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The importance for Creatives in selling out, adapting, and actually doing things.

 

I’ve been throwing myself into higher-end 3D modeling and printing again for the last two weeks to try out a couple side-business ideas that look promising.
In the small business that is my sculpture studio, my apprentices dues basically cover our overhead, studio rent etc. It’s a solid basic business model, but it means I need sales or commissions for large, public sculptures to have any income for, you know, food and stuff.
The commission side of the business is doing very well actually, but it is moving insanely, infuriatingly slowly right now, and I may not get to start physical work on the contracts I’m working on now for a couple months yet. Thus I will not be paid anything for a few months to come.
So the reasonable response to solving that problem, of short term income, is to start a third, entirely new small business! Am I right?
Actually, I am right.
This kind of thing happens constantly in a creative professional’s life, and there’s only one good response to it.
It’s something I learned right at the beginning of my career making a living as an artist– the correct answer to every question involving a paying job or possible paying job is “Yep, I can do that.”
Friend wants to know if you can make a logo? Yep, you can do that. Do book layout? Yep, can do that. Make Halloween masks? No problem. Go work for the circus? Cool. Work as a movie extra? Uh huh. Higher pay if you can ride a horse? Sure, I can ride a horse, just give me a few hours to make a new friend who also owns a horse…
There are limits to this obviously. Complex skills require time and energy to acquire, and you don’t want to do things professionally that you’re incompetent at. So many creatives fail to make a living though because they’re really good at writing poems about the rain, and want to find a job doing exactly that, and that job has never existed.
But if you can write a great poem about the rain, you can also write really good ad copy for shower heads, or a good song about the rain fallin’ down. And you can sell those things, and get paid for practicing writing, instead of for working at Arby’s. Which is totally fine, if that’s your calling. But if you’re a poet, it’s probably not the job you’re hoping to spend your precious and limited time doing.
Vonnegut wrote ads for G.E.
Wedding gigs for your band pay just as much as gigs at cool clubs. More, probably.
You get to spend your time honing your skills at either one.
Sell out kids.
Sell out early. Sell out enthusiastically. Sell out to anyone who can pay. Figure out how to make it work after.
People will try to convince you that it’s more respectable to have a spouse or parents who support you financially, or to starve, in order to remain “pure” in your art. I have always had more respect for creatives who live more like gunslingers, feet in the dirt, out in the world, with just their horse and gun, taking each new day and each new challenge as it comes. Because if you want to really be *in* the world, what else can you do? That’s the life.
The ones who will criticize you for selling out all have trust funds or professorships. Someone else feeds them, and they haven’t had to fight in the real world for a long, long time.
Don’t tell yourself your ideas won’t work out.
That’s not your job, to tell yourself you failed.
It’s the world’s job to reject you.
And the world only gets that one shot.
After which, you have the option to stand up, clean yourself off, and try again.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
This is the life, for creatives, for entrepreneurs, whoever.
Your job is not to predict things, or to feel safe, or to understand.
Your job is to ignore people with big ideas, and very serious advice and concerns, and to be the one to *actually try things*, and get your answer back from the big bad world, and then adjust, stand up, learn, and continue to move forward.
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2009-081Remember, when you read those stories about how people made fun of some great artist or entrepreneur or author, but 20 years later, the artist was hailed as a genius, and their company redefined an industry, and their ideas changed everything, that that’s only how it looks from the outside.

From the inside, if that’s you, it looks like having a crazy idea, or pouring a piece of your soul into something incredibly weird, and then having everybody laugh at you, or ignore you, or tear you down. And that’s it. There’s no indication another chapter is ever coming.

From the inside it looks like rent checks that bounce, and groceries left behind at the checkout, and long, lonely nights wondering if you were wrong, or wrong to even try. For 20 years. From whatever your current age is now, until that number plus 20. Maybe.

It’s a long game. And finding meaning in the destination is hard, and will make you question your sanity.

You have to find meaning in the work. In the day to day practice and grind. Not in the approval of others, but in your own satisfaction and need to create. If not there, then in the hope that the others exist, the ones who will understand, and this is how you find them. By being louder. By being brighter.

That’s how you make it through.

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2009-078As an artist, if you’re doing well, both as a creative and as a human being, you will often look back at your old work and be absolutely mortified by it. That’s OK though, it should embarrass you on some level. Even if your technique doesn’t seem rough, and your mistakes obvious, it’s going to feel too raw, or express embarrassing ideas, or show sides of yourself that you’d rather were still hidden away.

Some people are able to expose their deepest desires and have no regrets, others struggle to be honest about what they want for lunch, and are mortifed if someone else knows they really want a BLT. For our purposes, it doesn’t matter that much where your boundaries are, as long as you’re living right on the edge of where the land ends, and letting a foot hang over into the dark water below.

It’s that boundary crossing, that sense of transgression that gives any creative act its power. That place where solid ground and unformed darkness meet is the only place where real things can be conceived. Where the edge is will move around for you, with time. The only important thing is that you’re working for yourself, where the edge is for you right now, trying to figure that place out.

