Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Strategies for Success as an Artist
I thought I'd blog some of my tips for surviving and thriving as a studio artist for 30 years. As an artist running a sole proprietor business, most of the advice I got from well meaning people that did not work for me was about how to run an efficient, profit-driven manufacturing plant. As I've said in Creativity, this led me into deadening boredom. Here are some pointers that I found invaluable:
1) "Your inner artist is a child", according to Julia Cameron. That means that an artist's job is to play. That doesn't mean to just make messes (although sometimes it does) and it does mean to abandon oneself to imagination, surrender to creative impulses. Dream. Go with 'what if?' just for the pleasure of it.
2) "No matter how beautifully a puppet is dancing on the end of its strings," said Werner Erhart, "I have a sense that there is no joy in it for the puppet." If you hit a winning formula, like the piece that wins a competition, or will sell over and over, there is a strong pull to lock yourself in to making just that or things derived from that until Sales is like a puppeteer and you are dancing on its strings. Don't do it.
3) "Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business." (Tom Robbins) Believe in magic. Period.
Now here are my own daffodils and polliwogs of wisdom:
4) Learn to be very comfortable in your own skin, and your own mind. Some form of exercise and some spiritual discipline are essential, or art will never be more than another attempt to escape yourself.
5) Make a solemn agreement that you will only tell the truth in your art. This was huge for me. I actually made an inventory of all the ways I lied in my pottery: by making shapes that I knew were off center or poorly finished, telling myself that with a pretty glaze they would sell anyway. Using bright colors when my soul at the time cried out for subtle and mellow colors, or vice versa. Making work that was fast and marketable cheap, and saying I would explore a little artistic growth when I had a fat IRA (someday...)
6) At least once a year, redesign your life. Design is the context, the box, the often overlooked structure of an organization or our individual life. If your dream is huge, the structure of your current life may be too small to hold it. Design your day, your home, your studio, your family to support and facilitate where you intend to go as an artist.
7) Tell everyone off on a regular basis, eat only desserts, and run up your credit cards to the max. Just kidding! But I was serious about everything else!