Find the satisfaction
(Image from the Internet).
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?