These days an artist can be forgiven for not being able focus on what is truly important. There are hundreds of methods put forward as solutions to an artist’s immediate need to kick off a career. Websites, social media, art lessons in different formats, tons of blogs by marketing experts, galleries whether analog or digital and of course, for some, a formal degree or diploma for added respectability.
While some of these do have value to the artist they all miss the point. Take the internet for example. You are reading this online and that is nice. I appreciate it. If the article works then you decide to finish reading it, but if not it is a quick click to escape. The same applies to the artist’s gallery of photos. If you are well experienced in buying art online then you may be able to spot a good painting online and compare it to something already on your wall. Work out the measurements and decide that it is a good deal. You may then negotiate a bit before buying. All good. For most though buying online seems very risky. There are exceptions where some artists have persisted and sell fairly regularly, but seldom making a real breakthrough.
The vast array of online experts giving advice to artists promise to have the perfect ten-point plan to financial success. It makes you wonder how pre-internet artists actually survived. Maybe they did not survive and there is a mysterious artist's burial ground like that of the elephants. Who knows? Once again though all of these promises of success if-you-do-it-this-way are suggestions at best. Most of these writers are not artists or they gave it up for something that paid them back. Avoid them and look for artists that have walked the walk for real advice instead. If you can find an artist to mentor you then you have something very special indeed!
Social media is touted as the magic bullet to success too. Yes there are anecdotes of a few artists who have made sales this way. In truth social media is not so much about sales as about interacting now and then with other like minded people. Sadly the idea persists that if you have thousands of followers you will have financial success too. The truth is that people are not stupid. Nobody throws money away on a whim. If you know of someone like that please send them my website address. It is crazy to think that the most obscure follower on the other side of the world will be your next painting purchaser. This means that the vast amount of time wasted online is simply that – a waste. Have some online presence of course, but think quality not quantity.
So what is the most important lesson for an artist? I intend to stick my neck out a bit and give my view on what really counts. Here goes: the largest proportion of the day must be spent on making excellent art and finishing the project in a professional manner. This means proper framing if you paint or a proper base for a sculpture and so on. Get the paperwork straight too so that there is a good record of your work.
Once the creative work is done the next part is getting the art in front of people. This may mean a gallery, a weekend market, art fair, expo, interior designers rooms, restaurants, offices and whatever creative way you can devise to get the physical object out there. Preferably follow all these options for multiple exposure. This route is critical. Online is not enough.
Paint litres of paint, miles of canvas and scuplt tons of material then get the art in front of a collector. This is the truth.
To fulfill our destiny and give meaning to our lives we need to see the truth. For most of us, certainly myself, life is a constant struggle against conditioned thinking. What is desirable behaviour, a worthwhile career, what we say and do on a daily basis is very often about following the accepted norms. The saying goes that only a dead fish goes with the flow.
My resolve is to give meaning to my life. This is my challenge to myself. I know that to do this I need to face many beliefs that seem carved in stone. I will also have to make a difference to the lives of others in whatever small way I can. If these challenges can be met with good grace and a truthful heart then perhaps I will have succeeded.
May all blindfolds be discarded for good!
What blindfold do you want to remove?
There must be tons of publications on making the most of our potential not to mention gigs of the digital version online every minute. How to do anything imaginable and then some. Sometimes we even put these ideas into action. Art is no different. Now that art is a significant part of the economy it is catered for in the market in the minutest detail. Add to this the advice for aspiring professional artists and we have an abundance of information to work with. Great – our potential is immense. I am hugely motivated by this, but there is one matter that brings us all back to reality like a wet slap in the chops. Our health.
I have just come off a bout of some winter malady that was particularly intent on knocking me down. One day I am full of energy painting away. The next I cannot even lift a brush. It is humbling to realise (again) that we are nothing without our health. No matter how talented, bright, famous or determined we may be our health will have the last say.
This episode was a timely reminder for me that pride in our health should not lead to negligence either. By this I mean not taking care of our health and not getting checked up once a year. Especially if, like me, the middle age years have arrived. No shame in admitting it. We can only do our best work if mind and body are in good shape.
