Child: When I grow up I want to be a musician.
Mother: Don’t be silly dear, you can’t do both!
I want to be successful and I want to be an artist. The cliché tells us that’s not possible, but I don’t believe that. I am convinced that this is the most exciting time for artists of all descriptions that the world has ever known. For the first time in history, success is up to us and us alone and the internet has given us a platform to share our art with the whole world at a minimal cost.
Even so, when I say I want to be successful, I define that in a very specific way. It’s not about money or acclaim and it’s not just about making a living from creative work. I spent enough years as a freelance musician to know that it’s possible to make money from an art form yet still not be doing the work you believe you were put here to do.
The whole point of making art is to express ourselves. It is to want to be heard. All artists want to be heard and financial and critical successes can serve as proof that people like and value the work. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to make money and win respect and renown – just like everybody else.
Nevertheless, I believe that I’ll only be able to call myself a success if I commit fully to life as an artist. For me that means a life as one that puts creativity and original work at the heart of everything and strives to realise whatever potential exists. To judge myself a success in the final reckoning, I would need to have devoted myself to creating art that represents the very best I am capable of.
It’s the simplest thing in the world – and the hardest.
Life pulls us in all directions and there’s always a good reason not to sit down and do the work. The work is scary and unsettling. It makes us uncomfortable and vulnerable. It matters immensely to us yet doesn’t matter to anyone else if we never get it done. Most of the time, the world is happier if we don’t do the work. People prefer it if we stay small and silent because it allows them to feel better about the work that they’re not doing.
To commit to an artistic life is to commit to battling every day with demons and insecurities, to resisting the seductive inertia of the world, to rail against all the messages from a culture which tells us to consume instead of creating. It is to choose a life of struggle and strenuous unease. It will take immense courage and an inner strength I’m not sure I possess.
But in the final reckoning, if I’ve produced a body of work that represents all I am capable of; if I have devoted my life to its creation; if I can point to all I have made and say ‘That. That is what I did with my time on this earth’, then that will be a life well lived. That will be success.
Barry Dallman is a musician, writer and eternal student of the creative process. He is fascinated by the process of personal change and the challenges creative people face in committing to truly meaningful work. He's documenting his own creative struggles in the hopes of inspiring others to pursue what really matters to them.