Sunday, July 28, 2013


I really love hearing people talk about their craft. Of all the payoffs to having a successful art showing, the number one is inspiring other artists to do shit, the number two is getting asked advice, even if it's something banal like materials used. (although from first hand experience, material advice can be some of the most invaluable).

Anyway, I love it, and I think it's true - all advice is autobiographical, everybody is just talking to a younger version of themselves, not to you, so I'm collecting this shit here for me, but an older version of me and I wonder if he'll/she'll still hold that my succinct advice to younger me is: "surpass me"

The Most General Advice

The problems your career will solve, will be the problems of your career, and for the most part that only. Success as an artist won't resolve your personal problems, it won't alleviate the loneliness, it won't resolve your inter-personal conflicts, it won't fix the mistakes you've made with loved ones. But it can contribute to your overall happiness. There's more to life than work, there is for example also love. But it's equally true that there's more to life than love, there is for example, also work. And work is a significant part of any day, and subsequently your whole life. And while it's important to try and get it right, that promotion or milestone you strive for is probably not going to fool any person you had to sacrifice to get there that it was all worth while.


Just realize what you are doing, question your motivations, be intellectually and emotionally honest at least with yourself. This is the best way to manage, or even better, exclude the frustrations of your career. How important to you is control? credit? recognition? attendence? feedback? collaboration? ethics? money? If you know what's important to you, then you can embark on the project with these things settled.

Most importantly, if you know what you want out of something, you can simply ask for it. The most effective way to achieve anything ever.

But realizing goes beyond that, you need to realize what your success asks of others. If you are using that art space it means somebody else can't. If you dick around a curator being indecisive it demands of them they hold 'tentative' bookings which mean they can't get somebody else in, and people will get shitty with you. If you get jealous of a peer and try and undermine them, realize that a healthy art scene is good for you too, you want peers, and you want peers to succeed, you want art to be a thing.

Our emotions and subconscious mislead us constantly, and I find it is worthy of scrutiny so that in some small way we can correct for it.

Actually take risks, don't just act like you do

It is okay to fail, and you can survive feeling like a loser for surprisingly long periods of time. But what you can't escape is a universal truth of 'risk' - if you take no risks, you are guaranteed, guaranteed, failure.

There are few concepts that really dictate most of my behaviour, and risk is one of them. It's one of those central themes. But don't think, for a second, that its easy.

What defines risk is uncertainty, and you are only taking risks where the conditions required to succeed are identical to the conditions required to fail.

The easiest way I can think to illustrate this is consider two artists, two exhibitions. Both artists are relatively unknown, one's exhibition is large scale sculptures of triangles, an exploration of space and geometry. The second artist does an exhibition of small portraits of elderly women, an exploration of aging, beauty and mortality. Who is taking the risks?

In the first, consider that while mathematics is a pure philosophy, a universal language, few people will ever really be concerned about the artificial regularity of triangles in the same way that almost everybody will be concerned at some point about beauty, aging and mortality. Consider also that while many exhibition goers may have wall space to hang a picture, almost nobody has a spare room for massive triangle contemplation.

My feeling is that a lot of people misfire and think that the person working on the relatively more obscure subject matter creating art that has the remotest chance of selling is the one taking the risks. It's the opposite, it's the artist that dares to express their opinion on a subject almost anybody will have an opinion about including a high likelihood of a conflicting opinion is taking the risk. Because there's a greater degree of uncertainty as to how people will react.

Furthermore, the person who sets a price that can be either too high or too low, takes a risk, because they don't know how people will evaluate their pieces in regard to it. The first artist might have a 100 people shuffle through their exhibition and expect no sales, they aren't taking a risk. The second artist might have a 100 people come through and make a bunch of sales, or no sales, they don't know. They risk dissappointment, in order to obtain joy.

