How Do You Define Success as an Artist?

Roughly once a month, we pose questions to artists about their work and lives. We recently asked a group of artists, How do you define success, as an artist?

Ronan Noone, playwright and screenwriter
1: If I were a farrier I would like to be the farrier that is always called out to put the shoes on the horse, which means I am recognized as the best farrier in the village. Whether that will ever be the case is not as important as it being the goal to pursue – that is part of my definition of success.

2: I want to create something that gives you a feeling, that helps makes sense of the world, that puts shape on the ineffable, that is relevant, that lives beyond me – that is part of my definition of success.

3: The first layer of success, the veneer on the table is money and attention. It is a concrete goal. And in the early days it is how I measured myself and saw myself being measured. It gets in the way. Now I understand it has to do with persistence, craft and persistence – that is part of my definition of success.

4: And if people ask me what I’m working on and tell me they are looking forward to seeing it, which is maybe comparable to putting the shoes on their horse, – that is part of my definition of success.

Mary Bucci McCoy, painter
An important part of my definition of success in terms of my studio practice as a painter is making work that continually challenges and changes me, work that pushes the boundaries of my practice and opens up new possibilities. I think of every painting as an exploration; I rarely know where a painting will go when I begin. I am interested in paintings that take chances, paintings that surprise me, paintings that may even feel transgressive within the scope of my practice, because they knock my understanding of myself as a painter off-balance, and that drives the work forward. While it is critical that the work expands my knowledge in some way, I most value the paintings that give me more questions than answers: every question is potentially a painting.

Daphne Board, shoemaker
I enjoy making people comfortable. We often sacrifice physical comfort for the psychological comfort of being well-dressed and looking our best. Or, sometimes we are most comfortable being someone else entirely, inhabiting another persona or character that is entirely fantastic.The people who find me generally have very specific ideas about the kinds of shoes they want, maybe a design that has been only in their mind for years, or a kind of fit they have never experienced before. I strive to make beautiful footwear that functions well for whatever the circumstances may be. Consequently, I tend to measure success on an individual basis. Each pair of shoes is extremely important to me, each client is an individual that I enjoy getting to know, each new pair of shoes is an opportunity to build something special that has the power to transform how a person walks through their life.

Joo Lee Kang, visual artist
There’s a word – “Jangin-Jungshin” – in Korean. There’s no exact match in English, but it could be translated as “the spirit of a master,” if I try. When we say a person has “Jangin-Jungshin,” it means he does his best for the work that he believes is worth studying during his whole life. This spirit requires faith and self-discipline, and it always takes time to get there. I’m trying to have this spirit of a master when it comes to my art. Exploring persistently for my work and also having flexible thinking to look around are the qualities I picture for being a success as an artist.

Karen Skolfield, poet
My last six months have been a true embarrassment of riches: a book published, the MCC grant, the Split This Rock poetry prize, and most recently, the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry. I’m over the moon. I find myself giggling at inappropriate moments. But yesterday, an astute journalist asked me, “So what’s the opposite of that? What does a lack of success look like?” I realized it’s not a lack of publishing or awards – I truly believe that so much of this is due to having my manuscript or application or book in the hands of the right readers. Slippery luck. There’s so much great writing out there, and I expect that I will only occasionally get to ring the bell.

When he asked, I understood that the opposite of success for me is not the lack of awards but the absence of writing. I went through nearly 10 years of writing very little, of forgetting the rush of a successful line. I’m so grateful to be back, writing. The awards and publications nudge me toward more writing, more success with writing’s joys.

Daphne Board is a custom shoemaker, a Certified Pedorthist, and a 2014 MCC Traditional Arts Finalist.

Joo Lee Kang is artist-in residence at Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing in April-May, 2014, and she has upcoming exhibits at Gallery NAGA in Sep. 2014 and at the Museum of Art, University of New Hampshire in Oct.-Dec. 2014.

Mary Bucci McCoy has a solo exhibition of new paintings at Kingston Gallery in Boston, 4/2-4/27, reception 4/4, 5:30-8 PM.

Ronan Noone‘s play The Second Girl will be part of the Huntington Theatre’s 2014/2015 season. The Accident, a live-action short he wrote, is an Official Selection for the Boston International Film Festival, premiering 4/15, 6 PM at AMC/Loews Boston Common and screening again at the Montclair Film Festival. His short play S****y Neighbors is part of the Boston Theater Marathon on 5/11.

Karen Skolfield‘s poetry collection Frost in the Low Areas will receive the 2014 PEN/New England Book Award for poetry on 4/6, 2 PM, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Images: Mary Bucci McCoy, AFTER ALL (2012), acrylic on plywood, 10x6x1 in; women’s derby shoes by Daphne Board; Joo Lee Kang, BOUQUET OF NATURE #2 (2011), Ballpoint pen on paper, 55×85 in.

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2 Responses to “How Do You Define Success as an Artist?”

  1. Roberta Kalechofsky Says:

    Love Daphne’s shoes. Does she work in non-leather?

  2. Sandra Storey Says:

    Success as an Artist
    Hearing someone at a microphone quote from one of my poems to illustrate a point.
    Having students at local community college request a copy of one of my poems to put in their bulletin board for National Poetry Month.

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