A good friend recently told me I should procure some of my experience and-dare I say-wisdom,about being an Artist. I’ve often wondered what it is I possibly could have to say that would be of interest or worth, simply because most of us will agree that being an artist, feels akin to being a Guppy flopping around in a Tsunami, and I am certainly no exception.
Except she insisted that what I have to say would be inspirational, so if it helps my other creative journeymen and women to stay honest and continue the course, then who am I to argue.
1. How to be an artist when you have a day job.
The truth of being an artist, is that you’ll likely be juggling multiple jobs for a living wage from the offset and possibly for the rest of your life, leaving you drained and unmotivated by the time it comes to your first brush stroke. Start picturing yourself doing the art throughout the day, make your day about getting through it as a necessary evil to your goal. Carry a small-even concealable-sketch book everywhere with you-use your breaks, your lunch, your bus journey to flesh out ideas, and once back home, don’t turn on the TV, disconnect from your social media because these things are distractions and your enemy.
Make a light snack, enough to stave off hunger and not put you in a food coma, have your work place all ready, your palettes already set out, your surfaces already primed the night before, there’s nothing more off putting to yourself than not being able to just jump straight in. And then give yourself a set of hours in which to frame what you want to accomplish. If you want it badly enough then you will find that second wind, just be prepared for many late hours, long nights and weekends.
And when people ask you what you do, tell them you are an artist-say it enough times to others to convince yourself- always remember, your minimum wage job isn’t who you are, but the self funding you use to support your next creation.
2. Everyone has to start somewhere
From pop up tents on dodgy street corners to library foyers, crusty village halls to seedy bar walls, I’ve exhibited my art through them all. So, regardless of how immensely talented you think you are, you are deluding yourself if you are looking to get an in as a heavy hitter straight off the bat. Only the the trust funded, circle jerked or God given will get instant admission on that prestigious gallery wall.
More importantly,after you’ve built your reputation, grafted and finally gotten to that place, remember that humble pie still tastes the same wherever you are, so don’t use the people who help you along the way and don’t be a dick to those coming up behind you once you get there.
3. You can do it all yourself.
You think you have pursued every avenue for that show you want to mount, book you want published, but all you see before you is an avalanche of rejection or total indifference. Was a time when that meant the death knell for a creative project, or an artist falling by the wayside into eternal obscurity.
Except the days when the traditional go-betweeners such as agents, gallery’s and publishing houses were the single gateway to your audience is diminishing. The new gatekeepers are the ones that provide a platform to crowd source a rented space, an on-line publisher to print on demand, a network to build to advertise in-it’s easier in a way than ever before to do what you do yourself and put it under peoples noses. No one is waiting to discover you, so create art not excuses not to.
4. Don’t pay to play
Seriously, don’t do it-there is absolute zero impetus for the curator/editor/institute to represent you or any of your cohorts once you have-of course there are overheads for the gallery, but go ahead put your money down, the house always wins, whether you sell or not, and you are enabling bad practice, one that exploits creatives.
Remember, a good partnership is one where you both are invested in the gamble, not one where you walk away poorer.
5. Have no expectations for the outcome of what you do other than for yourself
That way lies madness and a cycle of disappointment. Do your best work, say what you wanted to say but accept that anything that comes beyond that is a bonus, so always remind yourself that If one person in the world other than yourself and your Mum gives a flying fuck about what you create, then you’ve already accomplished something.
6. Ask yourself,what constitutes success as an Artist to you.
Conjure an idea of what ultimate success from your Art looks like.
Is it fame, fortune, the respect of your peers, that cover of some self appointed Art Bible, some perversion in the back of a limousine?
Or is it for the love of it, a quest for personal and technical betterment and a lasting legacy to be proud of?
Whatever the reason, its up to you to decide which is more likely to happen, and which will leave you plagued by a feeling of failure and disappointment.
7.Don’t half ass it
Whether it’s some tossed off sketch on a dive bar napkin, or a commission that you are only going to make a few bucks on, do your absolute best ,other than children, this will be your most precious legacy.
