Friday, April 28, 2017

Money, Art, and Happiness

A wise person once asked me: "How do you define success?" That's a great question and one everybody should seriously consider. We live in a consumer culture that tells you success is directly related to money. Make enough money and buy a bunch of stuff. If your stuff is better than the other guy's stuff, then you're successful. For some, maybe. But, the more I've pondered the question, the more I've realized, money has very little to do with me defining myself as successful. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying money isn't important. Like George Bailey said to Clarence, his guardian angel, in It's a Wonderful Life, "... it comes in pretty handy down here bub." I just realized that happiness is what I believe is the most important measure of success. In order to be happy, you need to be successful. On your terms. Not somebody else's. For a long time, I thought that money would make me successful. But, then I realized that was our culture's definition of success and not mine. So, no matter how much Money I had, it would never make me happy if I wasn't successful in my own eyes.

For me, to be successful, I need to do something nobody else can do. Anybody can make money. That's not it for me. I realized, I am the happiest when I'm creating. I've always been creative. Drawing and painting as a kid. Taking photographs as I got older. Writing when I got to college. When, I'm creating, it's purely my thoughts. What makes me happy. What I find interesting or important. These things are mine and mine alone. When, I share them and others feel a connection, I feel that I've really accomplished something. Something nobody else can do the same way I can.

As I've said before... art is an intensely personal thing (see Stealing Your Soul). For me, I need to separate art and money. To be happy with my art, it needs to be my art. Not somebody else's idea of art. If, I create something with an eye to making someone else happy or trying to sell it, there's an amount of dishonesty there. Art needs to be honest (see "Bad Art" is a 4 Letter Word). When it's honest, it can connect with the viewer in a deep, non superficial way. If somebody wants to buy my art, that's great. If they don't but I know my piece spoke to them, that's just as good... maybe better.

So making art makes me happy. Making art makes me feel successful. But art is a hard way to make a living. So, if I want to create art, I need to accept the fact that it's probably not going to be how I make a living. The trick is realizing what makes you happy and makes you feel successful and what you are going to do to make the money you need to live the kind of life you want. For some, that might be the same thing. But, for most, those are going to be two different things. Both are important. You need to be happy to feel successful and you need money to survive. Don't confuse the two.

"Money don't get everything it's true.
What it don't get, I can't use. I want money."

— Barrett Strong, The Beatles, Flying Lizards


Monday, April 17, 2017

"Bad Art" is a 4-Letter Word

OK. That's two words, and each only has three letters. But, I think I made my point. I find the phrase "bad art" offensive. Actually, I find the phrase "good art" offensive as well. Art is art. It is what it is. Some art will speak to you and some won't. You will like some art and maybe downright hate some. You might consider it good or bad, but that's as far as it goes. It's your opinion and your opinion only.

If art is created with honesty to vision it can be a very spiritual thing (see "Stealing Your Soul"). There is a truth in art. That truth might be big. It might be small. Even a child's artwork can speak to some. Most likely, that will be a very limited circle of people like parents or teachers. But, if it is honest, all art will speak to the viewer. The only difference is a matter of scale: how many people will it speak to.

You might realize the message or idea or mood the artist is trying to convey or it might be completely lost on you. You're not going to "get" every work of art. So, obviously, you're not going to like everything. That's OK. You're not supposed to. If everybody liked everything, art would become a homogeneous collection of pointless dribble. But don't let anyone try to tell you what you like and don't like. Now, that doesn't mean you can't be taught to appreciate something. The more you consider art and study it, the broader your appreciation will become.

I believe most people are afraid to admit what they like and don't like. There is a fear that they aren't educated enough to make an informed opinion. So they look to others (teachers, galleries and other "experts") to tell them what "good art" is. But you know what you like and don't like. Trust yourself. The main goal of any work of art is to connect with the viewer (see What's the Point). Any art that connects with you is "good art" to you. What I think of that same art is insignificant. The connection between you and the artist is what matters. So, when you find artwork you like, accept it, and support the artist. That will give the artist the strength to continue creating.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

What's the Point?

