Sometimes that instinct is right. And a lot of the time, it’s bullshit…
- Keep your resume updated.
- Apply to lots of local shows and get exposure any way you can.
- Attend a family wedding. Bump into a friend of your parents you’ve known since you were a small child. Be touched by the strangely strong, fatherly way he talks with you that night, and say you love him when he hugs you goodbye. Mean it. He will ask you to do a drawing for him and offer you $400. Say yes.
- Attend an expensive, prestigious art school. Propose an independent study project to the committee there in your senior year where you will experiment with different ways of marketing editions of prints and see which works best for different kinds of work. Be immediately rejected and told that the committee of professors doesn’t understand what this has to do with art at all. Run some ads anyway. Sell zero prints.
- Don’t forget the importance of a good website.
- Hang out in a comic book store because you have nothing better to do with your life. Overhear the owner talking to someone about how he’s having a hard time finding artists who can do good, small portraits in ink. He is paying $5 per head, with hundreds of heads to draw. Walk up to him and say you’re good at drawing small portraits in ink, even though you’ve never tried to do that before. He will give you ten to draw. Practice and then draw the heads. The next week, he will give you ten more. Then ten more. Draw them.
- Buy moldmaking supplies from a Halloween mask maker and befriend him over the course of several months. When he says he’s having a hard time sculpting a full size human figure for an autopsy prop, offer to do it for $1000 to free up his week. He will say OK. Quit your terrible day job and come in the next day. Worry about how to make money next week, next week.
- Don’t get any commissions, not for years. Start a small house painting business and do OK for yourself. Stop doing art at all for a year or two. Find a girl you don’t like much, and move in with her.
Your life will be hollow and empty, but easy in its hollow way. Wake up one day and realize that you’re wasting your life and your potential. It’s important that you realize this deeply: that soon you will be old and wasted and have no more chances. Do not allow yourself any shred of hope beyond the idea that you can fight for yourself, now, in this moment, if you choose to.
Go to a bookstore and look in the back of a sculpture magazine and find a 2 inch ad for a sculpture academy in the west of France that looks OK. Write the owner and tell her she should hire you to be her teaching assistant. Pour out your soul into that letter. Be more personal than you ought to be in a professional letter, or a letter to a stranger. Wait to hear back.
Get a second job and push yourself hard enough that your legs will shake whenever you lay down for the next ten years. Forget how to relax and enjoy letting a summer day slowly slide by. Work 16 hours a day. Work 18 hours a day. Post a online dating ad saying you are moving to France speak fluent French (though you don’t) and want a French girlfriend.
Receive a job offer from the academy.
Write back to the French girl who responds to your ad and win her over. Leave your life and every person in it behind. Move to a little stone house in a field full of sunflowers, in the Loire valley, outside of Tours. Get your new girlfriend to teach you to speak fluent French.
Later, move to Paris.
- Make sure to have business cards on you all the time!
Remember, 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.
As 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
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.
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.
A 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.
I’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.
A 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
People 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.