I think anyone who chases an artistic endeavour has contemplated “why” he or she is doing it. I’m also pretty sure if I asked a thousand people I’d probably get a thousand different answers. However, I’d also be willing to guess that if I really analyzed those answers they could probably be condensed down to a couple of basic concepts or thoughts:
A) To make money
B) For the love of the medium and the creative pursuit
Based on those basic concepts , I’m sure the level of an artist’s success will be measured by some metric of those ideas, both by themselves and by others. “If I sell my music, photograph or painting and make $XX, then my work, and subsequently I personally will be successful”. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, “If I can create something that adequately conveys my vision, regardless of money, then I’ll be successful”. I know several people who fall into each of these categories, just as I’m sure we all do.
Based on my own experience as a creative, I find there is another metric I prefer, which is sort of an offshoot of concept B.
Let me first be clear that I am not a full-time, professional photographer who makes my living in the photography world. While I do occasionally sell some of my photos and have accepted paying photo “assignments” here and there, I more consider myself an incredibly passionate photography enthusiast and a perpetual student of the art. If I were to stretch a little, maaaaaybe I could say I’m a part-time-second-chair-alternate-semi-professional-photographer. Basically, I love photography, love learning about all things photography, love looking at and studying photography and love finding new places and cultures to explore and new places to ski or mountain bike with the desire to take more photographs and get better with the camera.
I’m constantly asked how much money I make with my photos, and sometimes even told I don’t sell them for enough. The reality is I know I’m measured as a photographer to most people based on what I sell and how much I sell it for, but I refuse to fall into that trap. What I want to say (of course I never would because I’m too passive) is just look at my photo and enjoy it, or not. Buy it or don’t. I’ll love it if YOU love it, but if you don’t, please be nice and just move on to something you do like.
I respect that not everyone will like my work! Hell, I myself don’t even like some of the work I’ve done! Not every author will make the New York Times Best Seller List, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of authors out there producing incredible work…but aren’t on that list. Art is subjective, period.
To that point, I honestly find the most success I feel about my work is when I receive a random positive reaction to something I’ve produced. It doesn’t matter whether they buy it or not. It’s worth a million dollars to me that they took the time to look at it, to actually think about it, and maybe it even made them feel a certain way. To create something that can evoke emotion in another human being is truly touching a soul, even if it’s your own.
That’s the point, and that’s my definition of success.