That was the nagging question I kept asking myself as I neared 50. Almost a half century and what had I really done? To many, I suppose, it looked like I had done a lot and should be happy. But then again, I've never really cared much about what other people thought; so, the question haunted me: what was my purpose? That's when I had an epiphany: I was an Artist in Denial. (Read more in my first post: I Know I'm Not Alone). Art, I realized, was critically important to me and I could help others come to the same conclusion and bring back a true sense of purpose to their being. So, I had an answer to the question: "what's the point of my life?" But, like a 3-year old asking "why?" all the time, I took it one step further...

What's the Point of Art?

After all, that was the question that kept me from pursuing art after high school. OK, so some people have talent, and people like art, but it's really all just a frivolous, self-indulgent extravagance. Right? Well, it took me 30 years to realize I was wrong. What's the point of art? What purpose does it serve? That's a big question. And the answers will be as varied as the people asking the question. But, at the most fundamental level, all art exists to let let you know: "you are not alone."

Life's a Bitch and Then You Die

Life is a struggle. Life is hard. It's hard for everyone. The only difference is the degree. Some people have it a lot harder than others. But, the grass is never greener on the other side. That's where art comes in. Whether, it's a poem, a story, a painting, a sculpture, a song, a play, a movie... no matter what form it takes, at some level, art let's you know you are not alone. Somebody else has been where you are. Somebody else cares about what you do. Somebody else understands how you feel. Somebody else knows what makes you think or what makes you happy or sad or angry. No matter what your condition, art helps you realize you're not in it alone.

And, art is a symbiotic relationship. It's not only the audience that benefits. The artist benefits as well. The artist sees the world without the clutter of everyday distractions. This can be a blessing and a curse. The act of creating can be a coping mechanism. It's a way to say: "I am here and I see the truth," even when the 'truth' is ugly. The act of creating itself can be very therapeutic. But when it is shared and others appreciate it... that's when the artist knows that he/she is not alone. As human beings, we are inherently social creatures. We all long for acceptance and affirmation. If you have been blessed with a creative gift and you are not exercising it, you are an Artist in Denial. You have the ability to help other people, and by so doing, help yourself. You just need to admit it... then do it... then share it.

“We've all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living, but consider too that the unlived life is not worth examining.”

Learn More about the Artist in Denial Course       Register for the Artist in Denial Course


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Stealing Your Soul

There is a belief that some primitive cultures feared that being photographed would steal their soul. I remember hearing this while studying photography in college. While it's possible to find references of certain cultures (Native American and Aborigine) being uncomfortable being photographed, actual references to a fear of "loosing their souls" in the process is much harder to find. In any event, it's an interesting concept and one I've thought about over the years. As, I've been going through my own "Artist in Denial" experience, I've put a different spin on it.

As I've said before, art is an intensely personal experience (see Admit it Do it Share it)  both in creating it and receiving it. If you are blessed to be a creator, making strong art requires being honest to your vision. You need to trust that vision and stay faithful to it. When you do that, a part of yourself is given to your creation. This is what others receive when they experience your creation whether that be a written piece, visual arts, music, or live performance. A part of you is given. As a recovering "Artist in Denial" who uses photography as his primary medium, I've pondered this in connection with soul-stealing belief of primitive cultures. There's a certain truth to this. But it's backwards. I don't steal the soul. Instead, I give a piece of my own. And the only way to get it back is to share it and have it received by another. It's the transaction of giving and receiving (Do it and Share it) that keeps the artist going. But it's a frightening proposition. You are exposing yourself in a most vulnerable way. Some people aren't going to care, some aren't going to like it at all. And that's painful. But there will be those who like it. Truly like it. Because it speaks to them. The transaction has been completed, your soul has been restored, and you can create more.

