How does an artist maintain success throughout their lives? I remember seeing an interview with Don Henley of the Eagles once. The interviewer was asking him about success. Henley said he thought success was the ability for endless repetition. I always took that to mean that success is as much about servitude as much as it is about talent. Service to your audience or your clients, for as long as you can do that willingly you can be successful. That seems easier as a musician, where if you are willing, you can make a career out of a handful of songs or tunes that you are known for.
Good advice it seems but what about changing tastes? How does that work for visual artists? Sometimes you can reinvent yourself and your audience will follow but most of the time that isn’t true. What if the things you become successful for no longer satisfies you as an artist? If you decide to keep doing the same things you still run the risk of losing your clients because of them changing and growing older.
Some artists can split their time between what pays them and what satisfies them; making two types of art. That’s fine if your industry grows and thrives but what if it doesn’t? Remember album cover artists? Some artist don’t have to make a living from their art, they have a spouse or an inheritance or are retired with a pension. Some decide to not make their living as artists, settling for a steady paycheck and pension as teachers or even work outside the art field completely.
I have been reading a couple of different posts online from younger and older artists struggling with these issues. It seems everything is fine starting out, things are still fresh enough that they can enjoy it even if it isn’t completely satisfying. How do you hold on to that though after ten or twenty or thirty years?
Most people will live into their eighties or longer. If they start their careers in their twenties or thirties, that’s fifty or sixty years. Think about that. Think about how much the art markets have changed in that time frame in the past? If you work as an artist now think about what your market looked like forty or fifty years ago. Magazines, comics, books, TV, Movies, Games, ten years is a long time for most genres. As an artist do you change styles and mediums to keep current? As an artist can you even do that successfully?
I’ve seen some artists do it, Dean Cornwell, Meade Scheaffer, Norman Rockwell, Kelly Freas, Jon Schoenherr. All evolved their styles throughout their careers It seems the more successful ones adopt new trends and make it their own, so they reinvent themselves but stay recognizable to their audience. Others like Syd Mead or Alfred Munnings manage to keep going and even though they improve they change their style very little. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on this. What are your plans for keeping your career going if you have one now?
6 thoughts on “The Long View”
Being one of those frustrated artists (musician) who could never afford to quit my day job, I'm looking forward to more time in "retirement" for my passions, if retirement ever arrives.
Very interesting post. My work has changed a lot even in the past ten years. Lately, I have considered removing (hiding) some of my older work online that is not as good in my current view.
Also, your post reminds me of this article that I came across a few years back: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.07/genius.html. It's long, but worth the read.
I wonder how much digital sculpture will be desired by companies in the future. Its interesting to think about. If we have new innovations like google glass that become more accessible (by having a price a majority finds reasonable), I can only wonder what new marketing and ad campaigns they will spawn. 60 years from now is a long time.
Something I have been thinking about myself lately. I have started painting again and am trying to move in a direction that will become a full time job for me. I work for a printing company right now and we have a couple of artist that we do printing for. Their work is great but they have a specific genre that they do. And I have wondered where are they are going to be in 10 or 20 years. I myself have different types of art that I like to paint, but my style stays the same. I 10 or 20 years I have no idea what direction my art will go in. I have been in the graphics/printing industry for 30+ years now and I want to paint what I like.
I think many commercial artist and illustrators find a market and settle into it. The problem is that it is a double edged sword being in a niche area. I spent twenty plus years as a pictorial artist producing scenic and outdoor advertising, when that field made the digital changed many very talented artist could not survive or if they could it was at a fraction of the income they were used to. I figured if I was going to live like a pauper then I might as well live doing something I love, poor and happy with a paint brush. No more ad agencies, art directors or next day deadlines. Your realm of illustration is much more complex and I assume less limited. I really believe that if you do what you love, the success will follow.
Excellent post, Armand. Norman Rockwell describes how he was haunted by this same question when he attended the funeral of his hero, Leyendecker, and saw how his role model fell out of favor and died lonely and broke. Raleigh was another great illustrator who was once the flavor of the month, rich and famous, but who later killed himself by jumping out a hotel window in Times Square because nobody wanted his work anymore. These were all great talents. They didn't become less talented, only less stylish.
The ones I know who died happy established a whole second career. Stanley Meltzoff gave up paperback covers and illutrations for Life Magazine, and invented the field of deep sea painting of fish for the sports and game market. Bernie Fuchs painted Italian landscapes (and sold over 300 in fine art galleries from San Francisco to Tokyo).