While enforced rest can be frustrating it is also a good way to catch up on good reading. I came across Sir Ken Robinson on TED Talks. His presentations on improving our educational system to free up children’s creativity are relevant the world over. He also has an excellent book called Finding Your Element. I read this book recently and it was a refreshing take on finding the work that we were meant to do.
Robinson’s book is full of well grounded arguments, examples and anecdotes from ordinary folk, and some famous ones, that will help you identify your element. The next step will be to put that knowledge into action. This is also covered in a sensible way. Let’s be honest these days many people are so fearful of losing employment that they will compromise their true nature to get a pay cheque. Very Sad. Robinson shows us that there are ways to start moving away from that situation without risking everything at once. When the time to jump arrives though we need to be ready.
Finding Your Element will resonate with any artist. It gave me a reassuring nod of confidence too. Teachers, parents and teenagers alike will enjoy this accessible book as well. You can watch Sir Ken's latest TED Talk below.
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Do your local newspapers put up billboards on streetlight poles where you live? You know those headlines that are meant to entice you to buy the paper? Mine do. These headlines are almost always filled with appalling content. Sometimes it is so bad that children cannot read them without being afraid to get out the car. What are the newspapers thinking? Certainly nothing good can come of filling our minds with bad news. Trash in trash out as the saying goes.
After being mentally assaulted in this way I tend to seek refuge in my studio. Relief comes after a few minutes of painting or some other creative activity. This brings me to the main thrust of this article. What is the best way to escape our worries and anxieties? Yes anger too. The answer involves escaping from time itself. Einstein reminded us that time is an illusion. Honestly time is nothing more than our attempt to make sure we get to work without getting into trouble. We believe it exists so there it is.
If that sounds odd then you may be surprised to note that our real self is not found in our mind. Our mind is the voice of our outer self. The ego that we tend to identify each other by. The mind fills out heads with things to worry about. In order for the mind to do this it needs time. It is the past (baggage) and the future (anxiety) that is the focus of all our mind’s thoughts.
What if we escaped the past and future and focused on the present. The now. According to Ekhart Tolle in his excellent book The Power of Now, all we have is now. This fact of course is confirmed by many other faiths and thinkers. Unfortunately we have given up on the now as we try to anticipate the future and stew over past events. The result is pain and misery the world over.
So to get into the Now we need to focus on the moment. Meditation is difficult for me. I choose art as my escape from the mind’s chatter. Most of us have experienced the joy of the moment in activities like sport or even dangerous activities that demand our full attention. Whenver we are in a state of blissful focus we cancel out the mind’s time based messages. We have the present moment. With this knowledge we can start to indentify the bad habits that send us in the wrong direction. We have a choice about what happens at this moment.
A good place to start is to avoid triggers like those terrible newspaper adverts. Enjoy the moment,because it is all we truly have.
Of course you know that the National Art’s Festival is currently on in Grahamstown until 7 July 2013. I was fortunate to have spent a few days catching the sights and sounds of this amazing event. What a treat it is to be overwhelmed by the choice of art shows. You can lose yourself in sensory overload until you cannot take anymore. Then you go back for another dose! It is addictive and what a rush it is.
You can also lose your bank manager’s patience when your overdraft goes into the danger zone. There are some nifty goodies to buy at the village green, wacky sights and general positive vibes that send you home with a smile on your face. Even cynics will enjoy a moment of escape.
I am always surprised by the creative energy and determination displayed by artists. Why I am not sure, because it is impossible to keep artistic energy bottled up. It must come out and be shared. I think artists sometimes get too caught up in their studios or wherever they do the work and lose touch with the world of arts. Then an event like this gives artists a stage to show their work and it restores faith. I am especially happy to see truly South African art of all types. What a blast to see the ideas of so many creative talents put into action.
Without creative energy and action the world is lost. So here is to everyone who gets inspired, puts that inspiration into action and shares the result with someone. Good job!
Get to the festival if you can. Here are a few sights from the fest!