Goals? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Goals!

I’m reflecting again on goals. The idea of setting goals is one we hear often in a variety of contexts. We hear, too, a lot goal-setting strategies, reasons why we should set goals, and reasons why maybe we shouldn’t. We hear about ways to measure our progress, and about the importance of setting appropriate goals. We even hear cute little acronyms like SMART — which, if memory serves, stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.

Good goal-setting begins — according to this SMART theory — with choosing a specific goal. So, count me out right there when it comes to art. If I have any goal at all — which is somewhat questionable — it’s very vague and general. Even if I try to be a bit more specific, I’ll be out all over again with the second step. But, stay with me here on specifics for a moment longer. A good, specific goal — according to the goal-setting experts whose advice I’ve been reading — should state clearly not only what the end result should be, but precisely who will be responsible for achieving that result, and when it will be realized.

Other words that might be used here include: sensible, simple, and significant, but don’t get me started on all of these words and what they actually mean when it comes to goal-setting. Let’s just move on, shall we?

A good goal is measurableWe need ways to accurately assess our progress, to see not only that we’re moving closer to a goal, but also how much more work remains. Another word that can be used here is milestoneA milestone is a form of marker, a somewhat tangible illustration of where we are at any given time.

Road Map with MilestonesA quick online search will provide many charts, diagrams, and drawings we can use to represent the idea of our goals as the destination of a journey — much as I refer to my own experience as a journey through the world of art.

Helpful? Maybe. Maybe not. I suppose that depends on precisely how measurable our goals really are.

Oh, want a few more words to confuse things? Try meaningful and motivating. 

Next we come to the importance of setting goals that are attainable or achievableYou’ll have to count me out on this stage of the process, too, I’m afraid. I don’t really know what I’m capable of achieving in art.

My study of this whole goal-setting process has suggested a few other words that are important here: attitude, for oneand accomplishment for another. I know my attitude toward my art isn’t always the best, and if I ever do attempt — yet another A word — to set a goal, I’m never sure how to accomplish it.

Good goals should also be realistic or relevant. Personally I feel like we’re quibbling a bit here, venturing off into semantics perhaps. Is there a difference between an attainable goal and a realistic one? I’m not so sure about that. I do like the idea of relevancy, though. If I were to set a goal, I would want it to be relevant to who I am and what I want in my life. I would want a goal that mattered in some way, something that would help me define and represent who I am.

And then there’s the idea of goals that are timelyor as one website puts ittime-boundSo, let me back up a bit. Isn’t relevancy related to timeliness? Again, are we quibbling over semantics here? Maybe it’s best to just move on to the concept of a goal being bound to time. Aargh! I don’t even like that thought. The idea, according to those goal-setting experts who know far more than the rest of us, is that you must have a deadline for a goal. Talk about putting pressure on yourself! No, thank you. No. Just no.

Frankly, the last thing I want to do when it comes to art is to put any pressure upon myself either in regards to performance, production, or possibilities. While I do think it’s helpful to occasionally push myself forward a bit — maybe nudge would be a better word — the thought of having some self-imposed deadline looming over my head like a dark cloud would be a sure way of making me run from the easel to hide under my bedcovers. A deadline would leave me depressed, discouraged, and despondent.

Obviously I’m not a huge fan of goal-setting, at least not as it’s touted by all those motivational experts who seek to marry efficiency to ambition, to add effectiveness to the process of improvement, and to otherwise blaze psychological trails for us to follow toward success.

If you like that sort of thing, go for it. Choose your goals. Create a rigorous schedule for achievement and adhere to it. Become a well-oiled machine, putting in your time, churning out accomplishments day after day, and always considering the importance of both the process and the results. You may get far in life. If you apply these principles to art, you may become quite accomplished. Good for you.

For me, though, as far as art is concerned, goal-setting can easily become an exercise that’s fraught with peril. I don’t want to put pressure on myself. I don’t want to worry myself about specific objectives. I don’t want to live with more deadlines than I already have. So while I may have a few goals, they’re far from SMART ones.