Being honest with your art is hard. It's much easier to listen to others and adapt your vision to theirs or to follow the trends and try to make something that people will like. While you might have some success doing that, there is a certain dishonesty inherent in that process (which is summed up in the phrase "whoring yourself") at some point you'll realize your mistake and find the joy has been removed. Creating art is a spiritual process. You've been given a gift. You need to share it. It's not only important to you, but to others who need to receive your vision.

"... (as an artist) you become the carrier of something that is given to you from what have been called the 'Muses' — or, in biblical language, 'God.'"

-Joseph Campbell


Monday, March 27, 2017

Words of Wisdom from the Airline Stewardess

True wisdom doesn't have to come from the expected sources. Life lessons can be learned in the most ordinary situations. The trick is to just listen... then apply the knowledge.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten was from the airline stewardess. Not a particular one on a particular airline, but every one who's ever done the safety demonstration portion on the inflight passenger announcements (I think they were harder to ignore when a live person did this standing in the aisle instead of on a video screen in the back of the seat in front of you so I'm not sure if people these days really listen to what the stewardess is saying, but, if you do...) At some point, as they are talking about what to do if the oxygen masks drop down, they will say something to the effect: 
"If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person." 
"If you really want to help someone else, you need to help yourself first." OR "If you help yourself first, then you will be able to help others."
So, if you are an Artist in Denial, the first step is to "Admit it." I introduced that concept in the last post: "Admit it. Do it. Share it." After you've admitted you are an "Artist in Denial" and that making art (visually, writing, performing, etc.) is a source of happiness and purpose for you and that denying that truth is a source of unhappiness, the second step is to "Do it." It will make you happy. It will give you a higher sense of purpose. It's like finding oxygen in a vacuum. Which leads directly to the third step: "Share it." Now that you've found your oxygen, you can help others. That's what I think art is all about. The artist recognizes something beautiful or identifies a common situation or fundamental truth and shares it with others. People who identify with the artist, and the statement he/she is making, realize they are not alone in their joy, pain, or fears. Art brings us together. It builds community. It helps us navigate life. It's an intensely personal interaction of one person helping another. Maybe not as obvious as strapping on an oxygen mask; but, it's important just the same. But, it all starts with you. You have to "Do it."

Near the end of the inflight passenger announcements, the stewardess has another great bit of advice:
"If you are seated next to an emergency exit, please read the special instructions on the card located in the seat pocket in front of you. If you do not wish to perform the functions described in the event of an emergency, please ask a flight attendant to reseat you."
In other words..
"If you don't want to participate, go somewhere else." 


Monday, March 20, 2017

Admit it. Do it. Share it.

After the initial realization that I was an "artist in denial," I couldn't stop thinking about it. As I mentioned in my first post "I Know I'm Not Alone," I knew there had to be plenty of people out there that were just as inexplicably unhappy as I was. If I could share my revelation, maybe I could help some of them. From the beginning, I knew I needed to create some kind of educational component. The structure I came up with was based on three pillars: admit it, do it, and share it.

It had taken me 50 years to figure out why I was unhappy. How many people just "suck it up" and convince themselves they're making something out of nothing? That first pillar is the big one. Admit it. I think that's been the hardest thing for me. Saying that I'm an "artist" doesn't mean that I make my primary living as an artist. Rather, it means that "artist" is a primary definition of who I am. Creating is not something that I want to do. It's something that I need to do. But, the title "artist" comes with so much baggage, (at least in the U.S.) it's a scary thing to admit. Even when people mean well and are trying to be supportive, they'll say things like: "you've always been creative, I wish I could be artsy fartsy." So, you can get tempted to try to tell yourself "it's OK I don't look good in black and I really don't want to get tattoos and body piercings at my age any way." There's a couple of future posts wrapped up in there, but I think I made my point. It's really hard to admit that you're an artist in your soul. It's much easier to continue suppressing the need to create and focus on "things that really matter." It's much easier to just stay in denial. To some degree, I don't know if it will ever get any easier. Maybe it needs to be hard. More future posts.

