11.22.2010

Marketing Mondays: "Russian Nesting Dolls of Disappointment"

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Find the satisfaction
(Image from the Internet)
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A couple of weeks ago I moderated a career panel in Boston at Massachusetts College of Art, for the Fine Arts 2D department where I teach a course for graduating seniors. My colleagues, Laurel Sparks, Randy Garber, Ted Mineo and department chair Jim Cambronne, were on the panel. Our topic was "Behind the Scenes of an Art Career," a chance for the students to get a sense of what it has been like for five working artists--that would be us--to build and sustain our careers as painters. We talked about the jobs we've had, lucky breaks that helped us along, the rejections we've dealt with, and the fact that no matter where you are in your career, you still want more.

It's OK to want more. That's part of setting goals and working hard. You know how it is: All you want is to get into a juried show. Then all you want is to get into a gallery. Then have a solo at the gallery representing you. But we also need to develop the capacity to appreciate what we have achieved. Without that appreciation, you get trapped in what Ted called "the Russian nesting dolls of disapoinment."

That's when it's not enough to get the solo, but to have it when the new season opens in September. Not enough to have the September slot but get a full-page ad in Art in America. Not enough to have the September show and the ad but a review followed by a cover story in the magazine. And so it goes all the way up the line. Not enough to make the sale, but the sale to a particular collector or museum. These are all great things, of course, but where's the line between wanting more and being at least reasonably satisfied (possibly even grateful) with what you have achieved? Seems crazy, but there are artists unhappy with their solo at MoMA because it's not in the particular gallery they wanted, which another well-known artist had, or their catalog is not as big as that of another artist who'd shown there.

Jackie Battenfield, an artist and author of The Artist's Guide: How To Make A Living Doing What You Love, calls this kind of thinking "Compare and Despair." And it happens at every level.

Over to you: Can you be happy with what you have achieved and still retain a hunger that has you working for more? Or does every achievement lead to a disappointment?

24 comments:

Stephanie Sachs said...

I made a conscious decision to change my perspective and see other people's success as inspiration for my potential. It has allowed me to learn things from every artist I come in contact with and I am grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way.
I live in a small town and recently have had a string of success (nothing like an article in AiA or a show @ MOMA) which has actually led to a rash of artist's jealousy where artists are trying to thwart my sales and opportunities. This so very discouraging. I was naive to this aspect of success.

Deb said...

Toward the latter part of my second year in art school we were rounded up and herded into the auditorium where we sat and listened to not one but several eminent art types get the same lecture.

I distinctly recall feeling as if I was on a film dolly pulling back at a very fast rate. The overview of what I had been doing for two years became crystal clear. The red EXIT sign glowed urgently from the corner of my vision and I rushed into the street, mentally, and never returned. Sad but real.

My anger with the institution at not having had the lecture during orientation remains fresh. I supposed if they didn't take tuition off of the 99% of us who had no future in their art world in the first place they wouldn't exist.

annell said...

A wonderful post. Seems a very important topic. When is enough, enough? The question that keeps returning to me, is why do we put so much emphasis on certain things. Why do we think something so important, it breaks your heart? For me, I worked in the studio for years, and thought I was lucky to be able to work. Now after almost five decades, I am trying to do something public, and each time my work is rejected, it seems like a big hurt. I know I set myself up, for these disappointments, I think I am not as tough as I used to be. And after a while, I forget and decide something else might be nice....I think maybe other artists suffer this?

Mary Zeran said...

You are so timely in your posts. A long, long time ago, this was a HUGE issue for me. So, I solved the problem by quitting the whole art thing. Now I am back doing what I love which is making art. I try to remind myself everyday that I am so lucky to have a job that I enjoy and gives me pleasure. Believe me, I've had a lot of jobs I didn't even like. That can be a reminder of how lucky we working artists are.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

Yes, I think it is possible to appreciate and enjoy your accomplishments and still desire something more with disregarding what you have already achieved. I believe that desire is what pulls us along in life whether it is desire for a specific thing in our art life or our personnal life. Without some desire things would get pretty stale. It's about appreciation for where we are and a vision for the future..

Peggradyart said...

Can I be happy with where I'm at while still having a goal? Yes. It's the journey that matters. It's the journey that's satisfying. As soon as I've reached a goal, another takes its place and the journey continues. Perhaps I've lived long enough to appreciate the life I have while still enjoying the striving to go further.

Robin said...

Recently I started reading and learning about Zen Buddhism (probably because I have lived most of my life forgetting to appreciate all the good, positive things I have right now) and I now try to be more in the moment (key word here is "try"). Doing this allows me to appreciate what I have and focus on the positive, rather than dwelling on what I don't have. And I try so hard not to be attached to negative thoughts (rejections). It has been my ongoing challenge to truly live this way. We get piggy-like when we always want what we don't have... we do have the gift of creativity and art and that is never going to change. This attitude may not be good for business pursuits but there is a way to find a balance. Some things are out of our hands.

Anonymous said...

Every artist I know who has had their successes has either applied for it, asked for it or knew someone affiliated with it. In other words they did the work necessary to achieve the success.

If I become envious that I have not achieved a similar success, I just have to look at myself and realize that I haven't done the work necessary to achieve that goal. And I either do not want it badly enough or I need to do the work. (and again and again sometimes)

Until you reach a certain level of achievement, nothing gets handed to you. So, you have to do the work to make the achievement. Goals are just milestones on the journey. They act as motivators.

LG said...

I keep a word file called "Achievements 2010" and have done this for every year I have pursued my art career full-time. Anytime I get a little down about things, I open this up and read it. I include everything, blog features, show entries, project completions, etc. It reminds me that I have done quite a bit but have more to go. I used to practically dance around after receiving good news (got into a show, publication, etc.) but now I am pleased, usually a little "whohoo!" and then back to work. They are just another step in the ladder. After getting up the ladder a few steps, you can look up and down. I keep in mind to look up more then I look down.

