Everyone has a few ideas that make sense, either consciously or otherwise, about how life ought to be lived. Some are big ideas with big implications, others are simply an attitude that helps us find true north in the middle of a whiteout.
There are a few things I sometimes forget but come back to as if by coincidence. By now I've come to think of them as governing ideas in my own path forward. I picked up and carried these with me for the better portion of my adult life as an artist and creative person. Now you can have them.
YOU ARE NOT SPECIALThe admonition is not restricted to any particular age, gender, or even class. It’s the hardest lesson to carry if you’re not used to it, but the easiest when you’re putting together a plan of action with the marketplace in mind. Artists in particular tend to believe the hype about being special contributors in culture, as if their intrinsic artistic gift will absolve them of the realities of a brutally capitalistic market. So it's important to reiterate that nobody gives a damn what you do, nobody cares about your wonderfully shiny and profound idea, or your painting or your music. And nobody should be expected to pay anything for it. Forget what you “deserve”. Start from there, and put in the work.
IF YOU MEET THE BUDDHA, KILL HIMStop trying to model yourself after some so called “successful” person. It doesn't matter that they combined marketing with Art, or that they were the technological genius, an amazing statesman, or incredible athlete. I don't care who it is. Stop. Because You are not accidental or coincidental. But you are one-of-a-kind. But even though unique isn't special, the world needs exactly who you are, fully who you are.
Nothing can happen until you happen.
Nothing and nobody else could replace what you have, what you are. What form “you” will take, is entirely up to you—and your capacity to ignore the people who do not understand you. Continue to search for your truth, go in the direction of that small light out there on the horizon. It might be distant and small, but it's yours. So wake up. It would be an entirely different place without you, and it would lack something very essential.
STYLE IS FOR STYLISTSAs an art college sophomore, I would call award winning illustrators on the number listed at the index of the Society of illustrators Annual. I would politely ask if I could talk to them for a few minutes about their work. In one such call I spoke with a well known professional and asked him, “I'm worried that I don't have a style yet, what should I do? All my pieces look really different. What do you suggest?” He started laughing and then in a very assuring dad voice said, “Style is not important. Make a lot of work. Focus on your ideas, your subject matter, and figure out what media you're most comfortable with to get those best ideas down. Play. But style, nah. That's like handwriting, only after you've done a good amount of work—that's when you'll start to see a pattern that you can call a style. It's a looking-back thing.”
FOCUS ON THE WORKIt’s easy to be tempted to try and predict what the market would like to see, or try and figure out what will be palatable or more sellable. How surprised we are when bad work sells for good money, and good work doesn't quite “make the cut”. You can start to doubt your compass. Don't spend time and energy to figure that out—it keeps you from making work. I’ve found that the one thing I can do is go into the studio and shut the door behind me. I leave the world behind and make the best work I can for an audience of one. Once I am out of the studio however, I pledge to marshall all the forces at my disposal and sell that work in the best way that I can. The threshold to my studio separates two distinct worlds.
IT ENDS SOONTrivial and serious accidents happen, and in a very random way. At one point in my teenage life, I spent three months in an accident ward, mending. The place was filled with people from all walks of life that had been claimed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were recovering, and I made friends and picked up some stories about how soft human beings can be, untended. Also, the other thing along these same lines is that people age. We forget this, until we are confronted by the relative or family friend who was at one time a person of incredible vitality. Eyesight dims, hips go brittle, joints ache, things take longer to heal. Pretty quickly, if we are lucky enough to get that far, we all reach an age where it starts to becomes more difficult to do the things that used to be so easy, so normal—that we maybe postponed until later.
It all just kind of creeps up on you. One moment you're 22 and able to live off Ramen noodles, pull an all-nighter, and kick a ball around the field for a couple of hours. Suddenly you’re looking up and you're on the other side of 50. You’re thinking it's time to get some things done before you're too weak to scale that rock, go on that expedition or just get on an airplane for a long trip. If you're in your 20s or 30s, then just trust me: really, it just creeps up on you. Every decade moves faster than the last, and before you know it, your time’s up.
Life is short. Think about how incredible it is that often by the time you've actually managed to figure out what you're doing here, it's time to leave.
PHOTO: Taken in Tompkins Square Park, 2017.
Ideas for work, life and better conversations.
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