On Sunday, I stumbled on this article at Vulture titled: “How to be an Artist; 33 rules to take you from clueless amateur to generational talent (or at least help you live life a little more creatively).” written by Jerry Saltz.
The article focuses on fine art, but the advice is virtually universal.
This topic of being an artist drives me bonkers. Reading this article is that scene in the movie when the sober guy dumps the drunk guy in the tub of iced water to get the drunk guy to stop acting the fool, slurring his words and stumbling around without purpose or faculty. The sober guy does this to get the drunk guy back on track so they can perform their art better.
The article is the sober guy.
There seem to be universal truths about being an artist: insecurity, jealousy demons, comparison to others, deliberate hiding of work, constant grandiose idea that every piece of work must be a masterpiece.
Do lawyers fight these thoughts about other lawyers? Doctors? Pilots? Accountants? Is there a jealousy game in any other field? I guess there might be.
Creating one’s passion, publishing it to the world, and the internal dilemma that precedes, happens, then follows that moment can be paralyzing.
It is paralyzing.
I remember a conversation with my dad growing up. He was a furniture designer for a while, and he said that he never liked his own designs. He could always find the flaws in them.
There’s not a photo I love that I don’t simultaneously dislike for one reason or another.
This is my cognitive dissonance. It’s simultaneously holding onto two contrasting ideas at the same time and somehow finding both true.
Other people hold other cognitive oppositional truths.
Although, in this era of fast-times-at-Trump-Tower High Social Media Hurricanical Storm, it seems like EVERYONE else is at ease posting every single goddamn image from their phone onto their preferred platform. While I sit in the corner hugging my knees over a photo of an interior, Jane Doe Johanson posts yet another magical shot of her royal cuteness in a new skirt from Designerstan-keeny Mobeelee.
That’s a real designer, bee tee dubs.
All I’m saying is: it seems some people are so effortless in their sharing of their “art”. Perhaps that’s conspiratorial.
But this article on “How to be an Artist,” what a treasure. What a reminder. What an influence and cheerleader.
In bed on Sunday morning, I read the entire thing to Tina. Her head in my lap, our dog Talulah spooned in her nook.
For instance, lesson one in the article sums up the artist conundrum quickly:
I get it. Making art can be humiliating, terrifying, leave you feeling foul, exposed, like getting naked in front of someone else for the first time. You often reveal things about yourself that others may find appalling, weird, boring, or stupid. People may think you’re abnormal or a hack. Fine. When I work, I feel sick to my stomach with thoughts like None of this is any good. It makes no sense. But art doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even need to be good. So don’t worry about being smart and let go of being “good.”
Lesson number 2 is tell your own story, which is what I’ve been trying to do since I can remember. I kept a journal as a kid. They were pathetic. Me, pretending to be a great Christian while deliberating over the ideas I had about girls in my class or what I really wanted to do with my time.
Within that lesson it says, “You’re not entitled to an audience.” I’ve found this to be a truism. I remind myself that I do my art for me, and maybe for Tina. But for the audience outside of that environment, it’s a crap shoot. I’ve seen larger audiences. And I’ve seen crap audiences. My goal is to create for me. Anyone else who enjoys it is a bonus. And I would thank them, or you, or them, or that one person.
Lesson Number 5: Work Work Work. And then work some more.
This has been my motto since I can remember. It’s almost the most destructive part of artistic nature. Over the years, I’ve turned to alcohol to distract me from my ambition. I’ve used alcohol to help me be “normal.” No one else seems to want to work on a Friday night. No one else seems to want to create for the sake of creating. No one else shared my insatiable desire to create, then create more, no matter how good or bad.
If I don’t use something to slow down, I won’t. And that’s just sad, because I realize how much time I wasted.
I’m in a process of balancing that out. And in stressful times, I stress drink. And I can already envision this holiday season as a hiccuping stress drunk. My plan is to have a dry January, followed by a balanced February and then ride that train as far as it’ll take me.
Life a is process. And vices are part of the distraction from creation. Some people call that the devil. I call it weakness.
Lesson 11: Listen to the Crazy Voices in Your Head
I have my own sort of School of Athens in my head. A team of rivals, friends, famous people, influences dead and alive. They’re all looking over my shoulder as I work; none of them are mean. All make observations, recommendations, etc. I use music a lot. I think, Okay, let’s begin this piece with a real pow! Like Beethoven. Or the Barbara Kruger in my head says, Make this sentence short, punchy, declarative, aggressive. Led Zeppelin chimes in with, Try a hairy experiment here; let it all show. All the Sienese paintings I’ve ever seen beg me, Make it beautiful. D. H. Lawrence is pounding on the table, Alexander Pope is making me get a grip, Wallace Stevens listens to my language and recommends words, Whitman pushes me on, my inner Melville gets grandiose, and Proust drives me to make longer and longer sentences till they almost break, and my editor cuts these into eighths or edits them down to one. (Writers need editors. No exceptions.) These voices will always be there for when things get tough.
Seriously, you must, simply and truly, must must must read this article. If not for you, then for the idea of grappling how your artistic friends are wired.
I read this article to Tina, like I said with her in my lap, and she said at one point, “Why did you stop?”
I was wiping tears from my eyes. These words struck me with such power, such truth. This is what religion must do for others. It tugs their heart and makes them do what they want to do in their lives. For me, this article is like having a conversation with another artist, another mentor, and — instead of a alter call — it’s a renewal of my aspirations.
I could post this entire piece for you. I want to share it with the world. It is the good news! Please read it and spread it!
Number 25: Learn to deal with rejection!
Number 26: Make an enemy of envy!
Number 32: Prize vulnerability. <—– THIS! Vulnerability IS everything. Open it up and drop it on the table with a camera trained on it, and shine it around the world.
And finally number 33: Be delusional. This is tough as fuck for me. I see delusion as a weakness. I see delusion as what prompts others to believe in the unseen. Well, maybe I need more belief in the unseen/unheard voices in my head!
The article begins with explaining that maybe there are 34 or 35 rules. Number 34 is one I’ve learned from my best friend Bill: be nice, generous and open with others. Just this week he shared photography tutorials with me that he bought. He has always shared whatever knowledge with me that he has, knowing that it can only help us both if we both succeed. Or I don’t really know what his motivation is. But he has altered my brain just about as much as any other artist I’ve ever known.
I’m 43 years old, and I’ve dabbled in “being an artist” since I was a kid. Ever drawing, photographing, video-ing and creating. I have a degree in English Communication and a lifelong education in experience, failures, successes, observations, hopes, dreams, nightmares, and love.
The end of this year has started filling my head with motivations that usually don’t come until the beginning of the year. Who knows how long it’ll last this time. A week. A month. A few minutes. A few seconds?
I have to be in love with what I do. And in that love, focused. And in that focus, balanced. And in that balance, thoughtful. And in the end, where ever that point is on the timeline of history and future, I certainly hope to finally catch up with that dangling carrot of success, whatever the fuck that means.