The other day while I was perusing Facebook, I saw one of my students post up a diatribe on how some artists are getting recognition for work that isn’t “that” great, while other artists who can do better are not getting the recognition they deserve. Her short post included reasons she believed as to why some artists were successful and the rest, aren’t – which involved the former knowing more people and for being good at kissing ass (which might not have been her exact words, but that was what was implied). She was also criticising how other people do not recognise good work if it hit them on the head.
She was a smart student, and this concern of hers was something I’ve encountered more than once. I promptly told her to stop and think for a moment and gave my reasons why. The post was deleted a while later, but I kept thinking about it. I was unsettled.
It’s easy to watch other people’s success and then whinge about your lack of it.
“She’s not as good as me, but why is she getting all the publicity?”
“His grades were lower than mine when we were at school but he’s showing at a gallery now?”
“That group’s stuff is just so-so, but why are so many people flocking to their stall?”
It’s one thing to whine about how other people may be successful, but it’s another to assume that they managed it under suspicious circumstances. “Oh, they must know someone”, or “I think they must have gotten the gig in return for another favour [sic]*”
That, is not cool at all. Unless it’s true. However, if it is, then it’s now gossiping instead of being judgemental – both of which won’t do you much good in the long run anyway.
“The famous ones know more people.”
While not all of your assumptions are wrong, thinking along this line of thought is destructive and quite frankly, mean. My retort to those who bemoan how well-connected successful artists is my usual: “So, what have you been doing to know more people?” That usually just ends with them stammering about how they lack family connections that would lead them up the higher rung of the social ladder, blah, blah, blah. Because, you know – there’s no way they could have gotten there on their own.
It’s easy to complain about how well others have it, and while sometimes a good rant is just that – it would be much more constructive if you’d ask them how they got to where they were instead. Yes. The good old asking-a-question trick. Heck, it’s not even a trick, really. Not if it’s done without malice and snark, and politely with a dose of old fashioned curiosity. Their answer might really surprise you. Underneath it all, artists are people too – and yes, that goes to those who are successful as well. From what I know, the ones who are successful have great tips, stories and advice to share, that it would be such a waste to let one’s ego get in the way of finding out what really happened along their journey.
But what if someone by a stroke of luck has a great network care of their parents/relatives/friends/school? It happens, and while that may leave others seething with jealousy; remember that the artist also needs to make it work. Maybe they’re embarrassed about it. Or maybe they’d prefer not to have the leg up, but circumstances made it hard to say no. Maybe they don’t deserve it. Maybe they do. There’s all sorts of reasons, many of them have nothing to do with you. And so, let’s not begrudge others for their good luck – rather, it would be more fruitful to engineer some luck of your own.
“But I’m better than he/she is.”
If you believe your work is great and that you’re an undiscovered genius – good for you. Anyone can call (or think of) themselves as the greatest talents to ever walk the earth. However, what other people think of you might very well be otherwise. Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t believe in yourself; on the contrary. Being a genius (or any other compliments for that matter) is something that others bestow onto you; which would make it undoubtedly more meaningful. Sort of like how giving yourself a trophy is kind of sad.
If you believe all the work you do is great, how else would you learn? If everything you created was a work of art (critics be damned), how would you know the good from bad? As a student, where does it end? A healthy ego is necessary to be a great artist, but to have an inflated one from the onset does not bode well for you – it gets in the way of learning (which should never end even if you’re successful) and it also gets in the way of getting to know more people (because you might end up being a jerk who thinks he’s right all the time).
So what can you do?
Fear not – to rid you of your judgemental and egotistical streak (hey, it happens to the best of us!) I have a 7-step program that I recommend heartily. Doing the below will significantly up your goodwill karma and results can show in as little as a month or it might take as long as 5 years for great results. Mileage will vary according to how hard you work:
- Be nice.
- Ask others for advice, don’t assume or judge.
- Ask for constructive feedback for your work.
- Listen for feedback and try them out – if it doesn’t fit, discard and repeat.
- Reach out to other people who you think might like your work. (Bonus points if you have something to say or a story to share)
- Say hello a lot.
- Be nice.
Rinse and repeat.
Try it and see for yourself. Not everyone made it through having connections. Most of the time they’ve worked really hard and worked smart by reaching out to people who in turn helped them. There’s a lot of things that could have happened in between that’s compounded by luck and timing too.
So in short – the road to success looks something like this (mind you, this is very simplified):
(talent x hard work)a + (luck + timing)b + helpc = successx
Note: With all of the above, the variation of success is subjective, and is wholly dependent on the effort put in (a) & (c) and factors beyond our control (b) in the equation.
Thoughts? Share them with me in the comments! And if you want to read what 39 other artists have to say about experiencing jealousy/envy, here’s a free download of the PDF copy of issue #6 of the Good to Know project!