My goals are vague, impossible to define, wholly subjective, and bound to no time-constraints whatsoever. For me, you see, art isn’t based on some driving ambition, some desire to be the best and to make a name for myself as an artist.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have so far exceeded any expectations I had when I uttered those words — “I guess I need to learn how to draw” — that there are no further goals to which I need aspire. I’m far better than I ever thought I could be, so what more could I want to achieve?

My objectives — I don’t refer to them as goals — are quite simple.

  • I want to improve my drawing and painting skills.
  • I want to be recognized by the art community as an artist of merit
  • I want to continue participating in art shows
  • I want to learn other painting genres — portraiture and still life.
  • I want to enjoy art, to have fun with the creative process, and to use it as a form of personal expression.

No, these aren’t SMART goals. They can’t be measured. There are no deadlines. Maybe they’re not really even all that attainable. But I think they are, at least, relevant. They do represent who I am and what reward I hope to find from this art journey.

Actually, I think the journey is reward within itself, don’t you? Art is a marvelous creative process, and I’m not sure creativity is compatible with strict, time-bound goal-setting.

What do you think? When it comes to your art, do you set specific goals? Do you think it’s important to have deadlines? I’d love to hear your opinions!




    1. I’m sure it’s a very helpful strategy in a lot of settings. I’m just having a hard time with the idea of applying goal-setting to art and/or other creative pursuits. This year I’m really choosing to choose and express a sense of personal freedom in my art, so especially the idea of “time frames” or deadlines made me wince a bit. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do think short-term goals can be helpful. I’ve had a painting sitting around for a long time that I needed to varnish and frame. I finally put that down on my TODO list as an objective. It’s got one coat of varnish now, and I’ll do another one this week. Yep, we sometimes need little pushes to get beyond procrastination.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s always such a good feeling to be “finished” — except that, for me, it’s hard to know when to say “I’m done” and walk away. I’m learning to walk away sooner rather than later. I’m beginning to see more about how I can later come back to a painting and make slight changes or corrections. That’s helped me avoid the dreaded problem of over-doing it.


      3. I hear what you are saying Judith. I have just added an update to my blog on My Latest Challenge. I do a little bit, sit back and then see something else to do. I am happy with my progress so far.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Now… it’s time to think about the next project! Any ideas or inspirations? (I’ve learned that moving on to something new is probably the best way to keep from tweaking something to death LOL.)

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Yeah, I set goals.
    Some years ago I set the main goal: to be a good drawer by 50.
    There is only a year and a few months left to that date.
    But this main goal is only important to set the determination and time that it’s is going to take.
    You need short term goals and some planing in order to, eventually met your ultimate goals.
    But I don’t get mad with short term goals. I know that I’m going to find out, half way out, that I need to work in something else before I coud get good results in whatever I set as a goal.

    Setting goals helps you to take good decisions like choosing instruction or study materials. If something is not working you need to change it.

    Don’t forget that being really good in somethig it’s going to take time and determination and some discipline. It is something more than a passtime. Out there, there are thousands of people working his ass out every day for years. Being an artist is not easier than being a good surgeon.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Setting goals can be very important in certain areas, and for certain people. My study of art is purely for my own pleasure now — so I don’t find goal-setting particularly useful. I think I do set short-term goals, but I don’t try to make them measurable or set any deadlines. For instance, over the coming year I want to branch out to do more portrait painting and still life paintings along with my landscapes. I suppose you could call those “goals” — or objectives. To me, they’re more like a basic plan or outline of what I’d like to study. It could all change tomorrow. I might discover another area of art I want to pursue instead. Right now, art is about freedom and expression for me, and I can’t reconcile those ideas with rigid goal-setting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I work in the world of Corporate Strategy, performance measurement and planning. With my art, I do set myself little challenges, but I find that I like to be able to adapt to that ‘shiny new’ medium or genre so, I’m extremely flexible in my art. I’ve only be drawing/painting for a bit over 2 years, and like you, I’ve far exceeded my wildest dreams in this area. As for my photography, its been a lifelong hobby. I just love to learn and stretch myself. But, no, I don’t really set goals for my art.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can see where some planning is helpful in art, especially for large projects, but beyond that, I don’t want too much structure in my art. Like you, I want to be adaptable and able to make changes as I see fit. A lot of my projects change entirely from start to finish LOL. I might start out thinking I’m going to paint a particular scene, but by the time I’m done, it’s changed to something completely different.


