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  • sharmondavidson

Art and Success

me at my solo art exhibit

Me at my solo show at Chaddock-Morrow Gallery, Athens' Ohio

JANUARY 17, 2023

"Success is when I touch someone's heart with what I do."

"I would earn enough from my artwork to continue to paint what inspires me and is meaningful to me."  ~ Anonymous artist

What is Success in Art?

This question has been nagging at me for some time now. Partly, it's because I'm often reminded that my art career doesn't quite line up with most people's idea of success. I'll try to explain.

Do you ever get questions or comments like these?

  1. "You're so talented, I don't know why you don't sell more."

  2. "I'm sure you'll be 'discovered' soon."

  3. "I wish you could be more successful."

  4. "Have you sold anything lately?"

Not Taking it Personally

publicity photo for Flight 3-person show Covington Arts

Publicity photo for Flight, three-person exhibit at Covington Arts Gallery

I suppose these well-meaning people are trying to be supportive, and are unaware of how their remarks make me feel. I also have to take into account that they really have no idea how things work in the art world. Popular belief gives them the impression that all successful artists are rich and famous. They don't realize that there are lots and lots of artists making a living from their art who are neither rich nor famous, and they're fine with that.

I've never had any desire to be famous, but would I like to make a living selling my work? Sure!  But does the fact that I don't rake in huge amounts of money mean I'm a failure? The answer to that question lies in how you define success as an artist.

Above, a few invitations to various exhibits I've been part of.

"So many of you, and rightfully so, are concerned about the financial side of the success conversation. I know that you didn’t get into your career as an artist for the money, nobody would choose this profession with that goal. Unfortunately, our society often propagates the idea that our income level is tied to our worth or value."  ~Antrese Wood, The Savvy Painter

Am I a Failure?

When people make those comments referring to my lack of success, I find myself wondering: Am I really a failure as an artist? And what exactly constitutes success in art? How do I know if I'm a success or not?

With feelings of insecurity and self-doubt growing ever larger and louder inside my head, I begin to take stock of anything on the positive side of the scale. I show my work in about five to seven group exhibitions a year on average, I tell myself. I've even gotten enough recognition that many of them are invitational - meaning I don't have to apply to be in them. I've had solo shows, and even won awards. My work has been published on several book covers, in many books and magazines, and even used on a wine lable.

A few examples of books/magazines that have published my work.

Bragging or Whining

Before I go on, I think I should clarify my purpose. I'm not bragging about my accomplishments here. I'm just saying that I've done more than nothing - certainly not as much as some artists, and probably more than others. My husband was dead set against me writing this post, which he saw as "whining". I hope it doesn't come off that way, because that wasn't my intention, either.

In a prior post, I promised that I was going to be honest, and write what I really feel. For one thing, I have no use for bullshit, and neither do you. I believe these things need to be discussed, even if they're painful and difficult. Because it's pretty likely that I'm not the only one that's wrestling with these questions. If that's so, then what I write here might help other artists to get a handle on this.


"...all signs point to a reality in which no artist, no matter how famous or successful, spends 100 percent of their time on their art, nor do they earn 100 percent of their income from their art alone over the course of their entire career..."   ~ Alexis Clements 

view of my solo show at Chaddock-Morrow Gallery

A shot from my solo show at the Chaddock-Morrow Gallery in Athens, OH

How We Measure It

As usual, I have many more questions than answers. There are no rulers, scales, or devices that can measure how successful an artist is. Sure, we can look up who the top-selling artists are. Quantity is measurable, and we often equate money with success. But I also know there are those who would argue that money (i.e. quantity) does not necessarily equal quality, particularly in art.

Recently, the words of artist and writer Mark Edward Adams really struck a chord with me (link to article below). He writes,"The process of selling art involves a myriad of variables....Many artists tend to put the blame for low sales on their artistic ability without considering the larger picture.  It is easy for an artist to feel like a failure when they judge themselves purely on sales."

me giving a talk at art exhibit

Me giving a brief talk at an exhibit at the Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington

"You really have no control over whether you will be successful as a creative person or not. It’s a weird mix of discipline and luck, and it doesn’t always make sense. But, there is a solution to all this: We can change our definition of success."         ~Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios


I don't believe we can judge the success of other artists, only of ourselves. That's because each artist has their own definition of success. What it comes down to, in the end, is intention.

It makes sense that we judge ourselves successful when we achieve what we have set out to do. What do we intend our art to do? Not all artists set the same goals, or make art for the same reasons. Here are just a few of the many views on success, as articulated by artists:

"My definition of success is first and foremost having the opportunity and time to make artwork that interests me, that I find personally challenging and gratifying."              ~ Johanna Goodman

"For me, success means the freedom and ability to make work that holds profound creative interest, rather than feeling bound by necessity, obligations, fear, and other limiting beliefs."                ~ Jennifer Wen Ma

shot of my solo show in Richmond VA

shot from my solo show in Richmond, VA

"You are a successful artist if you make work that pleases you, that challenges you, that lifts your spirit and raises you up. You are an artist if your work does that for other people, too. If your art expresses something deep in you, and you put it out in the world, and it changes someone, something, even if you can’t see it--you are a successful artist." ~ Luann Udell

"Having a consistent income from selling originals, to a growing list of enthusiastic collectors."  ~Anonymous artist

front outside of Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen Gallery in Berea, KY

Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen Gallery in Berea, KY

"Success to me is finding/creating the time, space, and conditions to thoroughly explore your vision. Once you have achieved this and are ready to take it into the world you have succeeded. From there, there are just so many variables beyond your control." ~ Alvin Eng

"I became an artist because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people.... I view the artist as a modern day shaman. My primary motivation was about connecting as many people as possible."                        ~ Mark Edward Adams

me with my artwork at Art After Hours Exhibit

Me at Art After Hours exhibit

What Success Means to Me

On my former website's home page, I stated my intention to reveal the underlying unity and connectedness of everything in the universe: "Art is a form of communication, and my message of interconnection is more important in today’s world than ever."  If I'm able to get my work in front of people, and it affects them at all, I consider myself successful. 

monotype of dead bird on a vine bleeding rubies

Sacrifice, monotype with mixed media on paper, 22.5 x 15 inches

If I only cared about sales, I probably wouldn't be making pieces like the recently completed Sacrifice, above. I've been told there are many other subjects that would sell better, and I'm sure that's true. I need to be able to remain true to my vision; to me, that is a key part of success as an artist.


How do you define success as an artist? I really would love to hear from you and find out what you think, so please share your comments below.  I sincerely hope you all are able to attain success, dear friends, in whatever endeavor and by whatever defintion you choose.

And, of course, I wish you peace, love, and art...

References and Further Reading


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