January 6, 2011
To Thine Own Self Be True
A few blog entries ago I asked the question “What is success to you?” The answers were quite varied because each of us are quite varied and have different reasons for pursuing our art. For some, success means making money, for others it’s about the recognition that comes from getting into a gallery or being published, and for others success is all about personal fulfillment.
For much of my photographic life I assumed that I knew what “success” meant; it was defined by the world as limited editions, high prices, big name galleries and being published. But as I returned to photography and worked hard to achieve these, I noticed that the “standard definition” wasn’t working for me. Achieving those things didn’t bring the satisfaction I thought they would and I would find myself jealous of others successes and would change course to mimic what they were doing.
A turning point came when Brooks Jensen posed a very simple question to me. He asked that when I looked back at my accomplishments, would I prefer to have my work in big name galleries, with limited editions with high price tags, or would I prefer to to have my work sell for affordable prices and be in thousands of homes? He emphasized there was no right or wrong answer, there was only what I wanted.
This caused me to reexamine my motives; why do I pursue photography and what do I want to get from it? It took some time to get past those standard definitions of success that I had lived with for so long, but I began to understand that there is a difference between how the world defines success and what actually brings me satisfaction.
This makes me think of the advice that Polonius, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, gave to his son:
This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!
To thine own self be true, such a very simple concept and yet a lesson that can be so elusive! How many times have I sought to win accolades from others about my art when there is only one person’s opinion that really matters; mine. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not against accolades, or being published, or exhibiting…I’m just against believing that these achievements are a substitute for pleasing ourselves first.
I’ve just recently changed the Resume page on my website. Instead of listing my “accomplishments” as is traditional, I have replaced them with the following:
- My art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous publications and has received many awards. And yet my resume does not list those accomplishments, why?
- In the past I’ve considered those accolades as the evidence of my success, but I now think differently. My success is no longer measured by the length of my resume, but rather by how I feel about the art that I create. While I do enjoy exhibiting, seeing my work published and meeting people who appreciate my art, this is an extra benefit of creating, but this is not success itself.
- I believe that the best success is achieved internally, not externally.
I don’t know if I’ve got it exactly right now, if my priorities are perfectly straight and my vision is crystal clear, because it’s a journey. But I do feel that I’m heading in the right direction.
What is your definition of success? To thine own self be true!