  3. For the past several years I’ve used my planner to set annual goals and intentions. And here’s some of the things I’ve learned.

    1. Resolutions are usually a pass or fail ultimatum. Trying to do something daily, but then missing a day and breaking a “winning” streak can feel like a failure. And feelings of failure can lead to giving up. Intentions, however, are based in growth. They are flexible and return positive feedback because the “goal” is to do better, rather than attain perfection.

    2. I have come across the SMART goals acronym and attempted to use it too. But I found that it works best with projects. Projects are a means of accomplishing intentions, but are more like mini-resolutions in that they have a definite “success/failure” outcome. Project-oriented goals can be short or long term. And since they can be broken down into small, actionable tasks, they are perfect for applying SMART steps. For example, writing a book may take a year to do as a long-term goal, but the process has a definite beginning and an end. And it can be broken down into short-term goals or actionable steps toward completion. (One chapter a day. A certain number of words a day. Etc.) You wouldn’t want to write this book every day for the rest of your life. Compare that to a goal like “be more active,” which has no beginning or end because it’s just something you want to grow in by adding more of it to your life. Systems work better with “growth” goals. Then you can break it down into specific tasks knowing this is a life change, rather than a means to an end.

    3. By “systems” I mean introducing new habits into your life that you want to be part of you. And the most important aspect of a system is TIME. So, if the goal is to improve at art, the only way to do that is to practice. Practice takes time. So you discipline yourself toward making time to make art practice part of your life, not as a duty, but as a logical step and regular habit toward whatever inspired you to grow. The system then ensures that you have space to plan any goals or projects or tasks.

    Sorry to be long-winded, but this is what finally helped me get my act together for everything from overwhelming to-do list tasks to seemingly unattainable things like weight loss. So, here’s a couple of examples of how it looks.

    Intention: “I want to be better at art.”
    System: One hour a day after lunch, 5 days a week, I will practice art. I can write this in my planner if I like. I can set timers if I need to. I can shift it around to other days or other times if necessary. I may have to wake up an hour earlier if my schedule changes. Nothing is signed in blood or carved in stone, but I know that if I do not make time to practice, I will not get better at art. So, my system must be in place to make practice a *habit*. The habit of making art is more important toward what I want to achieve than any actual art goals or projects.
    Goal: I want to get better at sumi-e painting.
    Project: Learn how to paint the Four Gentlemen.
    Tasks: Look up tutorial videos. Go to library for sumi-e examples. Practice brush strokes. 7-day challenge: I will paint only bamboo for a week. End of week: have I improved? Can I advance to the orchid?

    There is no end point here. Only reassessment until I get the improvement I was seeking. When I’m satisfied with the results of my quest, I can pick another project — learn how to paint sumi-e animals, calligraphy, landscapes. Or I can pick another goal — learn how to draw portraits, work more with charcoal, study human and animal anatomy, etc. But I’ll always be working on my intent to improve in art, and my system will always be there to help me make space for goals and projects … at least until I decide I no longer want art to be part of my life. (Which will probably never happen.) 🙂 This all may seem very “pre-planned,” but it really isn’t. Part of my system involves keeping a tidy little wish list in my planner for jotting down inspirational project ideas as they come to me, so that when practice time rolls around there are dozens of ideas waiting for me to explore and experiment with for studies. I might not always know ahead of time what I’m going to do that day, but I know I will always make time to pick something from that list and do it.

