13 Steps to a Happy Artistic Life

Success is a common theme in my writing.  Of course, there are many types of success: landing a job, performing well, creating a great composition, mastering a technique, getting noticed, going viral, attracting web traffic, moving audiences.  Yet some artists accomplish many of these things, but still feel dissatisfied with their life in the arts.  So caught up in making a living, they fail to adequately address a most important aspect of success—personal happiness. 

 Typically, the happiest artists:  

1)  Love the act of making art.  The demands of an artistic life are intense, requiring long hours, hard work, and frequent attention to issues far from the reason this field was pursued. But the happiest artists are so enamored with making art that all the other stuff is somehow worthwhile.  

2)  Are creative. The happiest artists find avenues for creative expression.  Many top orchestral players find themselves disgruntled because of the lack of creative control in their musical life, even though they have a high paying job in an outstanding ensemble. The most content members are typically those who pursue chamber music and additional artistic endeavors on the side.

3)  Have a varied musical profile. The happiest artists wear a number of hats.  They perform, create, record, teach, write, blog, speak, and/or consult.  While balancing so many pursuits is challenging, it also provides variety while excising the monotony of just one thing.

4)  Do more than art. The happiest artists balance artistic activities with other interests: family, friends, travel, reading, sports, hobbies, etc.  

5)  Are part of an artistic community. The happiest artists belong to one or several communities of artists with similar interests.  Without this, a sense of isolation often sets in.  This problem often plagues teachers who focus on art throughout the day, yet have few opportunities to connect with piers.  Joining an amateur community ensemble or an arts networking club are two great solutions.

6)  Pursue passion projects. Though most artists accept work that they aren’t crazy about to make ends meet, the happiest artists pursue at least one passion project. Even when these activities don’t pay well financially (or result in a deficit), they rejuvenate the soul.

7)  Complete projects.  Many artists imagine countless exciting projects, but never get past the idea stage, or fail to cross the finish line. The happiest artists focus energy on one or two major projects at a time, staying focused until the work is done.

8)  Feel they make an impact. The happiest artists observe direct evidence that their contributions are appreciated and making a difference.  Teaching, concert performance, and community engagement are all ways to immediately observe the impact of your offerings.

9)  Constantly continue growing. Beware of falling into an artistic rut.  The happiest artists are lifelong learners, arts fans, and explorers.

10)  Have enough money. You don’t have to be rich. But the happiest artists are not constantly stressed about paying the rent, credit card debt, and other financial hardships.  They find ways to ensure a healthy economic profile.

11)  Are optimists.  Everyone is confronted with challenges, obstacles, and unfortunate news at times.  The happiest artists stay positive, looking for the silver lining.

12)  Are not perfectionists. Perfectionism drives artists to work hard. But it also causes low self-esteem or even outright depression. The happiest artists love the sacred act of art music, even with mistakes along the way (as there always are).  

13)  Don’t take life too seriously. Though some classical musicians regally refer to their work as “serious music,” let’s put things into perspective. It’s just notes and rhythms, not life or death crises. The happiest artists know how to have fun, both in and outside their musical life.


Check out David Cutler’s 

THE SAVVY MUSICIAN: Building a Career, Earning a Living, & Making a Difference

   “Hands down, the most valuable resource available for aspiring musicians.”

             — Jeffrey Zeigler, Kronos Quartet

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