I can't imagine why anyone would want to become an artist. The hours are long, the benefits are few and the pay is lousy. Even worse, it's a lonely place; most folks cannot fathom our what and why of it. 'Success' in the arts cannot be quantified nor is the pursuit easily explained. I don't know why I must make art, but every day I'm trying to figure out how to make more. In a true American style, I have sought to find a system of survival that will allow me more time and greater resources to do whatever it is that I do best. My Design for Living is constantly being amended and it shall never be perfected, but I believe the basic structure shall benefit my fellow artists everywhere. Following is a list of survival skills, in order of greatest importance:
I.) MORAL SUPPORT: Find a bartender with an MFA. If everyone needs a shoulder to cry on, then you might as well make it an empathetic and knowledgeable one. I highly suggest that you conscript several. Should you ever get 86'd, it's good to have a back up.
II.) LEGAL SUPPORT: Find a good criminal attorney. I am not suggesting that you keep one on retainer, but I do advocate a relationship that you can count on. Plug that phone number into the iPhone. The hair on your chinny chin chin is rather thin and easily plucked. Your lives are limited to nine. The American penal system does not provide art supplies. Natch.
III.) FINANCIAL INDEMNIFICATION: Money, or rather the lack of it, may be one of the greatest and most vexing roadblocks to the free-flowing life force of an artist. The following Flow Chart is a simple one: Art demands time. Time is money. Money is earned through time spent anywhere but in your studio. As you can see, it is a vicious and endless cycle that does not offer many opportunities for relief. I shall endeavor to list several venues of escape. In order of greatest convenience and benefit:
III.A) The ultimate fantasy is an aggressive, dynamic and global gallerist who pays the artist at fifty-fifty, net fifteen. His or her devotion to you and your aesthetic is absolute and one which he or she holds more dear than his or her own life. As previously stated, this is the fantasy. The reality is generally so ugly that I prefer to wear blinders. Attaining a gallerist engenders a descent into an eighth and ninth level of Hell that Dante never imagined. Unconditionally loving a dealer would test the compassion of Christ and the intellect of Forrest Gump. This road is fraught with much grief and is not conducive to making art. Move on.
III: B) An adequate trust fund is not as suitable as a bountiful one, but I would refuse neither. An inheritance is, by far, the most preferable financial opportunity for an artist. You are beholden to no one except the dead and the demands of time and effort are limited to endorsing a check once a month. Unfortunately, my prospects of a trust fund are nil. This unforgivable and cruel fact has often driven me to shake my fist at the moon and loudly curse the Gods, much to the dismay of my neighbors.
III: C) Marry well. Gallerist Molly Barnes, author of the savvy "How To Get Hung," suggests that marriage is a wise and valuable option. I like the idea that sex is included in the package but I have my reservations. Often times, 'to marry well' can demand more emotional grief and time at hard labor than a counter job at McDonalds.
III: D) Move to Europe. The coffee is better and the dole is well established.
III: E) A favorable day job. This is easier hoped for than found. If time is money then you want to make the most money in the least amount of time. Unfortunately, a law degree yields a higher hourly wage than an art degree. Fortunately, most states offer a minimum wage, which unfortunately does not buy spit. Ideally, you will be lucky to serve your time under a sympathetic boss who has a love, appreciation and a support for the fine arts. He or she will be inspired (or at least amused) by your singular passion and lend assistance and resources in every way. This is the exception to the rule. Most employers will view your artistry with suspicion, sneer at your 'misguided' values and do everything they can to thwart your quest. "I don't care if you're debuting in Belgium--sweep the f***ing floor!"
IV.) THE MINDSET OF THE ARTIST: From Aristotle to Anthony Robbins, every smart mind concludes, "Attitude is everything." That cup can be sadly half empty or gleefully half full! Unfortunately, artists tend to dig a bit deeper and ask, "Full of what?" The cranial synapses of an artist are not wired like that of a civilian. There are quirks and contradictions to most of us that make life as carefree as dancing in a minefield. The world is marching one way and we are blithely skipping in another. How do we endure? Attitude. The artist must foster and nurture a mindset to survive.
IV.A) NO ABSOLUTES; FAD AND FASHION: I like to think there is a Valhalla of Beauty, an absolute in Art. I prefer to believe that there will be an epiphany or a revelation, a destination to my artistic journey. Such a glory does not exist. The art world that I want to believe in is merely a concoction of a fantastic mind and my preference for the HyperReal. The actual art world has as much resolve as next season's wallpaper. It is a victim and a proponent of fad and fashion. When I first realized this, I felt like a Catholic who suddenly learns that the parish priest is a pederast. My devastation has mellowed and aged into a steadfast resolve: Stay the course, lads. Stay true to your aesthetic. This is the integrity. This is our power and our strength. This dedication and perseverance becomes our ultimate joy.
IV.B) TRUE REWARD: As artists, we seek recognition for our work, yet this is a slippery slope to climb. It demands an investment into a judicial authority whose demeanor can only be described as capricious. The work of Jackson Pollack was hailed as genius and slaughtered as stale, all within a very short period of time. A gnawing hunger for external recognition can never be fed. It is an emotional hole than will never be filled because the appetite grows larger and demands more. A gaggle of a psychologists will tell you that self-worth is the only panacea and they are right. The reward is in the work. As much as I bitch and moan about the storage, maintenance and preservation of my inventory, I am damn proud of that pile. The good feeling is our pay dirt.
IV.C) RECOGNITION: Your efforts are not wasted. Your time will come. You will be recognized. Your dedication guarantees it. As fad and fashion gallop and leap like horses on a slow moving merry-go-round, your turn to be given a brass ring will come. We must show graciousness in our gratitude for any attention that is thrown our way. We must be humble before whatever it is that is given to us. You may never show your work at MOCA but you can be damn sure you'll have a retrospective at a county community center gallery before you turn seventy-five. That will be a glorious honor.
IV.D) PATIENCE AND LONGEVITY: Like aging hookers and old buildings, artists earn respectability given enough time. Great success in the arts comes from the courage and single-mindedness of your durability. The true reward is in your daily journey and the daring and impractical belief in your quest. Given the high attrition rate of artists, you will be ultimately honored for your longevity.
IV.E) BALANCE: A sailor's legs are the greatest survival skill an artist can possess and the most difficult to acquire. Artists are a species of anxious and warring contradictions. We are giants and we are dwarves. We are Ying and we are Yang. We are sorely selfish and genuinely generous. No one can beat their chest and roar in triumph as loud as we. Conversely, no one can lock themselves into a closet as black, insular and deep as ours. In the mind's own eye, no light shines as bright and there is no darker hell. We are invincible and we are worthless. We see the sadness in beauty and know the genius in madness. Long ago I proffered that "artists are the astronauts of our sociology." Test pilot Chuck Yeager may have nicked the sound barrier, but artists push the frontiers of human experience. We laugh more and we cry more. We feel more and we see more; I believe that is what motivates us to make the choices that we make and the actions that we take. We seem to embody all of the contradictions of humanity. This is the gasoline of our fire. The trick and the skill is to singe ourselves without self-immolating. To triumph with humility. To fade with dignity. To lose graciously and congratulate whole-heartedly. To pursue our own individual aesthetic with a plausible and steadfast integrity. This is the balance. This is our self-worth. This is our lives.