So, when I got back from Louisville, I told my new artist friend about my epiphany. That's when he suggested that I read Julia Cameron's "The Artists Way." What a fabulous book. Everything I read completely lined up with my vision of Artist in Denial. I knew that this would be the base curriculum for my course. But it couldn't stop there. Once you admit you are an artist. You have to create. Whatever that means. Drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, creating music. Whatever your art is, you need to do it. That's where you will find your true joy.

The last step is to share it. Art is an incredibly personal experience. Whether it's creating it or appreciating it, it's intensely personal. When art touches someone on a personal level, it's a powerful thing. To realize that there is someone else out there who feels the same way you do, believes the same things you do, appreciates the same things you do, it's a magical thing. So, after you do it, you need to share it. Somebody will appreciate. Somebody might actually need it. If you have the ability, why would you deny it to others?


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I Know I'm Not Alone

It was March of 2012 and I was driving from Cleveland to Louisville to attend a nonprofit board meeting. By all accounts, my life was successful. I had owned my own small advertising agency for the past 15 years, was happily married, had two great kids, we lived in an affluent suburb of Cleveland in the house of our dreams, I was active in our church and several civic groups; but still, I wasn’t happy. To be honest, I didn't know what was wrong with me. But, I had a five hour drive ahead of me, so I turned up the music and lost myself in my thoughts. 

A few months earlier, I discovered that a new friend had been an artist ever since college. I don't mean he just painted pretty pictures. I mean, he made a living at it. He was married, he had a son, he lived in the suburbs... he was normal.’ Painting is how he supporting his family, and he was my age. He'd been doing it for decades. Up until this point in my life (I was almost 50), it had never really occurred to me that art could be a viable occupation. 

Creating art (drawing, painting, taking photographs) was an important part of my life all the way through high school. It was a major part of how I defined myself. But when it was time for college, I didn’t have the nerve to go to art school. I didn’t want to become a ‘starving artist.’ I was the first person from my family to go to college so I felt like I needed to do something significant. It was time to ‘put away childish things.’ So I did. I attended Case Western Reserve University, where I graduated in the mid 80s. The Cleveland Institute of Art is located in the same neighborhood so I had several friends who were art school graduates; but, all of them eventually had to find other careers to make a living. It all seemed to prove my belief that art was not a viable occupation. Then life happened. I got married, started my own company, and had kids. I stopped doing any art all together. But now, there was this guy I knew who actually made a living as an artist. It seemed so unbelievably cool.

So there I was, driving south on I-71 trying to figure out why I wasn't happy. That's when I realized that creating art was not something I ‘wanted to do’ so much as something I felt ‘compelled to do.’ I had been denying my creative urges for 30 years. That was the cause of my unhappiness and, frankly, it wasn’t healthy. It was quite an epiphany. The whole idea for "Artist in Denial" came to me all at once. It was a little overwhelming, but the most important thing I realized was that I wasn’t alone. I knew there were lots of people just like me. As I drove, the thoughts flooded my brain. I felt like this was what I was meant to do. I needed to get back to creating art. That's what was going to make me happy. But, there was even more, I also could do something really meaningful. I could share my thoughts with others that are going through the same struggles as me and help them find meaning and happiness in their lives as well. Ever since, I've been thinking about what it all means, what I want to say and how I want to say it. I don't have it all figured out, but I've decided I've gotten to the point where I just need to start. So here it is.

In this blog, I want to start a conversation and eventually build a community of like-minded people. I know there are people out there who feel the same way I do. If it's not you, you probably know someone who does. Please share this with him or her. I've had a lot of thoughts over the past 5 years and have a lot to say. I can't promise that it will follow any kind of nice outline or structure but I can promise it will be thought provoking. Thanks for reading.