The Artist's Curse
Okay, let’s be honest with each other (we're totally on that level, right?). There are gobs and gobs of “how to follow your passion”, “how to make your passion your day job”, “your dream can be your reality” blog posts, articles, and books out there. The thing that I've noticed in my narrow worldview is these are all written by people who have either already done that, or are content to do that while working a standard “9-5” job (or whichever shift you consider normal). What I haven’t seen much of is a “how the hell do you keep going when you’re trying to make that transition” articles or blogs. When I do see them they have the same recipe: “Keep your eye on the prize! Stay focused! Don’t care about what others think! Be ready to sacrifice! Persevere!”
How decidedly unhelpful.
What I want to do in this brief time we’re spending together is get a little intimate. Let’s cuddle, maybe grab some wine, some popcorn, a movie, whatever you dig. Slip into your PJs, and let’s get real. So cards on the table, here we go. I consider myself an artist. I love to create, and analyze, and develop, and think, and imagine, and DREAM. I play guitar mediocre-ly. I sing a little bit more on key than Bob Dylan, and a little less than Ozzy when no-one’s singing in his ear. I take pictures and call myself a photographer. I have a fancy pants camera that was a generous donation from someone who no longer needed it, and a nice computer that I received from my father when he upgraded his machine.
I am also a debt-riddled, married, full time purchasing agent at an electrical engineering firm. I have bills, loans, food, and any number of things that require most of the money my wife and I make. We have a house that, unfortunately, doesn’t clean itself (though we keep hoping it will). Laundry has to be done (we’ve learned that, much like the house, it won’t clean itself; days of going commando have proven that to us), food has to be shopped for and cooked, cars have to be fixed, our dog has to be taken care of, medical check-ups, dentists, optometrists. The world is content to push us down because our society says the most important thing we have is our money. Our “net worth” is determined by how much money we have, and how much physical property we own. This can be hard for an artist, who doesn’t make a whole lot of money.
Look at that, I gave you all that without even buying me dinner first. Just don’t tell my wife I’m easy, I wouldn’t want her getting any ideas.
I’m in the middle of that giant Kilimanjaro sized trek from dreams being dreams, to dreams being a reality. This is how I’m approaching it. Right or wrong, these are just a few of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Honest supporters mean more than flattering friends. If you have a friend who will tell you when your newest piece isn’t up to your normal standard, or if your work as a whole isn’t making it up to a certain standard, shackle that friend to your tour bus and keep them with you always. As artists, we need to be perfecting, and if we hear nothing but “That was wonderful” and “Oh my gosh your composition is fantastic!” all the time, we’re going to get lazy and sloppy, and those friends are some of the most dangerous in the business. Get those honest friends. They hurt a bit more to hear from, but a little pain goes a long way in the art world. And I can’t describe how important this idea is, other than to make it the first “tip” I share with you.
Honest supporters mean more than flattering friends. If you have a friend who will tell you when your newest piece isn’t up to your normal standard, or if your work as a whole isn’t making it up to a certain standard, shackle that friend to your tour bus and keep them with you always. As artists, we need to be perfecting, and if we hear nothing but “That was wonderful” and “Oh my gosh your composition is fantastic!” all the time, we’re going to get lazy and sloppy, and those friends are some of the most dangerous in the business. Get those honest friends. They hurt a bit more to hear from, but a little pain goes a long way in the art world. Okay, I repeated that paragraph. Yes, I think it’s THAT important. Want me to do it again? No? Okay fine, but at least READ it one more time for me.
Business is not the antithesis of art. I struggle with this every day. It’s why I begged Independent Ear to bring In All Honesty to the label. I suck at business, and I will occasionally wear that as a badge of honor, because I’m an arTEEST, and arTEESTs aren’t interested in business. Our art will support us! If you think this way, stop watching TV and movies. It is wrong, through and through. Get a friend or company that is business minded to help you along your journey and create action steps to help you achieve your dreams. Dreams, without a plan to get there, will forever be dreams.
Rejection is perfectly normal, and incredibly hard to take. It doesn’t get any easier, or at least it hasn’t in the few meager years I’ve been trying to trudge my way through this hyper saturation of artists. Everyone with a webcam or a Flickr account believes they’re an artist deserving to be paid now, and vendors/venues/companies HAVE to reject work/artists, because they are often looking for one style or thing. It feels like an attack on my character every time. I feel bitter about every venue that’s ever not gotten back with us about shows, and I feel a small amount of triumph if that venue closes down. As if our playing there would have saved them. It’s a joke, but rejection hurts, and it doesn’t get any easier.
Any timeline you think you have? It’s probably exponentially longer. Disney and marketing tactics would have us believe that if you aren’t famous or set as an artist by the time you hit 23, you’re screwed. That’s just not true (in most situations). One of my strongest recommendations as an artist is that you get rid of your TV entirely, or at least get rid of your cable package. You’ll save money, and you’ll be less inundated with this marketing ploy. You’ll still see plenty of it, but the deluge of “young is better” and “young means you can still find success” will be far less impactful.
Support others. This seems like common sense to me. If you want others to support you, you have to first support others. I’m not talking about just in your same art field. If you’re a musician, go to an art gallery where a friend is showing their work. If you’re a spoken word artist, go to a rock concert. If you’re a filmmaker, well, you get the point. This is partially a “who you know” technique as well, as it will naturally result in networking, but it will also bring encouragement, inspiration, and accountability for maintaining forward progress. I find crossing fields to be exceptionally useful for this, because I’m far less likely to compare my own body of work to those I’m supporting. If you’ve ever been to a showing of your favorite artist, you know how hard it is to look at their work and NOT think “damn, I’ll never paint like that”. Crossing fields helps gets rid of this inherent, but toxic, artistic tendency.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ever. I have no statistics to back this up, but I would argue that the number one killer of someone’s artistic endeavors is pride.
Here’s the deal. I’m not a successful artist. I wish I was. I’ve gotten a little closer, but I’m not where I expected to be by this year of my life. I feel like a failure most days, and I often resign myself to working a dead end job for the rest of my life, only to feel the compulsion to not stay where I am, and can alternate between those two feelings many times within the course of a few minutes. I don’t have all the answers (no one really does. If they say they do, they’re lying). Hell, I don’t even have MOST of the answers. All I know, is that some days I look at my guitars and want to scream and throw them all out, but then I perform, and everything becomes right again. I think I’m a shitty photographer, until I have people asking me about how I get such cool shots. Okay that last one hasn’t happened yet, but I just started working on my photography professionally, so I’m sure it’s only like, a month or two away.
For every gem we create, we create at least 15 turds. So don’t ever stop creating. Don’t ever stop trying. Even if you never make it (and, honestly, you may not. I may not.), you don’t want to wake up one day when you’re 80 and think to yourself “Damn. I wish I would have tried harder.” This is a hard life for any who choose it. Just remember, we’ve all faced similar struggles, and may be facing them right now as well. It’s okay to go about it independently, but never go alone.
We are Independent Ear.
We are independent, but never alone.
For more on In All Honesty, head to their website www.inallhonestyofficial.com
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