[The title of this post is the theme song to Disney’s animated feature, “Hercules,” which I don’t think I’ve ever even watched, but seemed relevant here.]
For two years I have felt like a failure. (That brings us up until a week ago, so hold on, it gets better…)
Knowing I had the ability, and the love, of drawing people led to lots of drawing of people in my life so far. I drew for fun, I decided to “go pro,” I put on two art shows, created a website, blog, Facebook page, Instagram, business cards, postcards, price lists, threw a contest, paid for advertising…I even bought blank receipt books like a proper business owner. Sounds pretty legit, right?
So about being a failure. How do you measure success an an artist, or at anything? Sales? Ability to pay bills? Followers? Likes? Bodies at an art show? Aren’t businesses supposed to grow with all of that hard work and investment?
But there was no growth. I could count the number of portrait commissions on one hand and two fingers. The bodies at the art shows dropped precipitously from one year to the next. I spent hours in an empty room, waiting for someone to show up, surrounded by a year’s work and wondering what it was all for. Facebook engagement diminished. Was it a new damn algorithm, did they want more money? I boosted more and more posts, trying to play the game. My Instagram followers remained the same group of kind-hearted friends, while other artists had tens of thousands of followers. TENS OF THOUSANDS.
Do I need to mention I also had severe depression?
Where was the disconnect? This art business was demoralizing rubbish.
This brings us to last week. I had finished up Anita and was about to release her to the world. Or, rather, my handful of followers. I published the blog with her portrait and essay, scheduled it for Facebook and Twitter and went in the shower. Ten minutes later I had thrown on a bathrobe and, dripping wet, was breathlessly telling Iain this:
My soul has compelled me to draw people. Since I was a kid that has been my unavoidable reality. When I agree to draw a person, my soul makes an agreement with their soul, to put it on paper to the best of my ability. It’s not about their features or their hair, or their pose or their outfit, I am looking for their soul, and I will not compromise unless I can capture it. If I capture it, I know, and I’m satisfied that I’ve completed the transaction.
All of that flies out the window when I look for validation from outside of myself – from the interest of others, the opinions of others, the likes, the follows, the money, the turnout. As soon as I put the value on those things then all the joy is sucked out of me and I’m left lost and depressed. It’s time to look for the value of myself from the inside. Whatever happens on the outside is your business, it’s not my business.
I don’t know if Iain felt the full force of my words as he was caught mid-bite eating his dessert.
I recently read that the measure of your success is your joy. In that, I have been a big fat failure for two years. Not to discount the portraits I’ve created and starting the I Am More project. I’ve felt the value there in fleeting moments. Now it’s time to make my happiness the priority.