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