Good post topic!

Wendy Wolfe Rodrigue said...

My husband is an artist and he says that the best thing that ever happened to him was his first review.

It was 1971, and he opened the Sunday newspaper with great anticipation, only to find the headlines, "Artist Paints Dreary, Monotonous Oaks" (and it got worse from there). He was devastated until he received his check a few weeks later from the sold out show. I guess people wanted to know what it was that so put off the critic and, to their surprise (and this young artist's), they liked the work in spite of her.

Since that time, he's sought to please only himself in his art and, although those goals do continuously climb, I can honestly say that he's relished and enjoyed personally each step along the way --- no matter what the outside reaction.

Bernard Klevickas said...

It is possible to retain a level of pride for past achievements and continue to push further. It is a natural element of life; a form of evolution. Like weeds and flowers artists can take root in some of the harshest soil or patch of dirt in sidewalk cracks and still grow and flower. And sometimes the flowers in the harshest places look more beautiful than those given miracle weed and tended to with gloved hands in gated gardens.

Ann L. E. Bach said...

Great post, Joanne, especially as we approach Thanksgiving. A benefit of maturity, I think, is knowing that feeling/expressing gratitude and being ambitious are not mutually exclusive....!

Anonymous said...

You can't want extraordinary success, the only thing must want is to make extraordinary work that warrants it.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous, let me guess: You went to art school in the Sixties.

David A. Clark said...

I worked for most of the first part of my career as an actor. Rejection is part of the job. If you can't handle it you should get out or get a therapist. Or enjoy being sad and disappointed all the time. I learned alot from that, and I learned early on not to evaluate myself in relation to others. That only led to depression. My job as an artist is to create the best work I possibly can and then in putting it out in the world create the best opportunities I possibly can for it to be seen. Every time I put myself out there it is a little investment in my future as an artist. Every loss is a learning experience. I have learned to celebrate my friends success. Am I competetive? Hell yes. But not at the expense of my relationships, because they are the things that last.
I have a quote on my studio wall. It reads "Great faith, Great doubt, Great determination." Words to live by.

Claudia said...

Keep focus on enjoyment of the process, which is in our control, and not on the outcome, which is not in our control. Set goals and strive for excellence, but let go of perfectionism.

Hylla said...

David Clark, as usual, touched on an important corollary to career success. To have the career but lose friendships and professional relationships because of our careless ambitions is to have less than when we started.
There are enough ways to move forward professionally without betraying the ones who helped get us going.

Anonymous said...

IT’S NEVER ENOUGH
You make a great point Joanne. Jackie Battenfield’s quote:”Compare and Despair” speaks in particular to the human condition as it applies to our mind, ego and our insecurities in relating to life and particularly to Art. Maybe thinking about accepting what is and not what might be or could have been as it relates to oneself as a person and an artist might be in order. Of course we are all guilty to some degree of desire and longing when we see what we perceive others to have accomplished and achieve. I reminded myself everyday that I am working and making art and moving toward the creative life that I aspire too and that in many ways IS ENOUGH.
Jeff Juhlin

Gwyneth Leech said...

I have seen and felt keenly those nesting dolls in myself and others. It sticks with me that even Rembrandt was a disappointed man in his old age!

So I have made a conscious effort to focus on process, on appreciating what I have achieved and on really enjoying my experience as an artist in New York City (which I just wrote about on my blog, Gwyneth’s full Brew). Being generous to other artists in their successes helps also.

I continue to set goals and work hard towards them, but I am less attached to the outcomes.

Funnily enough, the more I live this way the better things go in my career.

Debra Ramsay said...

A recent article on artist Carmen Herrera speaks to a similar point. She worked, unrecognized by the art world, for 60 years. She states now that she was thankful for the lack of recognition because of the freedom it offered her to paint what she wanted, to change styles, etc. Remarkable. I'm all for measuring success by how you feel, as the artist, about what's going on in your studio. (paying the bills is where it gets complicated)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/nov/21/carmen-herrera-artist-interview?CMP=twt_gu

n. marcus said...

Nice post!
While exhibitions and professional accomplishments are important, the work itself and your involvement with it is more important. And, how you live with your partner, family, friends, neighbors and people in general has more meaning than the results of work.

Mery Lynn said...

Wanting more and needing validation - two different aspects of art. I prefer not being content. Keeps me on my toes.

mariandioguardi.com said...

My father likes to say "everything in moderation". A liitle despair, a little success keeps me on my toes too. And when I am on my toes...I am reaching a little further.

Anonymous said...

Everyone I know considers themselves an artist. Tough way to make a living... and I for one am glad! I started painting recently for myself after years of not wanting anything to do with "art". DIY. Artist's these days need to get off their "high" horses. Art is dead... let's dig it up. Anyone is an abstract expressionist these days but nobody is a Jackson Pollack and who cares. Give me a break where is the originality in any artform anymore. The entire art world needs a Tabula Rasa that's not saying anything new. "Everyone is jumping everybody else's train". But creativity is a positive thing don't get me wrong. Art as we know it is just a thing of the past. It has all become pretty boring. Several happy(hippy) baby boomer "artists" on here though. Pass the torch it's the changing of the guard move over nobody wants your beads or tie dye. Keep your art in the commune and please don't share it with me. "Anonymous" suits a gen "X"er like me just fine... NO FUTURE!!! Blank generation... I am empty. Take a deeper look within those matryoshka dolls. Art is not about success or achievement, some of the greatest art is a result of dissapointment. You may be surprised at what the emptiness holds. Oh yeah and Joanne u and alot of the people on here seem pretty cool btw keep up the good work---VV17714M