Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Young Artist's Guide to Playing For Keeps, Part 17

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

I’ve been there myself. I'm still there myself. Here’s what I've learned lately:

1.     Mainstream is lamestream. Going out in front of an audience you’ve earned is everything. When you walk out there in front of people who love what you do, who can’t wait to watch you do what you do – and then you get to do it for them – everybody wins. The artist wins because she’s not working for strangers anymore, she’s surrounded by the people who actually get her, she’s free from free from the mediocrity of the masses and she’s surrounded by the beauty of the tribe. The audience wins because they’re getting what they paid for, they’re all in on the joke, they’re all speaking the same language and they’re all in this together to root for someone who is worthy of their hope. Sure beats performing cold to crowd of crossed arms. Who loves you?

2.     Patience is the highest form of trust. I’ve always been an excellent producer. It’s just my nature. I’m impatient, I’m a quick start and I’m an executor. I take action without waiting for permission, and I turn a seed into a forest before most people realize it’s raining. Lately, though, I’ve been practicing the fine art of waiting. Instead of my normal tendency to drive towards closure, I’ve consciously created more time for things to germinate than is comfortable. Instead of obsessing over the branding of my next project, I’ve moved forward without satisfying my need to label everything. It sucks. Letting go of a process that’s been good to you is always a bitter pill to swallow. But despite my impulsive nature, despite my predisposition to execute with all my might, I’m starting to learn that anything worth doing is worth waiting for. What are you producing?

3.     Consistency is far better than rare moments of greatness. Houdini built his fame one escape at a time. He wasn’t a mentalist – he was an incrementalist. Which certainly isn’t the quickest, sexiest or easiest path to success. And it’s not what anyone is willing to tell us when we start our career. But great art doesn’t take shortcuts. Harry worked for seven years before he got his big break. Matter of fact, it wasn’t even that big of a break – just an accumulation of small breaks that finally catapulted him to the next level. Fortune may favor the bold, but it frequents the consistent. Are you making art one by one?

4.     The problem with information. Anyone can deliver it, everyone can find it and nobody can own it. And if that’s all we bring to the table, there’s only so far our work can travel, people will always be able to steal it and we’ll never have something truly different to offer. The easiest way out is to simply tell our story. The one that belongs to us. To make it as honest and bloody and human as possible, to make it the only story we tell, and to make sure we’re the only ones who can tell it. If we can pull that off, the information won’t matter. People won’t have to worry about taking notes on everything we say, they’ll be taking notes on themselves. Are people using your story as a mirror to inspire themselves?

5.     Remove what robs you. Before he became a famous sculptor and light installation artist, Dan Flavin was a floor guard of American Museum of Natural History. According to his biography, during night shifts Dan would cram his uniform pockets with notes and sketches for an electric light display. Not surprisingly, he was more interested in creating art for the future than protecting artifacts from the past. Eventually, the custodian in charge said, “We aren’t paying you to be an artist.” Flavin agreed and quit. Three years later, Dan’s first solo exhibition debut and launched his career as one of contemporary art’s greatest minimalist. He removed what robbed him, embraced what excited him and spent his life doing things that tapped into who he was made to be. What do you need to quit?

6.     Please the right audience. There are two types of disc jockeys. The ones who fill the floor, and the ones who fiddle with music. Both take skill, both require creativity and both are forms of art. What’s different is the energy. The posture. The level of engagement. The sense of community. When an organization invests hundreds of thousands dollars to throw a party, they don’t want their guests sitting in chairs, sipping champagne, watching some guy with headphones scratch records. People can do that in their homes. What they want is for people to come together, embrace each other, share the joyful experience of music and dance and celebration, and not leave the dance floor until the lights flicker on and it’s time to go home. That’s irreplaceable. It all depends on whom the performer is trying to please: If it’s only themselves, then they’re just masturbating; but if it’s the entire room, then everybody gets laid. Which type are you?

7.     Trust your mission. In his biography, Charles Schultz explained that the secret of his success was focusing on drawing one good comic strip every day. Not making millions. Not achieving fame. Not changing the world. Not advancing his personal agenda. Not making publishers and newspapers happy. Just the art. Just the work. Just one good strip, every day. That single goal, that incrementalist approach, governed Schultz’s work for more than fifty years, and it made him the most influential, popular and profitable cartoonist in the history of the medium. The strip was his mission piece. That one chunk of art he committed to, focused on and obsessed over, each day, until it was done, no exceptions; trusting that everything else – the television specials, the merchandising, the books – would flow from that. What’s your mission piece?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.

Have you committed with both feet yet?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Writing, Publishing, Performing, Consulting

My job is to help companies make their mission more than a statement, using limited edition social artifacts.

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