Bitterness, an artist’s greatest enemy

Sarah Thornton talks about writing Seven Days in the Art World and makes other contemporary art related observations in this short, meaty video.

I’m particularly fascinated with the following segment:

The other day I was asked, “What makes a successful artist?” . . . That’s a really complicated question, I could be giving you a lecture. There are so many processes of validation, legitimation, different benchmarks of credibility which are not just financial . . . Rather than waffling on about that, I just said, “A successful artist is one who doesn’t feel bitter.” And I really, really believe that. There are multi-millionaire artists who somehow feel bitter about their lack of recognition, and then there are people who are doing their own thing and finding emotional satisfaction in it.

Hearing the statement “A successful artist is one who doesn’t feel bitter” is another instance of someone else clearly articulating a mish-mash of thoughts that have been rolling around in my head — about my own work and from the perspective of a creative catalyst, thinking about other’s work.

Most artists I know personally, now, are not bitter (as far as I can tell). They are like me, day-job artists who pursue their craft and concepts because of a subconscious, driving impulse. If that impulse is ignored, if we bottle up those ideas and don’t find time to work with our hands, we become cranky.

However, it doesn’t take me long at all to think of some of the personalities in my college studio courses and think “Yup, he or she might be bitter.”

Personally, I would like to be able to live off of my creative impulses, which means I will have to somehow gain recognition in order to sell. The impetus for the recognition is, though, to be able to do what I love, what I’m skilled at and what that subconscious drive relentlessly pushes me to do.

It’s not to gain personal notoriety. The goal is not narcissistic, where I can see bitterness easily taking over.

Video via Savannah College of Art and Design’s deFINE ART series.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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