My bedtime reading this week has been a book called 'The Goldmine Effect' by Rasmus Ankersen, an ex-professional footballer and performance specialist. The book is essentially about how, in the end, success comes down to who wants it most. Thus it beautifully answers many of the questions that I am frequently asked about how to succeed as an artist.
Over and over again I hear the question "what should I do to become a successful artist?" Ha! I wish I knew! It's taken me almost nine years since leaving art college to get where I am now, and although I guess I have achieved a great deal, I definitely haven't reached a pinnacle of success by any stretch of the imagination! I have a long way to go yet; there's certainly no magic formula to make the route easier either. One thing I do know though is that although I may have been blessed with a degree of talent, most of my gains have come about through brute determination and hard work. I have a huge drive to succeed, period.
If I look around at all the other creative professions such as graphic designers, architects etc, I see them working flat out to grow their small businesses into something successful. Those that don't will fail, for competition within those fields is stiff. I am a creative professional, so count myself as operating on the same playing field. It is considered entirely normal for any other creative profession to work at least a forty hour week to achieve success, and I have always believed that I must too in order to succeed as an artist. And so I make sure I work for a minimum of 8 hours every day, and usually chalk up over 40 working hours every week. Not only does this further my career, but it also enables me to develop my technical skill set. I don't expect to gain unless I put in the hard work.
When reading 'The Goldmine Effect’ it was good to find my thoughts echoed. Rasmus talks a great deal about the consensus of idea that in order to gain true mastery of a skill, whether sport, art or anything else, the amount of training required to become world class is 10,000 hours. This is the equivalent to putting in 2 hours and 40 minutes every day for ten years: the Ten Years Rule. Thus "high performance (success) is first and foremost a choice that you can make, as long as you are willing to invest in what it takes". So, the fact that I've been working professionally as an artist for almost nine years now means that I have surely clocked up my 10,000 hours of practice. In fact, with my 8 hour days I must be well over. This seems to corroborate the fact that the last couple of years have been my most successful ever. It's not only my practical artistic skills which I have honed, but also the arts-based training side of my practice and my business skills; all of these have finally begun to add up, meaning my art is at last en route to becoming truly successful.
Further on in the book Ankersen says "it seems that anyone who thinks that talent means that success will come quickly or easily is setting themselves up to be disappointed." Well sure, I agree. In addition, surely success is twice as sweet because of the effort you have put in to get there, and the knowledge and life skills you have learnt along the way? It's easy to become disheartened and think we'll never attain the levels of success of those 'talented' individuals we see around us. But "when we are convinced that we see raw, innate talent, we are in reality simply seeing 10,000 hours of training consumed at a very early stage in a person's life." This means that to be a successful artist we mustn't give up. We must paint more, create more, become more fully immersed in all aspects of our practice and build up our own 10,000 hours. Unfortunately though, as Ankersen points out, "it's no good having 10,000 training hours... if your competitors have 20,000... How much effort and how many hours you are going to have to practice to become the best are defined by your market. In many markets, it takes 10,000 hours of preparation to win because most people give up after 5,000 hours. In other markets where the rewards for succeeding are huge and the competition ruthless, the number is probably closer to 20,000 or more."
Wise words indeed, and so very true. How many artists do you know of who have got tired of the struggle to make something of themselves, and given up to get a 'real' job with regular pay cheque? Perhaps all they needed for success was a little more persistence and practice, and a little less impatience. You must focus on your long-term goal; the route to the top is never going to be easy otherwise everyone would be there already.
So I guess this is the best advice I can give to any artist who is desperate to succeed: There's no magic formula; no group or society you can join which will instantly put your art in front of the big galleries; no recipe for success. All I can advise is to keep going, to network with as many people as possible, to have a strong online presence, learn as much as you can, and above all, to spend as much time honing your craft as possible. I can honestly say that the progression of my career has been one of the most difficult, frustrating, satisfying, exhilarating and rewarding things I have ever done. From a self-conscious, shy art student I have now become a confident business person who counts art as just as one of my many skills. And this in itself is a great success.