How To Measure Success As An Artist

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” —Zig Ziglar

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I’ve been lifting weights regularly for almost a year. Long before the weights sold out at Walmart, my garage was converted into a home gym. Yes, I was working out at home before it was cool. There, amongst the dirty shelves, musty floor, and yard tools; I spend a small part of my day, pushing to become a better version of myself.

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Most days I lift alone and in this solitude I have no one to front or out lift as it were. My ego dissolves and all that is left is the simple act of lifting heavy things. There’s something extremely rewarding from being able to track my progress—to quantify my work.

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Not only am I able to track how much weight I’m lifting from week to week, but I FEEL physically stronger. Each time I push myself to go up in weight, I am risking failure. But it’s a necessary part of the growth process.

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I recently began thinking about this analogy in regards to art & creativity.

Is it possible to quantify our art? And if so, what are the tools? How do we track our success as artists? How do we measure something as intangible as art?

Amount Of Weight vs. Form & Consistency

Sticking with the weight lifting analogy, I think it’s easy as artists to fall into the trap of fronting rather than creating.

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We focus more on the amount of weight i.e. our gear, our likes/followers, how much money we can make etc. We become egocentric in our approach to art & creativity, which in my experience, only leads to shallowness, stress, anxiety, and disappointment.

In my opinion, the following metrics represent what we should not use to quantify our art:

  • How much gear do I own?
  • Why are their photos better than mine?
  • Are my photos sharp enough?
  • How much time am I spending editing?
  • Is my camera bigger/nicer/more expensive than my peers?
  • How many followers do I have on social media?
  • How many “likes” do my photos garner?
  • How much money have I made from my work?
  • How many people are visiting my website?
  • How many people are sharing my work?
  • How much praise am I getting for my art?
  • How many clients do I have?

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As I’ve matured as an artist—I’ve come to realize that my form & consistency are more important in the long run. It’s not about impressing other people with multiple 45lb plates, it’s about going out to the dusty, damp, (sometimes cold, sometimes hot) garage; putting on my gloves and doing the work. Every Day…

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The following is a list of metrics that I will be using to measure my success as an artist:

  • Am I risking failure?
  • Am I happy with the work I am creating?
  • Would I be creating this work if there was no one to see it?
  • Am I effectively communicating my story?
  • Am I allowing myself to evolve?
  • Am I remaining persistent i.e. acting in spite of fear, difficulty, or opposition?
  • Am I making meaningful work that will stir emotions in others?
  • Am I remaining true to myself, my goals and my vision as an artist?
  • Am I in a good mental state?
  • Am I speaking the truth?
  • Am I doing so in a way as to lift up others?

Notice how these metrics are all mostly pointing inward rather than focusing on outward figures.

When I lift alone, I am competing with the person I was last week. Some weeks I fail to lift more than the previous. But week after week; I show up, I push myself, and eventually, I add another set of plates to the bar.

This is the life of an artist.

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“None of us understand what we’re doing, but we do beautiful things anyway.” —Allen Ginsberg

Create Your Own Metrics

I wrote this post because I want to be more intentional with my art. I want to track myself as an artist, much like I track my workouts.

How do you track the intangible? How do you measure the soul?

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These are questions that I will continue to ponder. However, in the meantime I will reflect on this list in times of doubt and uncertainty. In a world full of distractions, chaos, and noise—we must become our own true north.

Don’t spend so much time on social media. In fact, delete it if you can.

Create your own list of metrics in order to measure your success as an artist. Write, rewrite, evolve the list as you grow.

Focus less on the weight, and more on your form.

Remember that YOU give meaning to your art.

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Thanks for reading!

Check out my two latest photo books here.

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