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Proactive Leadership and the Successful Artist

PaintsOver the last number of years, I’ve had occasion to interview a number of artists who in many ways have to be considered a success. While success in the art world is subjective, I would consider a successful artist as someone who does not simply define themselves as an artist, but as a person who pursues artistic development as a career and who lives, for the most part, off an income directly or indirectly supported by their artistic pursuit.

What struck me the most about the artists I’ve interviewed is their persistence. Most have pursued their artistic careers for well over thirty years, but all share a continuous commitment to their artistic pursuits. They see their life as centered on their desire to expand their skills and repertoire. Now, speaking of knocking down windmills, what could be more illusory, what could be more futile, than trying to “make it” as an artist. It certainly makes my career in academia pretty mundane. Academic careers, like many business careers, have clear road marks, specific incremental steps, while an artistic career requires the ability to deal with ambiguity, invisible clues, and live in a perpetual world of hopeful promises and little certainty.

So, when I question these artists three things always strike me. Three attributes key to proactive leadership:

1. Self-Confidence. These artists have a fundamental belief in their ability and in their vision. They are often accused of being self-aggrandizing, but if they don’t slap themselves on the back, who will? Their ability to self-sustain is based on their ability to tell themselves that their vision can and will be fulfilled.

2. Persistence. These artists have defined themselves by persistently chasing their pursuits. Not one day a week, but all the time. Even when they are not engaging their art directly, it is on the forefront of their mind.

3. Social Networking. Successful artists, for the most part, bring to their endeavor the capacity to win people over, get them on their side, and to sustain relationships.  They understand that art is created through partnerships. They understand that the Medici must be appeased as much as their own calling.

A while ago I wrote a blog about visiting artists’ studios and what we can learn from them. This evening, I’m invited to a showing by a very successful artist whose work I greatly enjoy. When I reflect on his career, what comes to mind are the the three attributes of proactive leadership–the three attributes that ensured his success, the three attributes I like to see all students develop, and the three attributes I like to see in all leaders. Talent and ability get you in the game, but the skills of being proactive keep you in it and gives you a chance at success.



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