As many artists in my opinion, pursue their art, in the same manner that an alarming amount of people in general pursue their financial security through the lottery. The lottery is as close to certainty as gambling gets, you are virtually guaranteed to never win the lottery even if you play it every week of your life. Such that if you do win the lottery, people may be able to say you 'deserved' it in some karmic sense, but nobody can really say you earned it.

So to, if some obscure artist gets 'discovered' and sells their avant garde piece for $80,000 to some gallery, they just lucked out in some art-curators lottery, they didn't earn their success by taking any risks.

Perhaps another way of putting it, you have two types of people, those that work hard and take risks, and those that work hard at avoiding any risk.


Scope is probably the other central concept to my life. We all have to deal with the conflicts between long and short term payoffs, think big vs. small picture here's where I think most artists get caught up... they think small.

This gives rise to false dichotomy, rationalization and annoyance. It ties in with realizing, but it's really an exercise in looking at what you do from every angle. Thinking about your audience, your buyers, your suppliers, basically, you can't operate in a hermetically sealed chamber and become the greatest artist in the world. It's just too simple and lazy.

Artists limit themselves in their imaginations. For example, don't presume a dilemma between 'being true to your artistic vision' and 'selling pieces' you are just covering up a large number of options that satisfy both.

Fact is nothing you do happens in isolation, nor is any effort wasted if you are playing the long game. The effort that doesn't seem to pay off in your first exhibition can pay big in your next exhibition, and the one after.

Furthermore, consider your own position in relation to people you have to deal with, like the people who approve your grants or whom control the gallery spaces you need. Realise it's a two way deal, if you are giving them money, what do they give you in return? If they are giving you a whole bunch of 'free' money, what's expected of you? what hoops are you jumping through? What skills are you losing out but getting that windfall?

Scope's a big part of 'realize' really, but it's worthy of consideration, how not to shoot yourself in the foot so to speak. Just realize decisions you are making today are making your day 6 months from now easier or harder.


Take nothing and nobody for granted. Go to pains to make sure they know you don't.


If there's anything I came to appreciate more than anything else, it's the unasked favor, or initiative. The ability of a person to do something unbidden. The ability to go into action without any apparent driving force. Acts of initiative go a long way when you are stressed out or having to be in control.

Like anything I appreciate in others, endeavor to emulate it. You need to show initiative, not just in doing favors for others, but doing favors for yourself. You don't get anywhere worthwhile through wishful thinking. The easiest way to obtain anything is to ask for it.

It's a balanced equation, somebody has to initiate, be the initiator, because it's a nice thing to do for other people, and it makes it extra nice on those occasions where you don't have to be.

Get Paid for Piping

Do you want this job? Do you want this to be your job? Then you need to figure out, sooner, rather than later how to get paid. I'm not sure if this phase can be shortcutted, but you will be approached by people who feel they are doing you a favor by letting you work for them, or working for exposure.

Always endeavor to get paid for playing, and realise there are only so many jobs that you can take on. The ideal is to do something fun and get paid for it. Working on stuff you hate and getting paid for it is pretty fucking bad, but if you aren't getting paid, you may as well be doing your own thing, if you can't get paid at least pick the tune. Or start taking risks on your own stuff and trying to sell it.

Do the Work

This is no big secret, it is in fact the universal piece of advice that I include here simply to reaffirm that I too am no exception. If you want to draw, draw. if you want to paint, paint. you want to drum, drum. What I like to think of, is that every day I die, and some other person inherits my life tomorrow. I want to make future tohm's life easier than I found my life. So I work on drawing so future tohm's career as an artist is a lot easier than mine right now.

Make sense?

Anyway, you won't get there by staying where you are now.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


So you want to be an artist? a rockstar? a... a... a manager?

Same difference. What do you do? Why you work your hardest to be the best damn artist/rockstar/manager etc you can be. o be the cream of the crop and then somebody (or everybody) will recognise your talent and promote you and all your dreams come true.

You're lazy.

