Monday, June 25, 2012

The Young Artist's Guide to Playing For Keeps, Part 21

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.

And I’ve been there myself.

From my latest book, Writing is the Basis of All Wealth, here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way: 

1. Lessons are for losers. Some musicians were never that good at playing music. They just represented something important. Whether they created a spectacle, built an emotional connection, told a remarkable story, started a movement, inspired a revolution, changed popular culture, defied the norm, crossed categories, gave voice to a new generation or raised global consciousness, the fact that they didn’t have a lot of talent didn’t matter. They had bigger fish to fry. Which doesn’t mean talent is unimportant, just not as necessary as we once thought. If I were starting as an artist today, I’d invest more of my time creating, connecting, inspiring, dreaming, shipping, sharing, risking, performing, promoting and engaging, and less of my time taking lessons. 

2. The power of germination. 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. 

3. Center doesn't serve us. Only when we work from our edge does the real juice emerge. That's where all the action is. That's where we get the best view, find out who we really are and have the most potential for change. The edge is where we're most challenged to bring forth our best ability. Great art lives there. It's where we find the finest, bloodiest expressions of our experience. And if we're willing to crush the boundaries of our creative capacities and make something truly special, truly new, it has the power to change people forever. If that means we have to try a new genre, so be it. If that means we have to experiment with a new medium, so be it. If that means we have to venture out into a completely different venue, so be it. We didn't pursue a career in art to work from the middle. Save the yellow lines for the armadillos. 

4. Bad is relative. Who are we to judge if an idea is good? That’s not our job. As artists, our job is to notice. As artists, our job is to render our unique experience. As artists, our job is to treat everything we discover with deep democracy. Only time will tell if it’s any good. Millions of people thought Christianity was a bad idea – but they still wrote it down. Later, over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, that idea went on to change the world forever. Bad isn’t good, bad breeds good. How many bad ideas did you have last week? 

5. Transition from creation to discovery. Instead of sitting down with form already in mind, we arrive at the page, the canvas or the clay trusting that the sculpture is already inside the stone, knowing that our job as the artist is to simply chip away. Instead of attaching ourselves to a particular approach, we commit to an unknown process, thinking less and emerging more, allowing everything to come out from the center of us, as opposed to blindly throwing spaghetti against a predetermined wall. Instead of our tendency to drive towards closure, we consciously make more time for things to germinate than is comfortable, sitting with their namelessness, slowly waking up to what is true about ourselves. The cool part is, while discovery takes longer, requires more uncertainty and asks us to be more patient and vulnerable than we’re used to, the work that results is truer, better and bolder.

6. Circulation is everything. If we never ship anything, it doesn’t matter how talented we are. We may as well be winking in the dark. As creators, our primary task is to create. But a close second is to circulate. To share as much as we can, with as many people as we can, as often as we can. That’s why we got ourselves into this whole mess in the first place – to be heard. Steve Wozniak, someone who was constitutionally disinclined to share, still had a mandate to circulate. He knew he had to ship or risk fading into obscurity. Fortunately, his pal Steve Jobs came along to nudge the sharing process. And they shipped one of our world’s most important innovations. We can never let the fear of failure trump our desire to express.

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.