How to Succeed in Art Without Really Trying

The title of this post is, like the 1952 satirical business manual and musical I'm referencing in it, a joke, as much of a riddle as any a Sphinx could come up with.  Success in art can mean a number of different things and straining need not be one of them, but no matter how fortuitous one's circumstances are or how astounding one's talents, real achievement generally involves some manner of work or challenge.  For the purpose of today's musing, I will limit my discussion to career success, because I grew up being told by more than a few people that being an artist was not a valid career choice or that making money off my art was akin to "selling out", so choosing to become an artist sparked many questions that I imagine doctors and engineers do not have to concern themselves with (but more on that in another post).

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?  After drilling yourself with questions and re-affirming all your self-doubts one evening, perhaps after a particularly disappointing festival or having to suffer hearing your friends make starving artist jokes yet again (those people are either in need of an education or not friends, by the way), you have found yourself Googling "How to be a successful artist" or "Why is my work not selling?" on your cellphone at 2AM (and clearly lots of people type these questions into search engines, because the lists abound).  You gaze out your window and note that only one other window in your neighborhood glows blue and pink-- that one fellow who plays video games all night and drifts off around 4AM in his chair with the Weather Channel on TV for background noise is up too, and you wonder what he does for a living and how he manages to stay up all night and still get up early enough in the morning to leave for work in his battered mid-90's Nissan.  You have never met him, but you are beginning to feel a level of kinship with him that is not quite normal.  You have not made any art all week and you have not spoken to anyone but your cat all day.  You like to complain to your friends that there are no opportunities for you in your town, but you have not even visited half the local stores that sell original art or gotten involved in any of the arts organizations near you.  Not only is your insomnia far less poetic than you thought it might be in your moody teens, but getting a good night's sleep would probably help you far more than anything you can find on the Internet at 2AM, the online equivalent of lingering around too long in a smoky bar, but without the cover band playing "Closing Time" to remind you that you ought to call a cab.

The above description does not represent my current situation or feelings, mind you, but I have done my share of late-night Internet soul-searching, and while I have picked up more than a few good tips along the way, there are many things I would like to tell my younger self about not worrying or complaining so much.  The best and most practical advice that consistently works for me can be distilled down to four words:  Show up each day.  I cannot remember whatever 7 things I should or should not do or why number 15 was supposed to blow my mind or what I should never write in my cover letter, and reading up on such topics as "How to become rich and famous as an artist" seems to turn up useless generalities, but I can remember to show up.  By show up, I mean both to the easel or drafting table and the interviews, shows, and receptions.  That also means that my mind and heart have to show up too-- showing up half-heartedly is no use.  Circumstance and tastes and people can be unpredictable. . . only experience will confirm what exactly works and does not work, who likes which kind of work enough to buy it, what aspects of working are most fulfilling, and which venues and opportunities ought to be pursued, but in the meantime, I can show up and find out.  Is what I have to say about success original or profound?  Perhaps not. . . but it seems to be more efficient than frustrating myself with vague questions, and if I am going to be up doing something at 2AM, I would rather it be something more enlightening than read generic lists on the Internet-- reading a good instructional book on technique, putting the finishing touches on a mini painting, researching specific shows and galleries, or writing this blog post, for instance. . .

Is there any particular trait, quality, or advice that has helped you to become more successful in art or any other career path?  Weigh in below in the comments!

Brush Care and Other Life Lessons

At some point in the last two years, I gave up on my brushes.  Perhaps it was my grueling new public studio schedule, perhaps it was the fact that I had begun to use nylon brushes almost exclusively, perhaps it was some of the textured surfaces I was painting on (brick, paperboard, coroplast), but my brushes were wearing out at an alarming rate.  I began to buy cheap ones in bulk and threw them away within weeks.  The faster they wore out, the less inclined I was to take care of them in general.  I indiscriminately scrubbed on vast acrylic underpaintings with tiny, delicate nylon flat brushes.  I left paint-choked brushes drowning in water overnight because I was eager to go home at the end of the day.  Sometimes, I would save the chipped and battered handles of my casualties in the vain hope that I might take up macramé in the future; they did have quite an interesting patina by the time I was through with them.  The way I figured it, having to buy more brushes seemed an acceptable loss given the artwork I was making. . .

However, at my first meeting with my new art teacher, we talked about brush care, and something clicked in my mind.  Why was I entrusting my work to inferior, damaged, poorly-maintained tools?  Since when did I accept unnecessary waste as a natural by-product of my work?  While a skilled musician can usually make even a poor instrument sing, would it not be preposterous to simply allow that instrument to deteriorate out of carelessness?  Since when did carelessness become a part of my method?

I have been carefully cleaning and drying my brushes lately, contemplating which ones to use for various tasks, reintroducing bristle brushes and even sturdy utility brushes, and in the process, I am learning that I can get far more mileage and variety out of my tools, that I had been limiting their myriad possibilities, that they can sing for me in ways that I had forgotten or fully ignored.  The task that I had begun to think of as futile or tedious has become meditative instead, and this simple change already seems to be influencing my work, my wallet, and my life.


Walls to Walls

Walls to Walls opened with a well-attended reception at Lowe Mill last night and the artwork will continue to be displayed at the Arts Huntsville Gallery in the Von Braun Center until October 28th.  The exhibit features the canvas work of six Huntsville muralists, R.F. Daniel, Andy Winn, Robert Bean, Jahni Moore, myself, and Logan Tanner.

The above photo shows all six of us with the one-of-a-kind triptych we worked on together at the reception, "Underwater Moonlight", which is up for bidding until the show closes.  All proceeds will be going toward building an outdoor classroom at Lowe Mill.

That is the official information regarding Walls to Walls, but I would like to add a few personal thoughts as well.  There is always more to any exhibit, event, art show, or performance than the plain facts. . . the moments of anticipation, the hard work, the laughter, the publicity, the set-up, the personal feelings and hopes and thoughts, the long hours, the people one comes to truly love and respect throughout the processLooking back on this show will always fill me with a great deal of pride. . . there is no greater compliment to any artist than being in a group show with extremely dedicated career artists whose work one has admired for years, and there is no greater assurance than to know that there are organizations like Arts Huntsville made up of people who truly love and want to work with artists (people who help us load and unload our cars while sweat pours off our brows in 91 degree Alabama heat and schedule TV and radio interviews with equal enthusiasm. . .)  After a successful reception, all I can feel (beyond the aches in my muscles from carrying stacks of prints and canvases and stretching as much as I can to reach that one nail in the middle of a brick wall) is overwhelming gratitude.