Success — we want it, maybe we don’t, maybe we shouldn’t, maybe we can handle it really well, maybe we can’t.

It’s complex.

Consider modern abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956. He became one of the major artists of his generation. He had shows. He sold. Life wrote him up. Collectors bought his paintings. Museums bought his work. His image paintings and his completely abstract drip paintings were controversial, but they didn’t go unnoticed. Jackson entered art history. He advance abstractionism beyond Picasso. But Jackson’s success didn’t satisfy him; in some ways it brought out the worst in him.

In a long alcoholic, manic, depressed, codependent, psychotic, abusive downward spiral he descended into addiction, mental illness and an early, tragic death. He wanted to be loved, by his family, by fellow artists, by the world, but his life was one long, horrible experience of rejection. By means of alcoholism, abusivenes and egotism he ruined all his relationships. His sucesses brought him accolades and some money, but they also distanced him from his brothers, his wife, his critics and the artists of his time.

Success can  be a mess. In ourselves it may invite pride, excess, superiority, abusiveness, selfishness and addiction. In others it often openly invites jealousy and resentment.

But it need not be so.

A couple of things can help us be successful at success.

Stay humble. We can do that in our successes by facing the fact that all of what we are and do is a gift, a gift of genetics, and gift of timing, a gift of personality, a gift from God. Success is always also a gift from our community, a gift from the many others who love, teach, nuture and support us.

Be grateful. Our success is not something owed to us. It is not a given. We are not entitled to it. It could have gone the other way, and we know it. For any moment of solution, of creativity, of honor, of recognition, of success,  be grateful.

To succeed at success we must also face our demons  — and back them down. Most all of us come out of our families tweaked, incomplete, wounded, somewhat-loved-still-needy. We must think that all through, recover, forgive, individuate, mature through good decisions, take responsibility for our stuff. We must, or our demons  will crush us and the people who love us.

Lastly love, we must always love. Love can keep even the most successful of us from becoming tyrannical, dominating, selfish, horrible. If we love others, more than ourselves, if we  give, serve and care for others success will become an extention of love.  Love, love love, social eloquence thereof. Love is the antidote for all the dangers of success.

When I visited the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2o10 I was taken by Renoir’s “Girls at the Piano,” 1892. It is full of love. Like Jackson Pollock, Renoir was a successful painter during his life,  (he got to see his paintings hung in the Louvre with the old masters) and yet he loved his children, and painted them often. In Jackson’s paintings of family we feel the tension, the conflict between the members. In his paintings, family members appear separated from each other, sometimes threatening each other. In Renoir’s “Girls at the Piano” the girls are close,  connected to each other, safe with each other. With Renoir, love ruled, and able to love he died an old respected artist.

Many people avoid success like the plague. It’s too bad. Think of what they fail to accomplish. A few seek it dysfunctionally; some of them, like Jackson, are crushed by it. Most survive it, after some fashion, but it doesn’t always survive them. Some excel at excellence and thrive.

The bottom line, maybe the top line too, for artists and for us all — there are ways, low, thankful and loving, to be successful with success.

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