What does success mean to an artist?

As an emerging artist, I often ask myself:

  • What is my voice?
  • Who am I as an artist?
  • What does success mean to me?

This last one, I think, I finally answered for myself. It happened when “Mama Africa” found its new home.

artist's success

The story of Mama Africa

My painting “Mama Africa” was inspired by the book “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah and the way he describes his mother in it.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make any prints from her. So I put her in a group show without worrying much that she might not come back to me. She is so striking, I was confident she’s going to get first prize or even the Best of Show! We received an Honorable Mention instead.

But about a week into the show, I got a call from the gallery. Success! A buyer really loved my work and asked if I would honor a 10% discount deal offered by the gallery that was expired by a couple of days. It wasn’t so much a question for me whether to honor this discount or not as I was thrilled to have a chance to talk to a buyer on the phone! Because the minute I got that call I knew I’d have to take “Mama Africa” to a printer and capture her for a print series.

So I said to the buyer, “— I will give you the 10% discount but I have a huge favor to ask of you! I need to take the painting off the wall for a couple of days to take high-resolution photographs. Once it’s done, I will deliver it to your door myself.”

Can you imagine her doubts at that moment? Someone she has never met in her life was asking her to pay at the front desk and walk away without a painting! Ridiculous! But she was nice enough to put her trust in me.

In two minutes, I was on my way to the gallery to take the painting and called a printer from the car to arrange the photoshoot.

The meaningful connections

Two days later, after getting the painting back from the printer, putting her back into the frame, and attaching a certificate of authenticity, I was driving “Mama Africa” to her new home. During those two days, I was exchanging messages with the buyer sharing my inspiration behind the painting she purchased.

It turned out, she is a big admirer of Trevor Noah! And she has had some unforgettable experiences from her travels to Africa.

I got to meet her that morning from a safe distance with our face masks on. We had a sweet conversation as I dropped the painting at her door. It’s a wonderful experience to see the eyes of a person who tells you how much they love your work, like butterflies in your belly! I guess it’s the same dosage of endorphin as if your brain thought you were falling in love. I was happy!

The very same evening, I got a call from this buyer…

“—Galina, I can’t tell you enough how much I love the painting! Did you try to contact Trevor Noah? I’m sure he’d appreciate how inspired you were by the story of his mom! Please, give me your mailing address; I’ve got to return the 10% discount you gave me. It will make me feel so much better! I so appreciate your work!”

What else does the artist need to hear in this life?

The meaning of success

I’m not making big money selling my paintings. At least not yet 🙂 And quite honestly, I have never identified success with the amount of money one has. I’m not going to be cheap about a 10% discount. But I’ve learned very well that if someone gives you something “with a warm hand” it’s their way of saying “thank you” or “I appreciate you”, or “you brought something good into my life.” So you’d better honor it!

My heart melted. Thus far, I haven’t felt this way about any prize or ribbon! I remembered my other buyers who bought my paintings because those paintings spoke to them or brought back good memories. In that moment of remembering I knew that these are successes I will count for the rest of my days.

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