What do you mean by “Success”? by Andy Cooperman

For this post, Andy Cooperman is the guest author for ASK Harriete. In response to recent posts, online discussion and conversations related to the Professional Development Seminar, Andy Cooperman asks all of us, "What do you mean by "Success"? You are welcome to post your comments in response.

Note: The opinions expressed by the author, Andy Cooperman, in this post are his and his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is intended or implied.

A friend and colleague once offered this bit of wisdom (I paraphrase): “It’s not always about making a living in Craft. It’s really about making a life in Craft”. This is certainly to a degree true-- and validating. But recent posts have got me thinking about what we mean when we say “making a living”, “supporting ourselves” or simply “making it” as a craftsperson, maker or artist. I am curious about what we mean when we talk about being a successful artist. ..

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Comment by Stevie B. on April 1, 2010 at 2:33pm
Now this is a question I find difficult to answer because the answer seems to change with time.

When I first started success was getting my work into a book.
Then it changed to getting into a gallery.
Then it changed again, this time getting my work into a museum.
Then it changed to sales...Making enough $ so my work fully supported my lifestyle & to be in the studio full time.

Then recently, after a really good day in the studio, the meaning of success changed to something much simpler...Happiness.
If I am able to get in the studio (no matter for how long),
And I am able to make (no matter the works final destination),
Then I am happy.

And if I am happy, what do I care about success?
Comment by Luana Coonen on January 12, 2010 at 4:15am
To me, success is just living up to your own dreams or expectations, or coming damn near close. With so many options in this life, it is easy to wander down the wrong path (for me, that was working full time in the fashion industry). In the eyes of others, you can be considered successful due to job status, acquired skills, and stable finances. Yet, if you are unsatisfied in your heart, you will never see this in your own eyes. Once you begin to achieve your own goals, no matter how trivial they are, or unimportant in the eyes of others, this is when you begin to feel truly successful. Success is an emotion, making it difficult to mark by events, status, or money. I would say it comes in moments, when you feel confident and satisfied in the decisions you make in your life, whether sitting at the bench or not.
Comment by Roger Rimel on January 9, 2010 at 10:02am
I have worked as a bench jeweler and designer for 30 years. I learned my craft in a guild style apprentice setting,one that doesn't really exist in the U.S. any longer. I also continually maintained a studio at home and in limited time produced work for galleries and fairs. Since my background was not academic ,I did not have social connections and my technical vocabulary was different and always felt as though my knowledge and artistic development was somehow less or incomplete. At times I have felt working steadily as a goldsmith in someways hindered my evolution as an artist and diminished my energy for studio work. In addition there was always opportunity to freelance which provided extra income,but at the same time restricted my time for personal growth. Gradually, I have come to realize that there has been an important dialogue happening between my technical bench work and my studio work and even more recently I have understood the gift of having a life devoted to craft . In addition, it does not matter how much time or energy I have l remaining for art,but rather that I have continued to create work produced in my studio and no matter how much time I have, it is never enough to make all the ideas I imagine. My "success" has become a life working in craft, making art and continuing the long tradition of a maker. Sometimes what we do is just work,sometimes it becomes art, and like Picasso once said," Inspiration exists,but it must find you working".
Comment by Chihiro Makio on January 4, 2010 at 10:14pm
It's so nice to hear what everyone thinks of this very basic question. Having no backup saving or a financially supportive husband, I've always had to "make a living" no matter what i did. Since I started selling my work, I separated the "business" and "art" in my head so that I can pay the bills by selling my production lines and make one-of-a-kind pieces for fun. Somewhere along the line they eventually merged and now I make one of a kind and its spin-off limited editions. A moment that I feel "successful" is that when I pay my rent and monthly bills and catch myself thinking, "wow, I managed to do that!" It's certainly not a easy way to make a living, but I enjoy the time at my studio everyday and I look forward to going there. How many people out there can say that about their jobs?
Comment by Oblik Atelier on January 4, 2010 at 8:47pm
Success for me is a string of moments like today for example. I was making a gift for a friend and had an "a-ha" moment about a design. I thought of something that I will be able to use in the upcoming work I'm trying to put together in a minimal amount of time. Those moments have in the past led from idea while riding a subway, to working through the technicalities of the design, seeing it realize in 3D and then find it in print in an established International print. Those moments are little successes, personally, that along each step confirm to me that I know I am on the right path. Those moments allow for the financial success to facilitate, albeit not as frequent as I'd sometimes like, but they provide for the continuous exploration in the world of craft/art/design.
I find my successes in each part of this equotion. This is my first year "making it" as a craft person and it has had many of it's challenges, but the successes are so much sweeter and extend beyond anything that I could've imagined. Happiness like Deb says has a lot to do with all of this!
Dreamy but true!:)
Comment by Meryl Pataky on January 4, 2010 at 1:59pm
I consider sucess to be the ability to define work as something that you enjoy doing. If working everday is fun, then that is sucess. For me, having a studio to work in and people to recognize your work is sucess.
Comment by Pat Buffum on January 4, 2010 at 12:12pm
It's really wonderful that many people don't define their "success" according to income. I think, ideally, that is the way it should be. Doing what you love and not worrying about expenses or daily needs is, perhaps, a freeing thing in itself. BUT, and this is big to me, the bottom line is that we all do have expenses, daily needs and many other parts of life that involve money. I don't see anything wrong with expecting our craft to support us in a fashion that allows us all to have the life we desire and unto that end, it does have to have a business side to it. I think the self-discipline comes in when we need to express ourselves in projects that are not meant for financial gain and we have to separate that out from the business side of things. So I guess I am saying I think we can be as "successful" at "making a living" as we decide, individually, to be. It is a learning experience whichever way any artist decides to go and the business of it really depends on your entrepreneurial spirit more than your artist spirit.
Comment by Lauren Abrams on January 4, 2010 at 11:53am
In my almost 40 years of making art, I've always "made a living" at it. However, this has differed greatly in quality and quantity. I've gone from working and living on my own(very difficult, but satisfying as long as you keep your expenses rock bottom)to living and collaborating with another artist(better, but still fraught with so many ups and downs)to present day, where I have a wonderful husband with a job and benefits who supports my art and has enabled me to work on a level I've never been able to before-one in which my primarly goal is not to put food on the table but to create art that exists for no other reason than that I wanted to do it. It's wonderful, but I've had to work hard to change my definition of success in order to approach it this way. All three ways of living and creating have been good in their own manner...but this one is the most wonderful
Comment by Deb Karash on January 4, 2010 at 10:46am
I have always said that this work is a tough way to make a living but a great way to make a life. Some days I feel successful and some days I don't. Some days I think fame would make me successful, some days it's just paying the bills, but most days it's having a comfortable, interesting, beautiful life that is full of amazing friends (like you, Andy) that I would never have if I were not an artist. It's a struggle but it's worth it. I guess I equate success with happiness, rather than money, and in that regard I am incredibly successful. I'm excited to go to the studio every single day and, really, how many people can say that about their job?
Comment by Harriete E Berman on December 8, 2009 at 9:55am
My definition of "Success" is not the same as "making a living", but some day I hope that "success" will include "making a living."

More about this later, but I would like to hear from others about their definition of "success"; and how to you define "making a living". Are they the same?

Is it reasonable to define "making a living" as having enough money for health insurance with dental coverage,
insurance for your company and a small nest egg but away for a crisis. What else is the minimum definition of "making a living"?

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