    Intention: “I want to learn Korean.”
    System: Languages need frequent practice to be of any use, so 30 minutes to an hour every day after dinner. Language also has four components to study: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. So, I will need a schedule to make sure I’m doing a well-rounded study.
    Goal: Gather resources and make rotary schedule for switching focus of studies.
    Project: Start by learning the characters.
    Tasks: Find a Hangul chart. Make flashcards. Find a Hangul writing app. Add Korean to my Duolingo account. Find podcasts, dramas, songs, etc. that can be used for reading and listening practice. Set timer for reading aloud to practice speaking. Reassess at the end of the week. Keep what worked. Change what didn’t. Set next week’s goal/projects/tasks accordingly.

    There is a little more structure because of the nature of the beast being studied, but there still is no end point to this goal. Eventually, over time, I will get better at understanding and communicating in Korean in all its various formats. But language is a lifetime study if fluency is desired. And if I don’t prioritize and value my system, it won’t become a habit. I need it to be part of my life on a daily basis if I’m to make it a habit and integrate it into my life. If I were to set language as a resolution-type goal and miss enough days of practice, I’d be more likely to quit because I haven’t achieved X-goal by X-date. So, it’s all about recognizing the differences between action that is merely a means to an end versus action that contributes to a journey or a passion, and then using the right tool for the job (kinda like how we use big brushes to paint backgrounds, but detail brushes for finishing little touches). 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. What a wonderful way to approach the idea of goals, objectives, and growth in many different areas of life. It sounds as though you’ve developed systems and processes which work well for you. Yes, improvement in art (or any endeavor) requires consistent practice, and I tend to set “casual objectives” for myself, such as my current interest in gradually learning to paint portraits and still lifes as well as landscape paintings. I try to explore different resources to build a “curriculum” of various art-related subjects, complete with projects to work on and occasional field trips. I’m not good at any sort of rigid planning or scheduling, and my daily routine changes now and then. Last autumn I worked with pen and ink for weeks, practicing diligently every morning. Now, I’ve moved away from pen and ink and am focusing more on various oil-painting techniques. And I’m learning Dutch, and yes, that requires daily practice. I enjoy having a variety of activities — art, languages, music, and other interests — and it’s important for me to stay flexible. For me, getting into too many “routines” is a sure route to failure. If I don’t have a sense of freedom over my creative pursuits, the joy goes out of it all. So, I do bounce from one thing to the next, and maybe I don’t make as much progress as more time-efficient and goal-oriented people do. But I enjoy what I’m doing, and in the end, that’s what matters most to me.

      Thank you so much for sharing your ideas and experiences. Good luck with Korean! I love the Duolingo site and am very pleased with how much I’ve learned in a short time.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Flexibility is definitely important to creative pursuits. I know this sounds very rigid because its organized, but it’s really more like a flow. 🙂 I have to be able to change my schedule and my mind, so part of the system involves having a plan B for days that require something different, or going into it reminding myself that intentions allow for missed days and bad results. For example, Inktober’s goal was 30 ink drawings in 30 days. Speaking for myself, not all of those 30 days were spectacular. LoL … I missed some and had to double up. And then some days I just didn’t have the juice to do it. Part of me was very proud when it ended, but part of me was very glad that it ended because I so badly wanted to do other types of art! ^_^ But it was a good challenge, and I’ll probably do it again next year, even if that means sidelining some other projects in order to do this one.

