Following the question and answer session of Bruce Breasley’s outstanding lecture for the Texas Sculpture Symposium at Texas State University, he reached into his suit jacket and withdrew a document that he proceeded to read. The complete transcription is below.
How To Be a Successful Artist
I am often asked by younger artists and students how to be a successful artist, with the implication that since I have managed to support myself being a sculptor that I know the answer to this question. I always tell them, “A successful artist is an artist who is spending their life making art they believe in.” But I know that is not what they want to hear. What they want to know is, “How do I become a financially successful artist?”
Well, the answer is still the same. “You spend your life making art that you believe in”…and, then, if certain other things happen, you might also make money.
The point is that being a sculptor is not a business opportunity. It is a calling. And you should be prepared to support yourself some other way. The reward of being an artist is making the art, not selling it and not gaining fame. Fame and fortune are very nice byproducts if they happen, but if they become the goal, then you will have lost the source of the joy and the richness that makes being an artist so rewarding some of the time, and so anguishing at others.
But look at it this way. Most people spend their lives working at jobs that are at best tolerable and are mostly boring and unpleasant. I don’t mean to imply that artists are the only people that love their work, but I think we all know that the percentage of those who can say, “I love what I do” is very small.
So, as an artist, how do you love what you do? That will only happen if you stretch yourself constantly and only pay attention to whether you are making the best work you are capable of and that your art is truly speaking to you. For if it doesn’t truly speak to you, then it will not really speak to anyone else. So, it all comes back to the point that what really matters is your engagement with your own work.
I am going to say something that sounds tough, but I believe it deeply. If you are thinking about the salability of a sculpture when you are making it, then you really just have a job. And, if you are going to just have a job, then you might as well do something easier than being a sculptor.
So, the very best advice I can give to any young artist is, “Don’t compromise your work in any way and follow any direction in your work that interests or excites you.” Remember that being an artist is a journey without a destination. It is an exploration of yourself. Your own work, not the audience, must be the driving force. There is no business plan for being an artist. If you can say, “I am spending my life making art that I believe in,” then you will be having a wonderful and successful career no matter whether you make any money at it or not.
© Bruce Beasley, Nov 10th, 2007