Setting Goals

How to set a goal as an artist


Mild Pain

5/9/20243 min read

Goal setting, manifesting, kicking your ass up a long, tiresome hill. Whatever you want to call it, setting a goal is moving yourself from one place to another, ideally to some bigger or better place. Whether that's sharpening your observational drawing skills, setting up a work schedule for yourself, or learning a new medium, goals can be elusive to artists. From my perspective, This is purely speculative, but it can be hard to stick to a goal when you're bursting with little ideas. "Oh, what if I did this?" "Maybe I could try doing this?"

The what-if's, maybe-I-should's, and one-day-I-will's are great but the idea won't go anywhere until you light a fire under it and tend to it. This isn't a one-size-fits-all guide, but it may motivate you to get your kindling together.

What's your goal?

It is either the easiest or the most difficult place to start. Determine your goal, and put it somewhere concrete. Write it down in a notebook or journal you use regularly, or if you're a Notes app person, go that route. Put it somewhere you will see it every day.

If you don't know how to put your goal into words, start identifying the feelings you're having that are making you think you should have a goal.

For example, after art school, I started a community drink-and-draw to find folks like me who were into drawing. The goal, therein, was to bring people together. After working in the service industry, I decided I didn't want to be in a dead-end job. I started researching community arts, collaborative/co-op art spaces, and what art means to communities. This led me to form a new goal: I would go to graduate school for nonprofit leadership to gain more skills and contribute to my community by creating opportunities for artists.

So, get out your mood board, a post-it note, burn a message into your lawn - wherever you'll look back at your note - write down your goal. Then, figure out what you need to do to reach your goal.

You get out what you put in.

Even at a service industry day job, you have a series of inputs needed to get through the day. Like at a coffee shop, you grind the beans, brew the coffee, dial in the espresso machine, and stock the cups and lids. Now you're ready for business. You've got the necessary inputs to give out to customers and reach the end of the day. If you didn't do that, you'd have a line of pissed-off customers wondering where the fuck their brew is.

The same goes for goals. There will be certain activities or inputs you need to do that correlate to your goal. To improve your craft, establish a routine that gives you enough time to learn and practice. What does it take to improve? Are you seeking out educational material or inspiration? Maybe you want to find a mentor to study under. Seek out your inputs so you can then do the necessary activities to achieve your desired outcomes.

Determine the best method to stay on top of that routine, too. Maybe you use phone reminders, a big calendar on your wall, or a checklist. Use whatever you need to get that routine going; the rest should follow if you're consistent. Making the work routine or a habit is also incredibly important. Set benchmarks for yourself to have tiny goals within the bigger project/idea and feel like you're making progress. After all, how can you reach your goal if you don't put in the time?

Stick to your goal. Stick to your goal.

Pursuing creative goals can feel like watching clouds. Their shapes change right when you think you know what you're looking at. As you start to learn more and work closer toward a goal, you may discover something entirely new, and that's great, but that can only be achieved if you stick to your goal. Or, you may feel like the pursuit is hopeless, and that's normal. Just stick with it!

My two goals of bringing people together and going to grad school required vastly different input levels, but repetition and consistency were necessary to achieve results. Many times when I was in grad school, I felt like I was making a mistake or that it wasn't the right goal after all. In times of doubt, having friends or peers to encourage or reassure you is very helpful. Or taking small breaks is helpful, y'know, step back and gain some perspective. Ultimately, I did achieve my goals, but I didn't realize it until I had already worked well past them. And that's the beauty of a goal. Think of a goal as a state of mind where you set yourself up to push the boundaries of what you're comfortable with, exploring the unknown.

Don't let it get you down when you don't feel like you can make it. A goal is an end result; the work put in to get a goal (whether you "achieve it" or not) is the real reward because you learn things along the way.

And no matter what, do NOT compare yourself to others - do NOT feel like you need to be operating on someone else's level. Go at your own pace and get there when you get there. You will only hurt yourself from being present in what you're doing if you're too busy paying attention to what other people (who are probably doing what you want to be doing - so get straight and focus on yourself) are up to!