        Anyway, thanks and good luck with your Dutch too! ^_^ I’m studying Korean and Japanese, and I’m enjoying Duolingo as part of my process for both. I’m so glad that language study has an abundance of resources like that now through the Internet compared to when I studied languages in high school and college!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I share a lot of your same feelings about Inktober LOL. I enjoyed doing it and I got a tremendous sense of satisfaction from completing — this was an example of my kind of art goal-setting. I chose a theme, committed myself to the project, and successfully created 31 drawings in 31 days. Actually I ended up doing 33 drawings. Some were definitely better than others, but I enjoyed focusing on that single media for a time. It gave me a chance to work on a few very specific areas with pen and ink. Yet by the time it was over, I was very glad to move on to other things. At the same time, it was almost disorienting not to have that routine of sitting down each morning and doing a drawing. So, for a while, I continued using that time to practice ink, then used it to practice graphite, and now I’ve moved back to oil painting practice each morning. I find short term goals and projects to be useful now and then, and I like having very general overall long-term objectives. But again, if it gets too rigid, I know I’m heading for trouble.

        And yes, the internet is awesome for language studies! Years ago I wanted to learn Portuguese but couldn’t find any materials. Now, with the internet any resources I need are only a few clicks away. I’m doing Dutch now but I do have Portuguese selected as another language I plan to learn. How do you manage the Japanese and Korean exercises? What sort of keyboard program do you have?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. For Japanese and Korean, Duolingo offers “buttons” that have words or parts of words with the characters on them. But there is an option to use the keyboard too. So, to save time, I usually just tap the word buttons to piece the sentence together for the Japanese and Korean sentences, but then type when translating to English if given that option.

        I do, however, have my keyboard set so that I can type in Japanese or Korean if I want. You have to go into the language settings of Windows and download or unlock the additional fonts. And then, if your keyboard has Roman lettering, you have to learn how that translates into the layout/functions of Japanese and Korean keyboards.

        I’ve been learning Japanese since 2003, so I’ll use it as my easier example. The Japanese “alphabet” is a syllabary, meaning it’s always going to be a vowel or a vowel + a consonant. So … “a,i,u,e,o” is the first set of syllables (called a gyo). Then “ka, ki, ku, ke, ko” … “sa, shi, su, se, so” … “ta, chi, tsu, te, to,” etc. So, you have to form syllables to type Japanese on an English keyboard. Typing “k-a” will give you the character “ka”. Typing a single “k” will give you nothing because it’s waiting for the vowel before converting it into a character. But Japanese has four integrated writing systems. Hiragana is basic script for native words. It’s kind of like cursive — very pretty and loopy, though the letters don’t connect. Katakana is similar to how English uses italicized scripts, so it’s used to write foreign words and words of emphasis. It has a lot of straight lines and angles, but follows the same syllabary. So, for every syllable, there are two ways to write it. I would choose hiragana to type “katana,” but katakana to type “banana.” Chinese kanji is the third writing system, so if a word can be truncated into kanji, you follow the hiragana spelling with a space bar tap (because there are no spaces between Japanese words). The computer or phone will automatically convert your hiragana script into kanji. Or you can click on the word for a drop-down menu to choose other options or homophones, including the fourth writing system, romaji (Roman letters). Romaji works just like English, so it’s good for quick transliterations, but it’s horrible for actually learning how to read and write Japanese.

        Korean is similar to Japanese in that it also uses a syllabary, shares a history of kanji and Chinese-origin words, and uses particles to label word functions. But I’m having a harder time learning how to type in Korean because it doesn’t follow “English keyboard logic” the way Japanese does. Instead of matching Korean sounds with Roman letters, I have to memorize the layout of a Korean keyboard. So, I’m having to peck at keys until I get the combination I want. LoL … Maybe there is an easier option, but for now I just keep a print-out chart of a Korean keyboard close to my laptop. Modern Korean uses only their own syllabary, though, so working with only one writing system makes learning how to read and write a little easier as a beginner.

