Be Smart About Art

How do you know if you're making progress in your art career?

written by: Susan Mumford July 5, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 3414 views

How do you know if you're making progress in your art career?

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here

It’s tempting to tell yourself that you’re progressing slowly – or at least not as fast as you had in mind.  

Here’s a great quote on the matter:

Everyone always vastly overestimates what they can do in the short-term, and vastly underestimates what they can do in the long-term.”  Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts)

Have a think about what this is saying. Your achievements in the next couple of years could blow away what you imagined possible. But in the next 3 months? You might well be disappointed.

As human beings, it’s natural to see the current state as the starting point, taking for granted what has already been accomplished. Rather than feeling great about how much has already been done, most people want to be farther along the road to ‘success’ (whatever that looks like to you), looking ahead to where you wish you were.

Celebrating achievements and reminding yourself of what has already been done is important. It’s a great way to boost self-confidence in knowing that that you’re making headway in your career.

Some people use a simple technique to keep track of progress along the way: recording achievements, one by one, in a calendar, notebook or sketchpad – whatever floats your boat. For artists, examples include making break-through works of art and having pieces selected for juried exhibitions.  For gallerists, they might be selling significant works of art or getting shows featured in publications. Whatever success looks like to you, record each and every one.

Another technique is to draw a calendar for the past few years (or whatever applies in your own case). It can be a simple grid that displays each year in a row, with 12 columns for the months. Jot down the milestones reached along the way. You likely won’t remember everything in one sitting, so keep adding to it as achievements from the past come to mind.

It’s truly amazing what you come up with, how much you remember you’ve done (but had simply forgotten) and how great you feel as a result.

Here’s a simple layout for doing what I call a Milestone Timeline:

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec


While it’s tempting to be your own worst critic, give yourself a bit of a break. It’s no easy feat to pursue a career doing what you love. Without a boss to review your progress, take a look yourself, pat yourself on the back, and take action to reach the next milestone.

Keen to share your own thoughts on this post? Share your own insight below - and provide a link to your own website / blog if you fancy.

Not yet on the mailing list? Come on board and receive pearls of wisdom directly into your inbox!
This includes our weekly Sunday reading blog and tips that are only available to email subscribers. 




Want to understand best practices in the arts? How about honing your speaking skills or learning about funding opportunities? 

The Creative Specialists Programme is here to support you with a team of expert advisors ready to divulge knowlege. 

Check out the Creative Specialists Programme OR Register your interest now (we'll send you full details):

user name

Well done Susan, you have hit the nail on the head! Be thankful for what you have done to date. Aggression or frustration with the self doesn't solve the problem of lack of sales. Be kind to yourself and celebrate what you have done however small it may seem. We all progress at different rates. Some of us are more ambitious or understand our worth more than others. This can take a life time to understand the value of art in everyday life! Thank you for your thoughts and writing.