Do Artists Really Need to Set Goals?

By Carrie Lewis in Misc > Art Opinion

Every year around December, business people of all types are busy evaluating the success of the past year’s goals and thinking about goals for the next year. Many of them are pondering their five- and ten-year plans and some even consider long-term goals of fifteen years or more.

My question is, are those kinds of activities relevant only to business people? Or would creative people benefit from them, too?

Years ago, I never bothered with goals. I painted week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year. The only difference between one year and the next was the numbers and pictures on the calendar. What did I need goals for, after all? I was an artist!

Maybe that describes you, too. If that’s your attitude, I’m going to give you four reasons to consider goals again:

1. Setting goals is more than just a year-end activity

Setting goals is about figuring out where you are in the present and where you want to be in the future. It can be done at any time but most people take time at the end of the year to assess goals and redefine them if necessary.

But. . . it should be more than just a yearly exercise, something to check off your list before January. Goal setting (when it’s done well) gives you the opportunity to take a long, honest look at your life as an artist, to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and decide what goals are most important to you as an artist.

Think about your goals once-a-month. Set a new goal as you check an old one off your list. Our goals keep us motivated and moving, and they should always be in our minds.

2. Goal-setting defines your future

If it helps, think of goal-setting as defining your life’s destination.

We’ve all been on trips. I’ll wager that for most of those trips, you knew in advance where you were going. If you knew where you were and where you wanted to be, you were able to chart the best course between those two points.

That’s goal-setting in a nutshell. It’s defining your destination and laying out the course for getting there.

It’s easy to know where you are career-wise. You’re either making the kind of art you want to be making or you aren’t. Art is either selling at the desired level or it isn’t. You have gallery representation or you don’t.

Most artists also have a vague idea of where they want to be someday. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a self-supporting artist, flying around the world to paint the horses of the wealthy. Vague as it was, it was a goal.

If you don’t know where you want to end up, then the first, most important step is to figure that out. Here are some very basic questions to get you started.

• Where do I want to be career-wise in twelve months?
• What do I want my career to look like in five years?
• Where do I see myself as an artist in ten years?

You can expand this exercise as far into the future as you like, but if you’re just getting started with this goal-setting thing, start simply, with one year.

Goals should be specific, measurable, and on some kind of timetable. They should also be within your control. Getting accepted into five galleries in the next year is not entirely within your control, but approaching five galleries for possible representation is.

3. Your goals will help you make decisions in life

When you take the time to determine what your goals are, you provide a framework within which to make decisions of all kinds. Some things (things you may even have agonized about before!) will automatically be eliminated because they don’t advance your goal.

Going to formal art school and seeking an apprenticeship are both great ways for becoming more proficient in art. But do you know which one is best for you? If you know what your artistic goals are, you’ll be better equipped to make that decision.

Your goals will also help you determine what you paint, how you paint, where and how you market those paintings, and a number of other routine decisions.

For example, if your goal is to become an artist who paints horses for a living (as mine was) there are some things you know you don’t need to worry about. If someone approaches you and asks you to paint a portrait of their house, you can be fairly safe in declining that commission because it doesn’t advance the goal of painting horse portraits.

There are exceptions, of course—perhaps that individual owns a lot of horses or knows someone who does. Every decision has to be made on its own merits, but knowing your goals well enough helps you evaluate a multitude of options.

So if you’ve never given much thought to goal-setting, why not begin today? December IS the accepted time to start. :)

Where do you want to be as an artist in five or ten years? What do you want from your art career in 6 months? Thank about those questions, and set some goals!


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