artist’s way: week ten

Working as an emerging artist can create a slightly problematic situation.  It’s difficult to get noticed in a career where the standard for success is completely arbitrary among a seemly limitless mass of other artists, who have their own styles and talents.  It’s a struggle to obtain interest for my work from galleries, critics, publishers, and more established artists because I’m not well known.  In turn, I’m not a well known because few people have taken notice. This leads to the inquiry—is certain level of fame necessary to thrive as an artist?  Of course, this leads to a follow-up question—how exactly does one define fame?

“Fame is not the same as success, and in our true souls we know that.”
–Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

It’s tumultuous and it’s hard. • Visual Journal spread• Carly Swenson

Cameron briefly discusses fame in Week Ten.  Because of this nagging dilemma in attempting to establish myself as an artist; the concept of fame and defining success are frequently in the back of my mind.  I’ve never been one to define my existence or success on a desire to be famous.  However, I do believe fame in the art world does not necessarily equal fame to the general public.  Famous actors and athletes are essentially household names, while plenty of artists who are very well known and respected in art circles can remain basically unknown to the majority of the population.  I think I prefer it that way.

Many of my non-artistically inclined acquaintances generally smile politely when they hear I am an artist.  This is often followed by a slightly condescending laugh and a casual comment essentially explaining:  It’s too bad you have chosen a silly career path where you’ll inevitably have no success until you are dead.   They’re speaking under the assumption that fame and success cannot be achieved until an artist dies penniless, alone, and probably slightly insane—and on rare occasion, with the removal of a facial appendage.  I can’t fault them, it’s a prevalent misconception.  

But it’s still disappointing to hear–repeatedly.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several artists who are successful and still alive including, Chuck Close, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Ai Weiwei, Jenny Holtzer, Damien Hirst, Banksy, Kara Walker, and Christo.  In turn, I know of other artist who are now deceased, but were also successful during their lifetimes (although, admittedly probably more famous now that they are un-alive) including, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Francis Bacon, and Lucian Freud.  Of course, this doesn’t even begin to cover the many, many artists who have successful art careers but haven’t obtained mainstream media coverage, been published in contemporary textbooks, or been sought after for solo exhibitions in highly regarded galleries–yet they still maintain a comfortable living with their art.

no. 74
no. 74: …with enough feeling • Visual Journal spread • Carly Swenson

A couple years ago, I had a revelation regarding my artistic pursuits.  I’d sent many submissions off into the world.  Rejection letters and emails tend to filter in more frequently than acceptance letters. While I know it’s probably not advantageous to emphasize my rejections, I don’t want to pretend that being an artist is easy (and I want to be honest).

Anyway, on that chilly grey English morning, I opened my inbox received three rejection emails (not an ideal way to start a day).  I thought to myself, “Alright, so how many of these am I going to get before I decide it is time give up?” Almost as soon as the question crossed my mind, I realized—that I wasn’t going be giving up—this conviction was a surprising insight.  I hadn’t really realized my true dedication until this random morning.  I can get rejected 5 times (and have), I can get rejected 28 times (and have), or I can get rejected 2,032 times. The point is, I’m committed to this.  Art is an innate part of me.  I just can’t imagine not pursuing art. Over the past few years, I’ve grown a lot, which has allowed me to identify what I want to achieve with my life, my art, my career, and a willingness to work intently to achieve those objectives.  I’m not striving for fame. I’m striving for success.

“Yet, focusing on fame—on whether we are getting enough—creates a continual feeling of lack”
—Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

At this point, I feel it’s important to recognize that I am lucky to have a supportive spouse, family, and loyal friends.  My blog has also gained several very kind and supportive followers.  I’m very grateful. Seriously, I don’t know if each of you realize how happy and honored I am that you take time out of your day to read my posts and view my artwork.  Your support, comments, likes, ideas, constructive critiques mean the world to me.  

I mean it, you–reading this right now–thank you.

7 Replies to “artist’s way: week ten”

  1. I read recently that Lichtenstein spent 80 per cent of his time promoting his work. He was famous and successful during his lifetime. Food for thought about our artistic practice, perhaps.

    Happy New Year
    (Stay naked but keep the ears)!



    1. That made me happy the “stay naked, but keep the ears”, I love it. Now that you mentioned it, I think I remember hearing something like that about Lichtenstein. It is crazy that as an artist there is so much more than goes into working AS an artist than just making art. If only the rest of it were anywhere near as fun.:)


  2. I agree with Rosie. Don’t ever give up. I have a blog with 3 other chicks and one of them has submitted her writing to different publishers and have received rejection letter but she does not care. She just keeps writing and not worrying so much about if the book is going to be published or not. She would love the book to be published but it’s more about that she is doing what she love most and it has changed her life in a powerful way. We are going through the Walking In This World with Julia Cameron. Come check our site


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