“I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.” – Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is considered to be one of the greatest and most influential painters of all time, but his work received no recognition during his lifetime. His paintings were often described as being too dark and lacking the bright liveliness of the Impressionist paintings of the time. He produced more than 900 works during his lifetime, but only sold one painting, Red Vineyard at Arles.
Paul Gaugain. El Greco. Claude Monet. Johannes Vermeer. Stendhal. Franz Kafka. Sylvia Plath.
What do all these artists have in common?
They only became famous after their deaths.
And the list goes on and on…
It’s almost as if that’s a rule, right? Some fundamental principle of the universe. Artists can aspire to barely make a living, if that.
Then how can one become a successful artist?
Well, there are three simple things to keep in mind.
1. The Heart
This is what all great artists excel at. They have passion. Other people call them obsessed. They spend the vast majority of their time thinking about art, absorbing art, or creating art. They want satisfaction, not a work-life balance.
Their work is their life.
And this is a great thing to have. To put your heart into the things you do, to hold nothing back. To do your very best.
But the downside is that this does not guarantee success.
We like to believe the world functions based on simplistic truths. If you work hard and become good enough, the universe somehow rewards you. No, it doesn’t.
If you want to become a great artist, and your actions are aligned with this desire, then you will become one. But you never asked to become a successful one.
You never acted on becoming a successful artist, because success is not just about the heart. It’s also about…
2. The Brain
I rarely meet artists who actively study things like marketing, promotion, advertising. Developing a platform that will enable them to sell their art. Thinking of themselves as a brand, their art a business.
And this is why they struggle financially. It’s all just wishful thinking, much like playing the lottery.
The idea is to, yes, put your heart into your art, but also use your brain to come up with ways to sell your art, to reach more people, to add value to their lives, to convince them that your art deserves their attention and time and money.
This is one aspect I have overlooked for years. It just didn’t make sense to me at all. Now it does.
3. The Hand
Do you know how many artists I have met who procrastinate most of the time? Who have a thousand ideas, but struggle to implement even one? Who spend more time talking about their dreams, than actually working on making those dreams come true.
Hard freaking work. It’s crucial to becoming successful as an artist. Producing work at a constant rate, always working hard to develop certain skills and abilities, working hard on networking with fellow artists and potential clients.
There’s no substitute for it, there’s no way to avoid it.
Here’s the mind blowing idea: if you want to be successful as an artist, you need to use all three. If one goes missing, the other two won’t do much good.
Use your imagination to figure out how painting once in a while and doing a bit of marketing might prove detrimental to your career? If you work when you feel like it, it’s not going to amount to much.
People who go to the gym once in a while don’t have six packs.
If you are all about marketing and working hard, but you’re not passionate about the art you’re creating, then you’ll be creating mediocre stuff. No heart, no passion, no emotional reaction from others.
If you do use your heart, if you do work hard, but never take the time to develop a platform for success, then you’ll end up “a starving artist,” because that’s what all of them had in common.
My point is that if you neglect one, the other two won’t help you become successful. Not in this lifetime. Maybe long after you’re dead, and even that is no guarantee.
Think of yourself as a three man team: one is the artist, one is the business man, and one is this sort of assistant who helps them both be as productive and effective as possible.
And this is how you become successful as an artist.