5 Characteristics of Successful Artists

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

Some time ago, I described the four most important skills every artist needs in order to succeed. Those skills were:

  1. The ability to see
  2. The ability to draw what you see
  3. The ability to promote yourself and your work
  4. The ability to say no

At the end of that article, I mentioned that there were other skills every artist should develop.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since, and I’ve realized that skills aren’t the only things shared by most successful artists—there are also some common characteristics of successful artists:

1. Persistence

Persistence is the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people. You don’t need a more comprehensive definition to see how persistence applies to being an artist.

Artists need persistence to:

  • Improve and/or perfect skills
  • Learn new skills
  • Finish individual pieces of art
  • Build an exceptional body of work
  • Build a successful art career
  • Sustain an art career

Most of these are long-term endeavors; some are developed over the course of a lifetime. (Dali, for example, spent 50 years developing his Surrealist painting techniques.) If you don’t have the persistence to fuel your dreams, your dreams may never become reality.

If an artist’s goal is to earn a living from art, he or she also needs the persistence to continue improving and creating when the artwork isn’t selling. Nothing is more frustrating—or more disheartening—than to turn out the best work of your career only to have it go unsold. The temptation to give up can become very strong, as can the temptation to paint for the market or chase trends.

The artist with persistence resists those temptations and stays the course.

2. Patience

Patience is the quality of calm endurance. The stereotypical artist is passionate; either enthralled or disgusted with their work. Patience evens out those highs and lows. It’s similar to persistence, but while persistence is more of a discipline, patience is more of an attitude. You can be persistent without being patient.

Most of us have to learn patience. . . I know I did. It’s not an overnight acquisition, but it is well worth acquiring.

3. Passion

Most of us know about artistic passion—it’s what motivates us to create. Passion is the driving force that keeps you making art even when there seems to be no other reason for it.

The dictionary defines passion in several different ways. The definitions that apply to this discussion are an “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction” and “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.”

You don’t have to experience a flaming exuberance for your art (though flaming exuberance isn’t necessarily bad) but you must have the desire to do the work. Your passion is what fuels persistence and patience. It’s the gasoline that runs the “car” of your career.

4. A Sense of Adventure

All of life is an adventure. You start the day you’re born and travel a winding road until your last day. You never know what may await you around the next bend, over the next bridge, or through the deep woods.

Creating art is much the same way. It doesn’t matter how much you plan your next piece, there’s no guarantee it will turn out the way you meant it to. Happy accidents happen all the time, and a successful artist will recognize them and capitalize on them.

An adventurous spirit is also necessary if you want to explore new subjects or themes or tackle a familiar subject in a different way. Or even when a well-planned painting or drawing takes an unexpected turn and you end up outside your creative comfort zone.

Plus, if you’ve never marketed your work, you will need a significant sense of adventure to take the first steps in that direction. And once you begin marketing, your sense of adventure will keep you moving forward, always trying new things.

5. Discipline

Persistence, patience, and passion are necessary, but they need to be properly harnessed in order to serve you best.

Passion run amok can have you jumping from one project to the next without finishing anything. You need to discipline it with persistence and patience in order to finish artwork that can then be promoted and, hopefully, sold.

Persistence without the discipline of passion becomes dry and dreadful.

And no matter how adventurous you might be, if you lack the discipline to keep putting one foot ahead of the other—or making the next stroke of paint or pencil—you’ll never get anywhere.

Clearly, the artistic life is not boring. . . but it does require many of the character traits often possessed by businesspeople, athletes, and others whose drive and willpower make them successful. Practice these qualities (in addition to your art techniques) and you’ll build a firm foundation on which to create your art.


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