I read somewhere that artists are born with incredibly good taste and they spend their lives trying to realize the ideas in their head.
Whenever I see, hear or experience some creative work that stands out for me, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for the artist’s inner courage. I feel like something was finally explained to me in a satisfying way. I feel liberated, like anything is possible.
Not all artists are prolific. I know I will only be able to produce a fraction of the work that I see in my mind.
The dilemma for myself, as for most artists, is how to make a living that doesn’t consume all of my time, while maintaining the mental and physical stamina I need to actually grapple with some of the more challenging projects I undertake. It’s inevitably a schizophrenic lifestyle. The important thing to note here is that the best do not always succeed. Success in the art world requires not only talent but a curious mix of shmoozology, self-discipline, luck, presentation skills, self-esteem and personability. And keep in mind that most “successful” artists still live below the poverty line.
History is full of brilliant misfits who starved during their lifetimes only to become art stars after their demise. Does it really have to be this way?
In fact I’m not sure if currency should have anything to do with art. What has more value – an ink drawing dashed off in minutes or a tapestry that may have taken months or years to complete? A haiku or a novel? Does the impermanence of street art make it any less valuable or in fact add to its value? A film may be years in production, but can be shown repeatedly; a Christo may exist in real time for only a few hours and its value lies in the documentation of an ephemeral event.
What is the remedy for this dilemma?
For myself I have decided that it doesn’t matter if I sell my work or give it away and that I will continue to work as ferociously as I can. I refuse to feel constrained by guilt because I don’t make a living from my work. I’ve tried to give it up, but it’s in my blood and that’s a fact. I feel humiliated by the idea of writing grants. I’m not cut out to become a hardcore salesperson, and I’m bored with repeating what has been successful in the past. Because what is exciting about being an artist to me is that it unfailingly challenges everything I know and forces me to learn continuously, while giving my life a sense of order and meaning. Because I do so want to share with you what I see in my mind.
In fact perhaps the most valuable thing an artist can do is to make art and retain the unbridled freedom to ask for compensation or not; to continue to resist the monetization of everything. To the struggling artists – don’t ever, ever give it up, because just doing it is a victory over all that is misguided in the world. Art isn’t about luxury or cleverness or even skill. It’s about meaning, it’s about digging down to the bone, it’s about breaking ground in communication, it’s about shining a light in the darkness.
To art appreciators, show you mean it. While you enjoy music, books, movies, performance or architecture, make sure your artist friends aren’t hungry and have art supplies. As artists around the world continually uplift our spirits and transform neighbourhoods through their hard work and ingenuity, remember and protect the lasting value of what creative capital brings to the community.