I’ve talked with old potters who say that if you’re in the business for ten years, consider yourself a success. Everybody seems to know somebody who’s struck out on their own, flung out a shingle, poured themselves into a creative small business for a year or two and then given up out of frustration and a lack of return on investment. Maybe that’s why we have to explain ourselves so much if you, like me, have got the wild-ass idea that you’re going to bush-wack your way through the jungle as an artist-entrepreneur.
Success takes time, nothing worthwhile happens overnight. The temptation to think otherwise comes all too easily, and with a price. We are constantly buffeted by ceaseless waves of beautiful things via creative industry news-feeds, direct to our inboxes. A glut of art shows and craft sales to attend on the weekends, and a universe of artisan-made items available at our fingertips through Etsy and the like. The multitude of impressions left after absorbing large quantities of good work can be dizzying to absorb, and we makers lay heavy burdens on ourselves to rise to that bar quickly.
A series of large dyad brooches, based on the shape of phytoplankton.
Having so much inspiration to feed upon and compare our own against is a good problem, imagine how challenging it was to be exposed to so much creative energy before the internet. We should embrace the competition and contribute our own energy to the pool freely. Why not view achieving the same stature as a kind of long-term choose-your-own-adventure story game, rather than some kind of zero-sum, winner-takes-all? Take time to remind yourself that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and you’re participating in the Ironman. Those who are really going to change the playing field may take decades to emerge, there’s no rush to get there as long as you don’t stop and get distracted along the way.
This baby measures about 8″ across and will deflect a bullet if properly placed.
One of the worst things I’ve seen happen to fellow artists is creative attrition, wherein people just give up on the pursuit of their creative passion because it’s too hard to make room for, or their success isn’t significant enough to them right out of the gates. This is such a sad occurrence, as the loss of any amount of creative energy detracts from the momentum of all artistic expression. Taking the risk in declaring your intentions in the first place is huge, being persistent in the face of obstacles is an even greater exercise in discipline, making the summit? It’s an act of spiritual will power.
So you get beat up, walk it off. Admit feelings of disappointment and stop taking it personally. Use the challenge to get better at what you do, to drill down into your vision and fine-tune your voice. Did you set out on this path because you thought it’d be easy? It is not and wasn’t ever meant to be, that’s the trade-off for personal fulfillment. And a fair-trade it is, I’d say. Bypassing the struggle to find where you fit in also stunts the development of your unique body of work, your proposition, the articulation of your truth. Embrace it for all it’s worth, HAVE FUN with it, own the challenge of finding your niche.
Image of diatoms via Wikimedia Commons, licensed for use in the Public Domain.