What makes a 'real' or 'successful' artist? {Tara Leaver}

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”


I’ve read a lot about other artists’ processes and thoughts on inspiration and regular practice. Many say that there must be a strict routine, that you can’t and shouldn’t just wait for inspiration to strike as you could be waiting a very long time. The masters painted every day. ‘Real’ artists can’t actually survive without painting daily. Successful artists are consistent, disciplined and prolific.

Perhaps I’m just not a real or successful artist then. {It’s alright, I know I’m not a master. :) } Don’t even get me started on the meaning of those words!

Whose criteria must I fulfil in order to be able to call myself those things, if I wanted to?

I’m still playing with the varying degrees of this spectrum of routine vs inspiration.

As I wrote in a previous post, I have discovered that I do need some kind of container in which to be productive, but I recoil when artists talk about waking up at the same {horrendously early} time every day, and putting in the hours as though they were in the office.

Clearly that works for some. Apparently not for me, even if the pros like Stephen Pressfield and Twyla Tharp are adamant.

The fact that they are pros and I am not ~ in the sense of being famous, wealthy and prolific ~ may say something about the efficiency of my process compared with theirs, but I find both of them hard to relate to as people, even if I agree with some of what they say.

Perhaps it’s at least partly a temperament thing.

Am I just lazy or are there so called successful artists who don’t have a rigid routine and strict rules about their creative practice? Are there specific criteria for ‘success’? How can there be when it means something different to each of us?

Take this painting for example. I was pottering around on Saturday, having not painted since finishing this one, {so about a week}, and without warning I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to paint.


I went up to the studio, grabbed a smallish canvas, chose a few colours and probably less than half an hour later it was done. It quite literally poured out of me before I even had time to think about what I was doing.

Whatever needed to come out had come out; I felt complete, despite nagging thoughts about cheating and “no proper painting should take half an hour”. {I’m not immune to the ‘real artist’ beliefs.} I shared it on Instagram and Facebook and it received a very enthusiastic response, more so than some of my lengthier paintings.

I actually love it, but it’s not a ground breaker in terms of originality or perhaps even quality, it took me no time at all and wasn’t part of a regular routine or focus. According to Stephen and Twyla, that probably makes me a hobby artist rather than a ‘real’ one, and this painting perhaps something pretty but with no real value.

They say nothing has value until someone wants to pay for it. That makes a lot of my work financially valueless, but I don’t think it makes it without value.

Sometimes I wish I was disciplined like the ‘real artists’ are. Sometimes I’m totally ok with the fact that I don’t die if I don’t pick up a brush for a week or two. {I do tend to get irritable and antsy though.} Sometimes I wish I sold my art more often. Sometimes I don’t care because it’s the making of it that feeds me, not the selling of it.

Does how often you paint speak to how professional you are, how much of a ‘real artist’ you are? I absolutely believe that practice makes progress, and thus the more you paint the better you become. I’m just not sure I believe that you must force yourself to create daily no matter what. That’s never led to anything but frustration and boredom for me.

I love to paint, however and whenever it comes out. I’m sure if I painted every day to a strict schedule I’d be much more skilled, and I might even sell more work. I’m also pretty sure that I’d be resentful and frustrated though, and that would not produce work from the heart, which this painting absolutely is.

The truth for me right now is that yes I only paint when inspired, but creating a very gentle and flexible ‘routine’ encourages me to be inspired more often.

What do you think? Do you have a strict routine? Do you noticeably improve and/or sell more when you have one, or do you find yourself procrastinating and becoming resentful? What are your personal criteria for being a ‘real’ or ‘successful’ artist?

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