Is Your Work Outstanding?

By Carolyn Edlund

Take a look at your body of work. Is it truly memorable, and does it stand out among your peers?


“Natura Morte” Mixed Media Installation, Stainless Steel with Mirror Finish, Digital Impression, 4’ x 7’ x 4’ by artist Carlos Mercado. See his portfolio by visiting

“Natura Morte” Mixed Media Installation, Stainless Steel with Mirror Finish, Digital Impression, 4’ x 7’ x 4’ by artist Carlos Mercado.


Are your ideas and your portfolio basically a knock-off of a popular style that’s been out there for a long time? Or are they amazingly original and timeless, with staying power?

Is your body of work totally cohesive, in a strong signature style? What makes it special, completely different from anyone else? What makes it irresistible?

Are you crystal clear in your intention and your message and what you are accomplishing?  Or are you wandering, unsure of your purpose and goals?

Can you sum up in one sentence what makes you, and your work and your business uniquely qualified to be hugely successful?


What about the execution, the craftsmanship?

Is the quality good? Because “good” isn’t good enough. If your work is good, then you will get minimum results.

Is the quality really, really great – excellent perhaps? Consistently at the top of your game? Recognized by others as exemplary? Then you will probably get consistent business opportunities and good sales results.


Or is your work outstanding?

Do you, on a daily basis, go farther than anyone else expects, because you expect more of yourself?

Does your body of work overwhelm your audience with its powerful and original approach?

Are you on a higher level – a leader, an influencer, a pioneer?


Artists and creatives who are outstanding are the ones who will really make it, in reputation and success and longevity.

Take Banksy, for instance. The world is mesmerized by his mystique. His messages are clear, striking, unexpected, shocking. What will he do next? A whole industry has spun off from his work and his influence.

What will you do in your own studio that will take your body of work on an amazing leap to a higher level where you didn’t have the guts to go before? What’s stopping you from being outstanding?



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  1. I guess we all like to think ours is, but the truth is sometimes it isn’t. No matter what you make, the field is crowded and you have to stand out. I’ve realized this and am working hard to get better, both technically and artistically and business wise. As to where I’ve been, I made what I knew how to make. And I’m learning and making better.

    • Thanks for your comment, Charlene – I agree. The field is crowded, you must be exceptional to be really successful. By coincidence, Edward Winkleman wrote an article on his blog the other day stating that you must be “jaw-droppingly amazing” Yes, it’s daunting, but it’s true.

  2. Thank you for this reminder. I frequently try to look at work with a fresh eye, especially just before an Open Studio event or when applying to a show. Sometimes work can be tweaked but sometimes you just have to chalk it up to lessons learned and go forward.

  3. It is hard to truly be honest about your own work. About two years ago I realized that I needed to work a lot harder and step up my game. It has been paying off, but now I am on the quest of constantly reaching. Business wise, still working on that also.
    I think it is important to realize where you excel with your work. I have been concentrating on a limited focus in my work which has gotten more attention from others. It doesn’t mean that I can’t work on other subject matter and improve there, but I feel my time is limited and it is best to focus where I do my best work.

    • Becky, Thanks for your insight. It may be hard to truly be honest about your work, but I think you have done just that. As you focus on certain aspects of your creative process, are you further developing your style and uniqueness? This speaks of an artist maturing and understanding their work on a very deep level.

      • I feel that developing your style and uniqueness is a constantly evolving process as we mature as individuals and artists. Writing an artist’s statement about how I really felt about my work, the process and the direction that I wanted to go with my work helped my art. It helped in gaining clarity for me.

  4. My work is unique, timeless, cohesive and well-crafted. I’m using techniques few or no artists have explored before.. I take them to the limit., and keep pushing the boundaries. I’m not shy (as you might have guessed by now) and I have no problem with doing business, as long as it’s conducted honestly and fairly.

    Unfortunately, it’s hard to find anyone who cares about all that. Most galleries seem to want art that fits a pre-defined niche, rather than taking the effort to open their eyes to something new. I sometimes feel that if my work was less original, less different from everything else people have seen, that I’d have a much easier time of it. Do people really want art that’s “jaw-droppingly amazing”, or work that fits in their comfort zone, that conforms to their pre-existing ideas of what art is supposed to look like?

    As an artist, it’s hard to get excited about making that sort of thing – I always subscribed to the heroic model of the artist as visionary, who gives us a new way to view the world, but it’s hard to keep the faith in the face of near-universal and profound disinterest in anything but big names and sure best-sellers.

    I’d like to believe that the art world is set up to reward unique visions and long lonely struggles for technical mastery, but that doesn’t really seem to be the case. I’m afraid it’s much more geared to the promotion of conformism, careerism, celebrity worship, boot-licking and social climbing. I wish I was wrong about this…

    Andrew Werby

    • Andrew, I can’t argue your point about conformism, careerism and celebrity worship. In a perfect world, you would realize profits equal to your abilities. We know this does not happen. Somehow, however, I see that this has not stopped you from pushing the boundaries and moving your studio practice into new unexplored areas – and valuing outstanding work.

      Edward Winkleman, who regularly voices firm opinions, has made an excellent point, though. When art is jaw-droppingly amazing, we know it. It’s rare. Yet it makes a difference.
      His comment count is currently up to 73, which shows that this topic creates interesting discussion.

      Thanks for sharing your opinion on this, too.

  5. Carolyn, I am in love with the word ‘Outstanding’ with every fiber of my body. Perhaps I should change my middle name to ‘outstanding’. The thought has indeed crossed my mind. It is said that if you think about what you love enough times — you become it. Either I commit to my ideas 100% or don’t even bother working on it till I can. Now is that 100% I give enough? Only time will tell. All I can say is that it is a slow and frustrating process (with my hyper-focus ADHD) for me for I am result oriented. I take my time to birth the work when it is done and is completed to my satisfaction. My work speaks to me and tells me when to quit or keep improving. I strive for the ‘Wow factor’ and magic. It matters less to me if people like it but I know that I have to like it and love it. I am a firm believer that the more art we create, the better we get at it. There is always room for improvement for sure. When I started creating my Chess Themed Art some years ago, I got a lot of negative feedback from not only people I did not know but my own family members as they could not understand where I was going with it. once my artwork started to sell and were published in glossy art magazines – those sinister comments stopped. It is always the shock of the new that is met with resistance. That was a sign to me that I was doing something right. I never intended to create my paintings for everyone but for the kindred spirits who can appreciate my humor and genius. If I did not love what I do then I would not be doing it…after all it is a free country.

  6. Roopa,

    You commented “It is said that if you think about what you love enough times — you become it.”

    Yes, I think we are what we repeatedly do, and our world is formed by the way we think. Setting a bar at the level of “Outstanding” means that you are committed to that higher level, and likely to reach it!

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