Monday, December 10, 2007


My last post warned against the temptation to believe either yourself or others that you deserve recognition. I recommended against ever going there. Pit of despair. A hole you'll never get out of so you will just keep digging deeper and deeper and deeper. It is a question of grace. Humility. Shame, even. But the message I sent was loud and clear if you want to live a healthy, happy, productive life as an artist: don't you dare!

Its twisted twin of temptation is just as dangerous: ever believing that you are exceptional. If you or anyone else either whispers it in your ear or shouts it from the rooftops, don't believe it. It is a trap. This hole will be just as hard to get out of and take years of penance. Exceptional is the secret secret of the spoiled brat, the selfish jerk, the crazed egomaniac. Special rules.

In earlier posts I've invited everyone to think of themselves as special, in that way that all life is special, in that way that all life is a miracle; and I believe that. I believe that everyone has the gift of life; the gift of a mind of one's own; the gift of a free spirit. THIS IS NOT THE SAME! This does not make you better than anyone else!

How can I explain this to the satisfaction of both sides of this argument: to the ones who believe that no one is special and that to think otherwise invites only chaos; and to the ones who accept this as an invitation to be spoiled, selfish, and arrogant.

The first group discourages all things in others. To discourage is to cut the legs out from under. It is to invite failure and foster cowardice and fear.

The second group encourages the wrong sort of behavior. It's my-party-I'll-cry-if-I-want-to behavior. It is a poor substitute for true encouragement, which inspires others to be brave, to do the right thing, to lift themselves and other up, to reach for the best in themselves and each other. That is what encourage means.

Embrace that you have been given a special gift as an artist, but never believe that this makes you exceptional. Again, it doesn't make you better than anyone else. The gift is for giving. It is inner, and personal; and the other thing, the aberration, is the worst in us, some sort of license to run roughshod over the world.

Some might say that this is all really a question of balance; balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of the group and vice-versa. Perhaps this is so. Knowing where to draw the line. I think it is more appropriate to call on the idea of the heart, which has always been synonymous with both courage and goodness. I think that is where we find the answers.

In our hearts we know what is right, and in our hearts we know that life is special, and that it demands that we are brave. This covers both the individual and the group. Choose that. Exceptional is indeed the province of all things ego. And so I caution: don't go there.

* * * * *

Nonetheless it might be worth adding that in the rare, rare instance of the truly exceptional, if and when it exists, one would more than likely find nothing less than complete grace and humility, and not even the smallest whisper of...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Surviving The Fall

I'm not sure anyone else experiences the fall from grace the way art students do after they leave school, and although everyone graduating feels the wound; the future art-makers get it with more salt. This may explain why so few graduates go on to actually become artists.

What am I talking about? The gold star, the support/reward system, the pat on the back, feedback, the people who are paid to care. When you're in school there is a giant support system in place for you whether you know it or not. At the very least they know you're alive, and that is not the case when you leave.

After you graduate no one knows you're alive, and the fall is so sharp, so far, so dramatic that few people can take it. Because you're making something visible, the proof of this is all the more painful. You're hanging it out there. You're making something that can be seen, can be touched, can be responded to, and when no one sees or touches or responds to your work the results can be devastating.

When your work goes ignored, when no one engages your efforts, you will question why you're doing what you're doing, whether it is worth it, whether you should quit(or worse, whether you should go back to school so you can get it all back).

If you're just out of law school and you hang up a shingle, it will take years to establish your practice. That's why you will probably join a firm instead. Twenty years later maybe you're a partner. An artist is on his or her own. The chances of joining a gallery out of school are slim, and an entirely different matter. Few galleries recruit. Fewer artists are ready. It takes an artist years to shake their influences and develop a mature style. Other support systems are almost non-existent. Parents and families are going to be concerned. Do you have a job? Are you selling anything? What about commercial work? The pressures are going to be relentless. Every letter, every phone call, every visit home is going to be piling it on.

What do you do as a young person who really wants to be an artist but is really feeling the pain and the pressure?

First off, don't take it personally. You haven't done anything wrong. This happens to everyone. Everyone. They just might be hiding it better than you.

Next, this is going to be really hard, but you can do it. Know that it is hard. No one cares whether you're an artist or not. No one is supposed to care. You're supposed to care. You're not going to get a medal for doing something really hard. No parade. In fact, no one is going to like you for living your dream. You think someone who chose to work nine to five instead of writing novels or making sculpture is going to like you for doing it. You think they're going to be cheering you on? They are going to think you're a bum, or, you're going to make them feel bad and look bad for not following their dream, if they had one. So get used to it. You're going to get some abuse. You're going to be blocked, denied, knocked down, resented and begrudged. It just makes sense. This is what you're up against.

Also, for what it's worth, learn to carry an umbrella when it looks like rain. Your parents and family are naturally going to be concerned and they are going to put pressure on you to be self-sufficient and secure, in part so that you won't be at risk and in part so you won't be a financial burden to them. Be smart about it. Help them to feel at ease about your choice. If you're happy, they'll be happy. Let them know you're ok with the challenges you face. Let them know it's worth it to you, that this is what you want. Show them you can survive.

Next, all you need is one friend who can give you feedback. Braque and Picasso had each other. You'll have to make it a two-way street. Give as good as you get, or better.

Be VERY patient about getting recognition. DO NOT give into the ancient temptation about deserving recognition. It will only make you bitter. It is a bad mistake and a bottomless pit of despair. If you're in it for recognition then choose a different profession, fast. Do this thing you love for its own reward.

Then the obvious is two words: low overhead. Don't spend money you don't have. Work inexpensively. Find cheap space, and live where you work. Put your creativity and imagination to work for you. I know a painter who made her own furniture, and then ended up being an artist who makes furniture. Don't want what others have. Make it yourself. Make it happen yourself!

You can survive the fall.