And always follow through no matter what-in 2010 I almost cut my fingers off with a hedge trimmer a month before I was having two solo shows. I allowed myself to heal for a week, before gritting my teeth,Vicodin and Red Bull became my friends, and I made deadlines just short of delivery date. Don’t let anyone down, especially yourself. Remember-laying bad eggs will leave a stench that will linger.
8. All Art has cachet which means nothing does.
Because there are no rules as to what Art is, it might seem like a great democratic qualifier. Except don’t fool yourself, snobbery and elitism exist as much in the industry as it does anywhere else, and you will quickly discover yourself categorized by the established order as one thing above or beneath another. Don’t buy into it, and definitely don’t perpetuate it, those boundaries exist to justify exclusion and price fixing, so do what you do regardless, don’t be a pretentious arse and don’t take yourself too seriously, you will be a better human being for it.
9. Enjoy the moment
I once did a live-painting show at a nightclub, and so immersed was I in it not helping to put food on the table or advance my cause, I spent the entire night feeling like some mere anecdote. Later when I was raging in the car about how pointless it had all been, my wife quite rightly reminded me that I had completely missed the point, that a large legion of friends and fans had traveled to come and watch me, that the piece was raffled for charity, and that people had been there to win it. It’s all too easy to get lost when seeking the endgame, enjoy the moment and don’t be blind when looking for stars in the night sky.
10. Always be looking to the next thing.
So the shows over,the canvas is complete, the tools are downed and the palettes dry. That’s when it hits…the aftermath, the empty studio that echoes with post Art frenzy and after show blues. You grieve when its over, because you’ve spent days, weeks, months and years besotted with your muse and working to this point, for what? Over the years, I’ve learned that the bipolarity of what we do, is the balance between an incredible series of highs and debilitating lows. Look forwards not back. Find something to fill the space again, you’ve climbed a hill, but the work is never over, revitalize that back burner project, sift through those unfinished sketches,work towards another show, go see an inspiring exhibition, just find a reason to fall in love and begin again, this is your chance at creative rebirth.
11. How to stay inspired
Chances are at some point, you’ll reach a wall. That paralyzing terror of a blank sheet, but this a great opportunity, a virgin territory to explore, a chance to express something, anything. Think, even the feeling of not being able to say something can be cannibalized and become inspiring in itself. So find your visual language between the pages of old illustrated books, find an alchemy and make nursery rhymes of your existence, find your pictographs in the lines of sonnets, ancient mythologies and historical cultures, find signifiers in museums and in the descending melody lines of songs, unravel your personal biography in mysterious back alleyways, desecrated churches and the twisted forms of nature. Take the essence of those feelings and make totems and props of them, look to your idols but never copy anyone else’s work directly-you are a conduit not a clone.
12. Whats the point, its all been done before and no one ever buys anything anyway?
Throughout the journey, you are going to find a million and one reasons daily to give up. Believe me, I do this at least five times a week. It could be because you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, or because nothing is selling, or because of something shitty someone said on Facebook, whatever the reason you feel like you’re done.
Except its likely the reason you wanted to create in the first place, came out of a need to express something , possibly when you were depressed, completely on your own and on the bones of your arse. Which means you’d do it anyway, no matter what, right? Don’t be defeated by peripherals, let the work itself be your goal.
13. What you’ll get from staying the distance.
Your Art will be a marriage full of turbulence, a religion full of doubts, and some of the greatest triumphs you will ever have. It will open up a world of personal discovery, give you a set of friends you would never of had otherwise, and admission onto the walls of strangers, who have found something to connect with you, something that bled from your soul, something you put out into the world and people invested in. Legacy is something for arbiters to decide over after you are gone, but the worth is the meaning you get from your Art in this life. Don’t stop until you fall down. Art.
Addendum 14. Armchair Criticism is the easiest job in the World
Think long and hard before you bestow your ‘expert’ opinion.