You might not be in the same place a few years from now, and looking back on yourself there might be embarrassing, but that’s fine. That work is not for you anymore. It’s not really yours now. Like a map left behind on a journey, it belongs to people who are stuck in that place today, where you once sat, even if you aren’t there anymore. -j

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night kitchen

Illustration by Maurice Sendak, 1970

When I was a kid, and obsessed with reading, no-one was as magical as Maurice Sendak, with Where the Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen. I read other books more often, but reserved a sort of reverence for Sendak’s surreal stories of a childhood full of secret doors and ways into hidden worlds. The others were great stories, but Sendak was mythology. There were whispers there of deeper truths, mysteries and better worlds to be found.

In the Night Kitchen is the story of Mickey, who one night falls out of his clothes and into the night kitchen where giant bakers are making batter for the Morning Cake. For me, as a little kid, it was like getting a glimpse into the secret workings of the universe. The kitchen was a mysterious, loud place, that only adults had control over, but also where all the food came from. Recognizing that most children would see it that way, in a way no adult would, is Sendak’s genius of course, and what gives his stories their mythic weight.

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rust

photo via Rust

I’ve been watching the saga of the indie survival game “Rust” for the past few weeks now with some interest. Like a lot of indie games, it’s in “early access”, and has been for several years now. This just means that the developers have been selling it and letting people play while they continue to work on it and add features. Most recently, the developers decided to add black people and women to a game that had previously been populated entirely by identical bald white guys.

The rub being: you don’t get to decide which race or gender you are in the game. The game decides that for you randomly, and permanently. This has made a few people upset.

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dollar billA side effect of making art is that it produces rare objects that are hard to copy well, much like a dollar bill. Thus, they make excellent currency. Like any currency though, they’re only valuable once their rarity and authenticity can be guaranteed. Rarity means you have to be able to guarantee the quantity available won’t change quickly and flood the market, so preferably, the artist should be dead, to make the best currency.

Even authenticity is mostly random. An authentic dollar is more valuable than an authentic monopoly dollar, even though they’re both the same thing, because it’s harder to reproduce, but mostly because we agree it is. A Renaissance painting of Zeus is worth more than a painting of Zeus from 1997, likewise, because we agree it is. There’s no real reason beyond that though. We like the story behind the older one, but that’s about it. Stories aren’t valuable. You can’t do much with them, but we like them, a lot. So we agree that they’re worth a lot.

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2013b-02I’m shopping for a new tablet to use with digital media today.

Technology has never made as many things as easy as they are right now. While it’s a popular idea to say that smart phones create social disconnection, or that porn creates sexual dysfunction, it’s a silly idea too. Disconnection and furtive sex have always been part of being human. The behaviors aren’t new at all, but the magnitude is. You could bury your face in a book at the dinner table 100 years ago, or secretly look at erotic etchings while your husband was away in town, but the book would eventually end, and there were only two etchings, and neither one was very good. Neither one was a crafted, never-ending flow of sex promising to show you (but never let you touch or possess) everything you want. Once, we chewed coca leaves for a little boost of energy. Now we’ve got pure chemical cocaine, which is tougher to turn away from, or get self-awareness on.
Still, as much as that disturbs me at times, I see it as each person’s individual choice to keep using or not… sort of.

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2010a-50A friend once asked me to talk to his teenage son who wanted to lead a creative life, not go to college or get a job, but instead, go on an adventure, not to stay safe, but to really experience the hardness of life, and experience amazing, dangerous things.

The son told me his favorite book was Into The Wild, and that he wanted to emulate Chris McCandless. “That’s the book where the guy risks his life and goes into the Alaskan wilderness and lives off the land, right?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I want to do that. I want to do exactly that.”
“And then he starves to death in an abandoned bus.” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, “but I just want to do the first part.” -j

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2011a-28People will tell you they love your work, if you put it out into the world.  This made me feel great about myself, until I noticed that people will say they love anyone else’s work too. Even really terrible, unlovable work. It’s easy to find people who will tell you yoru work is great. It’s much harder to find people who love your work enough to actually purchase it, or support you in making it, which I think, really, is what we’re hoping they’re saying when they say they love what we do- that they’ll help.

If they felt love, they’d help, but chances are, they don’t love your work, even if they say they do. It’s more complicated than that.

Being any kind of creative is a fairly pitiless path to choose for yourself. You will probably not be taken care of emotionally, save for by a very precious few, and probably not rewarded financially for a long time. You should know this going in.

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CaptureThe new (5th incarnation) of this website is up and running as of April 28th, 2016, and has changed quite a bit since the HTML 1 site I wrote at University of Michigan computer lab back in 1994.

New features this time around- more fancy accordion menus, and a new blog. My writing has had a good following on facebook for a few years now, and it seems like time to expand into new platforms. If you read this, I hope you enjoy what you find here.

j

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