I love great, inspirational quotes. Don’t you? The best of them usually prompt me to think more deeply about something I may not have considered before. Take this quote by Will Durant, a 20th-century American writer, historian, and philosopher, for instance. He wrote, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Isn’t it amazing to think that excellence is not some unattainable goal or something that happens by accident on rare occasions? According to Durant—and I can think of countless examples that bear this out—excellence can be achieved through consistent and positive action, through making thoughtful, smart choices again and again. Embedded within this thought is the idea that mistakes and missteps are a natural part of learning, course-correcting, and improving our way into becoming our best selves.
When I apply this to the life of the artist, and especially when I think of all the most excellent artists I know, I can think of seven specific areas of habitual activity that have led to success. Three of these address the creative side of being an artist, while the other four focus more on the business side (of course!).
1. Raising the bar on the artwork itself. The best artists I’ve seen are never content with the quality of their work. Year after year, their studio time is dedicated to improving their skill level, or to enriching their work with more meaningful content, or to exploring some new technique or medium or style. There are countless ways artists can grow, and excellent artists never stop finding small ways to continuously enhance their work.
2. Feeding the creative well. What gets your creative juices flowing? What serves as your muse? Whether it’s looking at other people’s creations, dabbling in other artistic experiences, or engaging with other creatives, the best artists never lose touch with their most welcome and influential sources of inspiration. They routinely make time for these life-giving activities.
3. Seeking inspiration in a healthy, balanced life. Of all of these habits, this is the one I personally find most challenging to establish, yet I know it’s an essential part of the successful artist’s life. Just read a handful of profiles of your artistic heroes, and you’ll find people who take care of themselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally and who make time for the other people and interests that are important to them.
4. Networking in person and online. Success for an artist can mean many things, but most of the more common signs of achievement require support from other people, including art collectors, curators, media folks, and other “cheerleaders.” That’s why the most successful artists I know habitually devote time to networking with others through both face-to-face and online means. And by networking, I mean looking for ways to give as much as they receive.
5. Nurturing relationships. As important as it is to make contact and establish relationships with a large pool of people, it’s equally important to nurture and maintain those relationships, too. Here again, in-person methods are just as valuable as digital tools like social media and e-newsletters. Successful artists don’t hide away in their studios but rather happily share their gifts with those who've expressed interest in them.
6. Maintaining a great website. Name any living artist whom you’d consider to be one of the best of the best, and it’s almost guaranteed that he or she has a powerful website. And trust me, it’s not a static website that was built 10 years ago; it’s an organic, current thing that grows and changes because excellent artists understand the power of a website to engage and maintain people’s interest.
7. Pursuing exhibition opportunities. Are you looking for places to show your work? Are you entering competitions and joining art associations? Are you seeking gallery representation? Success as an artist hinges on getting your best work out there, in front of the public’s eye. Artists who excel build time into their schedules for these activities as well.
So what do you think of my list? Does your list of habits for excellence contain other activities? Let’s connect!