How do I measure growth?

Measuring growth is less about hitting milestones and more about making sure I spend time on my art practice.

The question of measuring growth as an artist is from the January survey and comes from Sarah. I’ve put off this question because I needed to ponder it and then well, I didn’t actually ponder it. (Sometimes on this blog the answer is for me to just start writing and see what comes of it.)

I’m not sure that I measure my artistic growth really in any way other than time spent. I’ve been listening to the Art Juice podcast and this week I listened to “Episode 199” where Alice and Louise talk about measuring goals they’ve set over the years and different achievements from their careers. As I was listening to the podcast, this question came to my mind again.

Expectation

Any society comes with baked-in expectations. American culture comes with a boat load about what success looks like. What are the acceptable ways to get to that success and what we do with ourselves when we get there. Measuring growth as an artist comes with ideas of fame and maybe fortune but mostly fame and museum/gallery showings.

I don’t usually spend a whole lot of time on expectations for my career, or my art for that matter. I’m not sure why, I’m just not mentally set up that way. I try to let my art be what it is. Maybe because I do so much abstract work, it’s hard to know where the work might be going in the beginning, or the middle and sometimes even the end. That has a way of stripping expectations out of it. Sometimes the work I make is good. Then sometimes it’s not. The expectation is that I have to keep showing up doing the work and seeing what comes of it.

I think where expectation can get to me is when I start second guessing things. Will I make work as good as this piece again? I mean I hope so. When will it happen? I don’t know. I remind myself my job to keep showing up. So again my expectation of myself is that I continue to show up for my work in a meaningful way as often as I can.

landscape
“Tick Tock” and “Landscape”

Envy

I think expectations can be closely tied to envy. What I want to make is THIS over there but what I’m actually making is this right here. That gap can generate a lot of envy about what’s over there. The gap is so real that I have a whole post on it.

I absolutely get envious when I see the amazing work that others are doing. I get bowled over by things I see! Then I deal with being pissed off that I didn’t think of it first. It might even lead to me trying to emulate something of their work in my journals so I can figure out where my attraction to their work lies. Hopefully I build some skills in the process. But to spend much time on envy is to be miserable. I’d rather be out here being mediocre AF than waste time being envious. Because at least then I’ve been making something.

And as I continue to make work and I keep showing up then the dream is that I’ll close that gap over time. And what I want to make and what I actually make will be better aligned. Maybe. If I’m lucky.

“If there were the sound of water only”

Mindset

I’ve been thinking a lot recently at how I’ve come to view my creative time as much more of a practice. I grew up believing very much that there was a right and wrong way to do things. Right and wrong are virtually eliminated in art. There is no mathematical formula for achieving correct art. There are some rules that can maybe make your art more successful. But that isn’t always true because sometimes knowingly breaking the rules gives you the best art. So it comes down to practice. Then later, after its made, an assessment of what works and what doesn’t.

I like the idea of fixed vs growth mindset. Because I feel like it helps explain my approach to my practice now.

The first half of my life was very much about fixed mindset. I was a smart kid and that was praised where I grew up. Having the right answers meant I got to go to college. College meant I could get a good job and make a good living. But I wanted to be an artist, even then. And most artists don’t make good money, if they make any money at all. So I became a graphic designer, the world’s most annoying job for anyone wanting to be a fine artist.

Then ten years ago, I said “what if?” and started my 20 minutes a day project. That was the beginning of my switch from fixed mindset to growth mindset. I just kept showing up and working. I started the process of worrying less about outcomes and more about what I’m learning along the way.

Zero checklists

And yet, I have grown. I look at the work I was doing 10 years ago and I can see the roots of what I do now but I’ve gotten more judicious, more polished, more sure footed in what I attempt. I’m more confident in what I want to do, even as I don’t ever seem to know where it’s going. I can see things when I look backwards but don’t have good metrics for it looking forward. So I don’t have a check list for measuring growth. Sorry, Sarah, if that’s what you were looking for. The best I can offer you is hearty encouragement to keep going and to have fun doing it.

Yeah, I fully acknowledge I’m a weirdo. I know not really measuring growth works for me but maybe not for you. Hit me with your best artistic growth measurements because I’m dying to know what works for others. Tag me on the socials or email me.


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