Via that double-edged sword, Facebook, I have been back in touch with some people who have moved on to bigger and brighter things from the time when I first knew them. Artists who have made it big, or at least, bigger than me. In one case, the artist is part of the stable of artists in one of New York's best known galleries. His shows are regularly reviewed by the New York Times and he has recently been appearing on a new TV reality show that is supposedly about finding the next, hot artist. At one time, we were very close. Indeed we shared a studio apartment (platonically, I feel compelled to add), which is about as close as it gets. We had bunk beds. I got the upper.
It was utterly not surprising that he has become so successful as an artist. In fact, it was quite clear from early on in our art school career that, if any of us was going to "make it", then it would be him. Why? Because he had the will to make it happen in a way that none of the rest of us did. For a time, that will to make it happen included shutting people out who said things that made him uncomfortable (um, that would be me). Although it felt very tumultuous at the time, I can look back and say that it made sense and was for the best - we were headed very different places. It has been nice to reconcile with him via Facebook. It is fascinating to have that window into his life and observe what he does for a living.
When I look at my acquaintances who are the most successful as artists, all of them have, at one time or another, dumped people who were getting in the way of their singular vision of themselves by mentioning things that disrupted that vision (oops, me again).
Writing this, I can't help but wonder...why am I such an asshole? Always out there reminding people of their human frailties. Who needs that?
Anyway, my original question was whether it is possible to achieve success in the art world (a separate thing from being a successful artist, which can have so many meanings) and still be a nice person - whatever that is, having just proved that I, myself, am not so very nice. Is it a prerequisite that one be able to cast aside those who raise doubts or are otherwise hindering the trajectory. Maybe the art world isn't so different, after all, from any other high stakes, business career path: to make it in that way requires certain abilities and if you ain't got'em, then here's the door.
It is so easy to get caught up in our romantic notions about artists. It is easy to forget that business skills - skills that require a mind that is sharp, subtle and calculating - are as critical to success as any technical ability or imaginative power. While I do believe with all my heart that two of the secrets to success as an artist are being prompt and saying "thank you", if you are headed for the big time, there are other forces at play. It is not so mysterious.
Now, if you want to read about what it is like to actually make art successfully, check out zendotstudio for a lovely quote from John Daido Loori's book Zen and the Art of Creativity.
I am curious to hear your thoughts about art and success. It is, ultimately, such a personal thing. Is my old friend any more or less successful for being so financially successful with his art? I am certain he thinks of himself as nice, and why shouldn't he? So what am I really on about anyway?