This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
In Part 1 of the Big City Success for the Small Town Artist series I discussed how moving to New York City-- or any large city for that matter-- based on big dreams alone is not exactly the most rational choice to make. In fact, the reality of city life-- specifically the ease in which one can find himself or herself in a constant prison of debt simply by trying to get by-- can potentially limit the directions an artist can go with his or her art. Moving to any large city with hopes of becoming the next "art star" is a reckless venture. Success in New York, Chicago, Miami-- any large city-- is not easy. In many ways big city success in art is a myth when one considers how few have 'made it' in those locations. Which brings us to Part 2 -- and why I feel that focusing on regional success is best if you want to have a foundation before moving to an art world hub-- NYC for example-- or even if you choose to avoid those big scenes altogether.
I realize that some individual within the art world-- specifically the contemporary art world-- like to take jabs at the suggestion of regional success unless said success is focused within the context of a larger art scene, so to speak. The idea that New York and other notable cultural hubs are the only regions that matter is largely based on art world myths, the very vocal art communities that support those regions, and the general attitude of city dwellers in general. Thus, an artist will serve himself or herself well by not playing into the art myths, hype, or pride of a specific art scene.
Don't get me wrong-- there is nothing wrong with being vocal and having pride for ones art community. However, to suggest that a specific city-- or region for that matter-- is the end all, be all of art is narrow-minded considering that we live in an age fueled by the Internet, global connections, and an art world that is shifting in regards to the limitations of decades past. Point blank-- artists should not enslave themselves to the pride and dictations of others. Be open-minded about success-- and realize that the success found a few miles away is just as sweet as success found elsewhere. Not to mention that success found online is gaining merit with each passing year. It all depends on your mind-set-- and in some cases unlearning what you have learned about what it means to be successful as an artist.
It is important for artists who do not live near specific cultural hubs-- New York for example-- to not allow themselves to be disheartened by what boils down to commercially driven dictations of what success in art can and should be. You can be successful in your own right-- within the comfort of your own 'stomping grounds'. There is nothing wrong with seeking regional success-- local art gallery exhibits, local museum opportunities, and so on-- no matter where you live. Taking advantage of regional opportunities instead of falling to the dictations of others can be very empowering. Not to mention that regional success can open doors for success elsewhere-- even the myth filled art scene of New York City.
Think of it this way-- locations associated with being driving forces within the art market have problems of their own. For example, opportunities in New York are often so grid-locked that many artists-- based on what I've read, heard, and experienced-- are starting to leave New York in order to discover success elsewhere. Does that mean that those artists create 'bad art'? No. Does that mean that those artists create art that does not 'fit' in NYC? Not necessarily. It means that they are re-defining what success means to them-- and finding their own path. They have unlearned what they have learned about success in art. I'll add that it takes courage to fly in the face of what we-- as artists-- have been conditioned to think as far as success is concerned.
Rats in a maze eventually find the way out-- at least one would hope. Why run the same circles that lead nowhere if you can find a direction elsewhere? Why stay in the rat race, so to speak, if the rules of winning are strictly defined and obviously stacked against you? Going to where the odds are less stacked against you is a rational-- and dare I say, professional-- decision to make. Success is success no matter how you try to slice it-- and every artist wants a piece of that cheese. Does it matter where it comes from after the day is done? My point-- don't ever allow yourself to think that your accomplishments are less simply because they did not happen within a big art scene. Furthermore, don't be afraid to carve out your own path.
I personally feel that artists need to start thinking more rationally about 'art success' in general. This is not an issue of defeat or triumph in regards to commonly held opinions that are rooted in viewpoints of what success in art means. This is about discovering for oneself that success can't be boxed-in with clearly defined rules-- or set geographic boundaries. There are many ways to define success for oneself just as there will always be limitations in regards to success in general. If you take the 'sky is the limit' approach to success you will eventually find that there are limits no matter where you cultivate success for yourself. Am I being negative? I don't think so. I'm being realistic-- rational.
Seeking regional success in your area is not something to laugh at-- even if your New York friends chuckle. True, some individuals will not take you seriously unless you have gained strictly defined success based on specific locations-- but chances are those same individuals have limited themselves as well as their considerations. In other words, should you bother to take said individuals seriously knowing that they have a narrow view of success-- and most likely of art as well? Why burden yourself with their assumptions and insecurities? That is something to think about.
Success is success-- and the only person who should define success for you is YOU. Part of that involves re-defining what success means to you. It involves looking beyond the social conditioning that you have likely endured in respect to art from a very early age. We are told that an artist must do this, that, or the other-- and yet many artists have done it all in those specific big city locations and we still don't recognize their names. Thus, we should not allow strict definitions of what success in art means to control us. We should be content with success when and if-- as well as where-- it happens. Furthermore, we should not allow the idea-- the desire for-- success to become the end-all-be-all of our art practice.
One important consideration to think about-- we should not allow success to be placed above the art we create. We should define success for ourselves-- but not allow success to define who we are as artists. It is common to hear artists talk about their desire for success in some corner of the art world while ignoring the very work that harbors success-- that being, the art they create. Professional accolades are enjoyable to experience-- but they don't create 'great' art. In other words, praise does not pick up the brush-- YOU do. No matter where you are do try to remember that! I know that many FineArtViews readers are painters-- remember that YOU create your paintings... all the past praise and awards in the world won't matter if you slack off in the studio.
In closing, no matter where you live you will find art opportunities-- and if you can't find them... make them. If an art scene does not exist in your area-- establish one. Even the New York art scene had a humble start. Carve out your own path-- and be content when you receive praise. An admirer of your art 'back home' is just as important as an admirer from somewhere else. You may never have your artwork exhibited at a large art museum in a big city-- but you may find your work exhibited at a smaller museum 'back home'. Don't downplay regional success based on big city opinions, hype, and stereotypes. Don't belittle admiration based on art myths in general--and don't allow admiration to blind your artistic direction overall.
Take care, Stay true,