aspire to manage their own art shops as they don't teach you business skills. After spending huge amounts of money on university classes to learn about traditional art skills, you will leave without any knowledge of how to set up a business with your art, how to market your products, how to find networking circles and establish professional relationships, art and copyright law, how to manage taxes, how to deliver client service, how to financially manage your business and so many other essential skills. This will all need to be learned independently or from a class/mentor after you graduate.
The aforementioned skills that you learn as you study your degree are also arguably self-teachable as things such as anatomy, colour theory, art history and basic drawing skills can all be learned through Internet searches, podcasts, observing an experienced artist, through trial-and-error and from watching educational YouTube videos.
You don't need to perfect your art style before you start selling
This is a point that can be illustrated very simply by studying the evolution of The Simpsons.
The Simpsons is, by many, regarded as one of the greatest cartoons to exist and, in 1997, it was named as one of the longest running TV shows of all time. We've all seen it and, whether we love it or not, we can all recall an episode when asked to think of one. That's the powerful influence that this show has had on us, but it hasn't always had the slick aesthetic that it embodies now. When it's first episode was aired, The Simpson's used to look like this:
It's not what we see today, but it was enough to start the journey of allowing The Simpson's to become what we see today. If the animators has beaten themselves up and prolonged the release of their show until they had perfected it, The Simpson's may have never been released. Alternatively, someone could have seen their initial ideas, stolen it and come up with an absolute failure of a cartoon or The Simpsons today may have looked completely different and the show may not have been as successful.
No matter what stage of greatness your artwork is at, do not hide it from the world. Even if your work isn't as good as it could be, keep posting it, keep entering competitions, keep selling and keep getting your work out there so that, when you DO feel ready to sell or move into an artistic career, you're not having to start from scratch without a platform.
You don't need to be a hyperrealist artist
I will say this once and once only - your ability to depict realism in your art does not determine its greatness. Great art can be hyper-realistic, but it can also be splatter art. Great art can be a beautiful sculpture bust, but it could also be also be graffiti. Great art can be action packed animation, but it can also be stickmen in a flipbook. In fact, because stickmen are the first thing that most people learn to draw and because they are the foundation of anatomy, it may even be argued that stickmen are the greatest form of art as artists would be lost without them!
Any piece of art that you see as great is great. That's it. Art is subjective so there's no right or wrong answers... unless your art is made with something like poop or other... body fluids. That's super gross.
One thing that I have learned as an artist is that perfection is also just an absolute myth. Realism is but one aspect of art and it is not the epitome of talent. Our definition of what perfection is also changes overtime - the first piece of art I ever exhibited in a gallery was one that I thought was perfect at the time but, looking at it now that I'm older, I think it looks crap. You can tell I hadn't been painting for very long when I finished it.
My definition of perfection changed and that's completely normal, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't have put it out there. I might not like it now but it meant the world to me at the time and it still means the world to some people now. It was a crucial part of my journey to becoming the artist I am today and the artist will be in the future.
So many artists attach the worth of their work to the value of their materials or to how closely their work looks like the reference photo, but this is just nonsense. Art is not about realism, it is about creating something that makes you happy. It doesn't even need to have a super deep meaning - if you enjoyed the process of making it, you think it looks beautiful and looking at your work makes you happy then it has fulfilled its sole purpose.
You shouldn't rely on talent alone to bring you recognition
It doesn't matter what industry you work in - you will get nowhere in your career if you sit at home with your talent waiting for people to approach you and spoon feed you a new opportunity.
It requires you to put yourself out there and communicate with people! This point is probably deserving of its own article but, briefly listed, you can get your artwork out there in multiple ways, including (but not limited to):
Using hashtags when you post your work online so people can find you
Joining a networking circle with fellow creatives at your stage or further along so you support and guide each other
Applying to art competitions, exhibition opportunities and magazine features
Applying for features on popular social media pages
Visiting local businesses e.g. cafes and asking them to feature your art as part of their interior decoration
Comment on people's posts and collaborate with other artists on projects
You shouldn't give up everytime someone criticises your work
If you give up on your art just because one person doesn't like it, you're showing everyone around you that the way you see your art and yourself is completely determined by the opinions of others. You let other people define who you are, what you can do, and how you can act. I've done it myself at times but, trust me, its a self-destructive habit. Do not let anyone else's opinion determine your love for yourself or your artwork. Your work is beautiful because YOU say so, not anyone else.
Also remember that everything is balanced, as in everything has an opposite. For example, there is no light without darkness and no happiness without sadness. This means that, although there may be people who don't like your art, the fact that they don't like it means that there will always be a community of other people who do. Out of 8 billion people on this Earth, are you really going to let the opinion of one or two make you give up on your craft? Never!
Keep hustling, keep practicing, keep trying and keep learning. As long as you keep going and have the self-confidence to know that are you are going in the right direction, nothing can get in your way.