Artists reflect on Success – Art and Cake

August 24, 2023 - Art

Connie Rohman

A 2018 study found that 60% of artists make less than $30,000 a year. Half of the artists surveyed make less than 10% of their income from their art practice. There are no firm guide posts to look to when trying to become a successful artist. Because of that, I’ve had to come up with markers of success for myself.

I come to art late – I have had a varied work path. I worked as a an ESL teacher, community organizer, and a TV and film producer. When I had my two kids I opted to be a stay at home mom. That was an eye opener for me – going from having a fairly successful career to being nearly invisible as a stay at home parent. Being an artist is much the same as being a stay at home parent: the usual markers of success do not apply.

When I started an art practice, I found that I had to come up with my own definitions of success. When I first started out, I made three seemingly unreachable goals for myself: to have my work accepted into the international quilt festival in Houston, to be in an art gallery show, and to sell my artwork. I’m lucky in that those goals came to pass. Several decades later, I continue to set goals for myself as a way of having my own markers for success. However, like 50% of all artists, I still make less than 10% of my income from my art! I am resigned to the fact that financial success will probably not come my way.

These days I define success in my art practice by the feedback I get from being a teaching artist, by having time to create art, by having opportunities to exhibit and share my art with others. I create art because it makes me happy. That is what being a successful artist means to me. CR

Connie is influenced by the landscape of her childhood, both interior and exterior. She grew up in a remote Quaker community adjacent to the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia, Canada. Her work is also influenced by the strong light and colors of Los Angeles, her chosen home.
Connie uses her hand dyed fabrics and a closely stitched line to render abstract works that are based in her fascination with language and her connection to nature. She has exhibited in museums, art galleries and in international exhibitions. She is currently a Teaching Artist at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum for the Arts) and at the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock in Los Angeles.


Max Presneill

Being involved in the art world, or at least in various aspects and levels of it for 30+ years now, I have seen my own ‘success’ goalposts move from time to time. But what seems important to me now in deciding what success might be:

  1. To value the process of making art, the thought and engagement, the intellectual and philosophical conundrums that need solving, the smell of paint and the clothes it accidentally ruins :-), and everything else that makes us remember why we do this weird activity. It matters because we invest belief in its worth. To know the exploration was worth the new lands discovered. To extend ourselves into the world. To give a small but vital sense of immortality. Success is: realizing that your own artistic path was worthwhile for you to take.
  2. Learning to be content and appreciating the joys while not relinquishing the dream is also partly what success mean to me. To avoid negativity and to realize that if you are invited to exhibit from time to time you are statistically a success as most artists are not afforded that honor. Learn, reset and use that to reconsider your goals regularly. Achieving your goals IS success, just remember that while your dreams might fly, your grounded feet need to walk. Keep at it, work towards it, but take time to appreciate the journey, however frustrating it can be at times. Being happy and engaged in life and art seem like beacons of hope for this journey. There is nothing sadder than the bitter artist who hates the world for not becoming the art star they think they should have been, or the successful artist who has lost sight of the deeper reasons for doing this. Success is: balancing things so your life, at the end, was meaningful and worth it to you.
  3. To be in the game, as it were. To be part of this time and place and this community and to contribute to its culture, at various levels, is the ultimate success. Being here and being a part of it. To contribute. Not necessarily fame and fortune, but peer recognition and acknowledgement of your part to play. Did I participate and did I add something to this culture? That defines the important aspect of success to me, not the reputation of the gallery that represents, nor the largest sale of my work, or how well known the collector is, or other signposts. Success is: in the mind (and Ego) as much as anywhere and a healthy disrespect for it never hurt anyone, I think! 🙂

Max Presneill is a Los Angeles based UK artist and curator. He has exhibited throughout the world including New York, Mexico City, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Istanbul, Sydney, Beijing and Tokyo in museums, art galleries, alternative spaces and art fairs.

His work has been shown at art fairs including The Armory Show, NYC and Miami Projects, Miami and has been included in the Istanbul Biennial and the Yokohama Triennial as well as museums, including Lancaster Museum of Art & History (California), Museum Villa Seiz (Germany), Ucity Art Museum (Guangzhou, China), Art Museum of W Carolina University, 9 Art Center Museum (Beijing, China), Van Abbemuseum and the Hudson Museum (both in The Netherlands), and the Mappin Museum (UK).

Curatorially, he is the Director/Head Curator for the Torrance Art Museum (www.torranceartmuseum.com). He has extensive experience internationally as a curator having organized exhibitions for museums, institutes and galleries in the US and UK, the Netherlands, Japan, France, Mexico, China, Turkey, Australia, Germany, Austria, Norway and more. He was also a contributing writer to the emerging artists section of FABRIK magazine. His curatorial interests are with artist led projects, emerging art, new models for curatorial methodologies and an international scope for partnerships and exchanges. He was the Founder/Director of Raid Projects in Los Angeles (1998-2008) a alternative gallery and Artist-in-Residence program, the Founder and Curatorial Director of ARTRA Curatorial as well as the Co-Founder of Durden & Ray, in Los Angeles, an artist’s collective and gallery (2009-current).


Debra Disman

I am not sure there really is one definition of success for every artist, every body.
There is really only what you are doing in the moment, and what you are striving for, and hopefully, there is a relationship between these.

I always remember the adage, “The reward for good work is more work.”. I have certainly found this to be true. Working steadily and consistently, and learning along the way, I have been able to achieve what I had only or perhaps not even imagined as regards exhibitions, presentations and the various other accoutrements of a successful career. However to me, this does not success make. Because of the constraints of time and space on this human plane, we are compelled to make constant decisions about how we use our energy and resources, and to define and redefine our priorities as we move along. I have realized that my highest professional priority is to keep evolving my work, to keep making. Yet to bring this work into the world, even in the throes of making, there needs to be visibility, presence, communication. Not only for the sake of opportunities, audience, feedback and platform, but for connection, community, sharing and contribution. To keep working through the constantly shifting merry-go-round of all these things is how I define success at the moment.


Debra Disman is a Los Angeles-based artist known for her work inspired by the book, both as a solo practitioner and in the public sphere of community engagement. As a maker and teaching artist she creates work and projects which push the body and boundaries of the book into new media and materials, inviting altered ways of viewing the world and how we inhabit it.

Her work is shown in museums, galleries, universities and libraries including Launch LA; The Mike Kelly Gallery at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA; The Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale, CA; LA’s Craft Contemporary; The Long Beach Museum of Art; The University of the Arts in Philadelphia; The Cape Cod Museum of Art; The Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA; The University of Puget Sound; and the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.

Disman was the featured artist for the Big Read in LA in 2016; is the recipient of a 2016-17 WORD: Artist Grant / Bruce Geller Memorial Prize to create “The Sheltering Book”, a life-sized book structure designed as a catalyst for community creativity; and was commissioned by LA’s Craft Contemporary Museum to create an interactive book for the 2017 exhibition, “Chapters: Book Arts in Southern California“.She was a Studio Resident at the Camera Obscura Art Lab at 1450 Ocean in Santa Monica in 2018, and has served as an Artist-in-Residence with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs since 2017, working with the city’s diverse communities.  A local Artist In Residence at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, CA, she is a 2021-22 Santa Monica Artist Fellow.


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