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How To Create Achievable Objectives as an Artist

I know, I know, it's the middle of January, and I'm still rattling on about goals and objectives. There's a reason for that. We've spoken about the importance of goal setting, and laying out the matrix of how my objectives and activities fold in under those goals... but we haven't spent a lot of time talking about how to make those objectives measurable. In my last post, I shared my concerns about giving us permission as artists to evaluate and measure our success based upon criteria that better suits our type of creative businesses. We should definitely do that. But the missing piece in my mind is how to create these specialized objectives in such a way to make them realistic and measurable in the world we work in. How will we know if we have met our goals?

Background photo created by ijeab -

Sorry to keep using my own goals and objectives as an example, but they're the only ones I have to share. Bogdan and I sat down and created our goals and objectives during our annual retreat, and feel pretty good about what we had plotted out for the year to come.

Goal 1: Incorporate our Goals into our daily work life.

Goal 2: Sell More Art.

Goal 3: Increase Social Media Engagement.

Goal 4: Diversify Income Streams.

Goal 5: Address Home/Work-life Balance.

Goal 6: Expand Public Relations campaigns.

The obvious next question is how to create objectives under each of these goals that are both achievable and measurable so that we can actually evaluate whether or not the goals have been reached. Sounds simple... but of course it's not.

There was an interesting article published in 2019 out of Pepperdine University. While the authors, and those they interviewed, all grappled with the notion that an art career is unlike any other, some described it as a non-linear path, others as luck. I was struck by the interview with visual artist Shannon Celia, and I want to include her quote here.

“Some people romanticize an art career but creatives kind of have to work even harder sometimes because you have to do all aspects of the business, and that’s the challenging part for some of us,” Celia said. “You have to compartmentalize the different aspects so you reach your goals. Some days, I just work on the business side. In my dreams, I’d rather just paint.”Kostin Anastaccia, & Karl Winter. 2019. "How Artists Measure Success". Pepperdine University Graphic.

That quote sums things up nicely for me. Obviously I'd rather be painting than doing my quarterly sales taxes, or posting my work on social media. But it seems so naive of us artists to keep repeating that mantra as though it were significant. When I was working as a librarian, a job I dearly loved, I would rather have been on holiday, or watching Showtime with my cat. My personal dreams were never centered around attending collection development meetings or facing angry customers. Everyone knows that. Everyone spends a good portion of their lives doing things they'd rather not do, just to make a living... so they can afford to do the things they prefer. When you meet a co-worker at the water cooler and ask how she's been, how often does your colleague respond that she's been working hard, but she'd much rather be on a beach in the sunshine sipping a fruity cocktail served to her by a tanned cabana-boy named Raul? We know that Sandra, we know that.

That's what Shannon points out in the Pepperdine article. Most artists, if we want to actually live off our creative talent, will have to purposefully, deliberately, and consistently work the business side of our art careers. In order to do that, we need to plan well, evaluate our successes and failures, and strategically move our creative businesses forward in a professional manner... including prioritizing creative output that is key to our business success. So how do we create those objectives that can be realistically achieved, and measured? Let's take a look at two examples.

Technology photo created by -

Some objectives are easy to measure. One of our goals this year is to sell more art. Simple enough, we created 3 objectives under that goal that we knew we could achieve, and that were measurable.

Objective 1: Host monthly studio exhibitions. Measure: we either do, or we don't.

Objective 2: Host quarterly online auctions. Measure: we either host them, or we don't.

Objective 3: Attend one art fair. Measure: name that art fair.

Other objectives are much harder to write. When an objective becomes really difficult to measure, sometimes that's a red flag indicating that your goal needs some reworking. Our challenging goal this year is to Address Home/Work Life Balance. We're not ready to throw out the goal yet, but we are fighting to understand what measure of success we can apply to this goal. What we came up with was:

Objective 1: Determine a measure for success. Measure: Figure out and write a sensible measure.

Objective 2: Keep a log of exercise, entertainment, and food consumed. Measure: create the log.

The difficulty here is that we're tasking ourselves to come up with a measure this year, that we may not complete before the end of December. We realize this is a weak goal, and yet we figured that if we can achieve even that little bit of progress in this area, we will have succeeded. Because without some deliberate attention, next year won't be any better. Note we're not expecting to achieve work/life balance, we're only attempting to "address" it this year. Hopefully that will allow us to prioritize this issue, and force us to make some progress toward understanding it. We may only be able to set the stage to create a better goal next year, but at least we will have made some steps forward.

So best of luck in your own planning. And as you work hard to create strategic plans that will catapult your creative business into your wildest dreams, I know, ... you'd rather be painting. Have a great week.

“Art Life Blog with John & Bogdan” is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. Bogdan is a videographer and fine art photographer who constantly seeks to stretch the boundaries of traditional photographic work, with the added flare of his artistic eye.  Both artists’ work can be seen online, or at their studios at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, in Houston.

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