When I make things, whether I’m scribbling a poem or finishing a painting, I struggle with two different standards: mine and everyone else’s. I think this is a major struggle for artists of any kind. I often say I am content with calling a work finished and beautiful so long as I like it. However, this is much harder to do in practice than to say it. When I started making artwork, I measured my success by the standards of others, much as we do with everything we learn. How do you know you are good at something or if you are doing it right at all? You ask someone else, most often someone who has done it and is known for being good at it. So I’ve learned almost everything I know about art in this way: I make things, and I ask others along the way if I’m doing well and how I can make my things better. At what point, then, do we as the artist become the judge of our own work? When are we “good enough” at what we do to decide for ourselves if our work has value? When we graduate? When we receive validation from professors? When we sell our first work?
My artwork might not be understood by everyone, but if it looks the way I had envisioned and it speaks to me, is it good enough? I would like to think that yes, it is. Obviously, I am not an expert, but I resonant with innumerable poems and works of art that are not widely known and that many other people dislike. When I see something or hear something that reminds me of my life, of my emotions, of me, I see value in the person and the work that could convey that shared experience to me. I like to think that my work has value as long as one other person can look at it and say, “Yes, that makes perfect sense to me. I know exactly how you’re feeling.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that I will be successful as an artist. Unfortunately, selling one piece of art or one book to the ideal person does not an artist make.
The question that follows is what does success look like for you? Is it enough to just put yourself out there and sell a few things to the people that really understand and appreciate them, or do you want validation by the broader public that you are doing well at what you do? It might seem simple that this is the base question that you should ask yourself when judging your own work, but it’s a question worth thinking about. My opinions and my answers change with what I’m working on, and they have changed a lot over the years. With my answers, my work has also changed. When I let go of some of the expectations I knew other people held me to, I discovered new perspectives and techniques that I hadn’t dared to discover before. In that sense, I think everyone needs to set up a time when they decide that good enough for them is good enough. However, I think the question of what success is can help you decide who you’re working for and answer my original question: whose opinion matters most to you?
Samantha Grody, Opus Art Editor