        In Duolingo, Japanese lessons start with hiragana, then introduce katakana and kanji very quickly. That’s where the buttons come in. You start with learning to recognize kana for “ka,” “zo,” “ku,” then your button changes to “kazoku” in hiragana script for “family.” Then they throw in the kanji, and you can choose between the kana and the kanji until they remove the kana option and you have to be able to read the kanji. But it’s still just buttons. There is one concern for me with this, though. Kanji has multiple readings, some Chinese, some Japanese. For example, the kanji for “year” can be read “sai” to mean “How old are you?” or “toshi” to mean “Five years ago …” Duolingo’s vocalization in a sentence might be “sai” for the sentence, “My son is three years old.” But if you click the kanji button, the vocalization only says “toshi.” Someone new to Japanese might not understand why the button is pronounced one way and the sentence another because the kanji is the same. I attempted to flag a few of these types of inconsistencies, but only a couple were corrected, so I figured they felt it was too much work to offer all the readings for each kanji, so learners could understand there’s more than one way to say that kanji, depending on context. So, I throw out a word of caution any time I speak with anyone about learning Japanese on Duolingo. I haven’t noticed anything similar with Korean (probably because Korean doesn’t use kanji), but I recommend having additional resources for learning languages and using Duolingo as one of many practice tools. It’s incomplete by itself and possibly confusing for a beginner — for Japanese, at least. And if you’re not already familiar with the language you’re studying, you won’t know if what you’re learning is wrong or more complicated than what’s presented in the app. Otherwise, I think Duolingo is an excellent introduction to the language studies and a great practice tool. Anything that sparks and holds an interest in language studies is a helpful resource, imo. :3

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thank you for this information. I speak Spanish in addition to English, and I write a lot in Spanish, so I do have a Spanish keyboard for both the computer and my phone. I’ve gone over several tutorials and I still can’t figure out how to use them correctly. Eventually I want to study Russian with Duolingo. I’ve studied the language before, but I haven’t kept it up so I can barely read Cyrillic now. If I’m having so much problem with a Spanish keyboard, I’m wondering if I’d ever be able to figure out a Russian one! With Dutch, there’s a Duolingo Dutch Learners Group on Facebook, and that’s been really helpful. I’m also reading Dutch novels on the side, plus studying with other online Dutch sites. I joined a Dutch Culture group on Facebook, too, so I’ve developed a strong support system with a lot of native Dutch speakers. Have you checked into Facebook groups for Korean and Japanese?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. No, I haven’t! Never occurred to me to check on FB groups, but I will now. :3 I studied a bit of Russian for one summer, so only a little bit has stuck with me all these years later, but I imagine the Cyrillic alphabet would be handled the same way on Duolingo as Asian scripts, using buttons since English keyboards obviously won’t have those keys. It would probably be good to unlock the Cyrillic fonts in your computer as a just in case, though. Especially if you plan to type in Russian otherwise. You will get a language bar in your toolbar on Windows (probably something similar for Mac). And you just select which language you wish to type in before starting. Then, if your keyboard layout changes too drastically, you can always look up a chart for the keyboard you wish to use and print out a guide until you can learn the layout. I think you get to choose between international keyboard layouts and the layout of the language you choose. At least that was the case for Japanese and Korean.

        A learning group would be so helpful. I will definitely have to search and see if there’s anything out there. Thanks for that suggestion! ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I know Duolingo has several Facebook groups for different languages, and also, have you checked for “meet-ups”? There aren’t any Dutch “meet-ups” in the area where I live, but there are regular Spanish meet-ups. I know how to change from one keyboard to another, and I have used the Spanish keyboard, but every time I have to look up a tutorial LOL. I did download a Russian keyboard and will do a little browsing to learn about how to use it. I’m familiar with the Duolingo “buttons” since Dutch has a few accent marks here and there, so I’ll have to check out the Russian course to see what’s available. Can you look me up through Facebook (Judith Kraus in Harrisonville MO) and add me as a Duolingo friend? Send me a Facebook friend request.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. No, I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and I have yet to find any meet-ups for my interests locally. The library does a Spanish language practice, but Spanish isn’t one of the languages I’ve studied … unless you want to count living in Florida and watching bilingual programs between the ages of 4 and 9. 🙂 I will certainly look for you on Duolingo and Facebook, though!

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