The dream of being discovered is I think fundamentally lazy. It's just another manifestation of the rescue fantasy. You know that boyfriend/girlfriend that will solve all your problems. But instead it's just some person who weilds the influence in society that you do not somehow validating you, and giving you all that influence they have accumulated just for what? A reasonable cut of your profits?

I think I probably haven't thought through what it means to be discovered, or how it all really works, but chances are neither have you.

But heaps of people just think that if they build up their skill-base enough, if they just work hard enough, somebody will swoop in and throw cash and power at them.

And who knows they may, it's not unprecedented. It's not unprecedented but it is lazy.

And I think it's hard to get. In offices all around the world, there are a bunch of employees that don't get this, would frankly be indignant and insulted to be told they are lazy.

But in an office it's easy to see. You have somebody, you give them a job description. Then rather than get better as an employee, they simply just do more. And more is easy, it's the easiest thing in the world. It's just hanging back an extra hour or two beyond the hours you are required to work.

But think about it, should that be more impressive, than an identical employee that achieves the same output but leaves work an hour or two early?

That's the difference between more and better.

Artists are no exception to this mode of thinking. Just like employees putting in extra 'voluntary overtime' in the hope that they recoup their time in promotions and higher wages, artists that lock themselves away trying to get really really good, are kind of the same to me.

It's just trying to be so great, that it doesn't matter who you are or how you treat people. That it doesn't matter how aware you are of what other artists are doing, or supporting them in their careers, or being part of a community, or taking risks, or showing any investment in anybody elses career but your own.

It's avoiding all the risk, and all the really hard and exhaustng work. Your inclination is to just keep doing what you know - practicing. Practicing and practicing until you obtain a level of perfection that makes you impervious to everything you are afraid of. Once you've theoretically perfected your art, you don't need courage, or to stress, and everything will theoretically take care of itself.

Fuck that shit. It's fucking lazy.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Good Lesson Learned

Shona loves me. She tells me so, and from my observations, I believe her claims.

I should offer at this point, that I love Shona too. And one of the things I love about Shona is that she can say she loves me in any situation or any context and own her words without requiring any reciprocity, she just puts it out there and it is up to me to take it.

It was not always this way though, Shona freaked me out for years with the casual ease she could make such declarations and her dogged persistence in doing so.

I would seize up, get anxious and try to speculate as to how to respond appropriately. How to articulate in some kind of socially acceptable legalize exactly just how I loved Shona, or that I didn't, did I love Shona? How many people can I love? What if I give her the wrong idea? Is it worse to not say I love them, than to say it and then have to redact or clarify?

I got quite uncomfortable, my own family doesn't use the word much. More so now than it did, and probably because of Shona's influence, so that was part of it. Also contributing to my discomfort was the trauma of being told by our mutual friend Bryce what an idiot I was to tell Sarah I loved her as my first act of dating a girl ever.

It's only really recently that I've realised that amongst the girls that have freaked out when I told them I loved them, beyond freaking out, nothing bad came of it. They all just sort of froze up, took it on board until they could deal with it.

To Shona's infinite credit as a human being, as a partner to Grzergorz, mother to my niece Austin, she seemed to intuitively understand what took me years to figure out.

I always freaked out, more so than anything by the feeling of control I assumed I got from the disparity in our professed stances toward one another. Accept it felt like being trapped, trapped by my own insecurities, what I figured out after some years was that Shona was the one in control. She knew herself, how she felt, and how to express it.

What I learned from Shona, is that in this world very few people have such an extraordinarily distorted concept of love, that loving somebody is ever threatening. Loving somebody is a wonderful thing, and the challenge is to live up to it, as per what some author wrote to his kid.

If anybody kept a scorecard, and I hope nobody does, between Shona and my professions of love, I feel I would come off looking incredibly weak by comparison. Most people accept that love makes us vulnerable, so there's an inclination I believe to think that the lower your tally of 'I love you's the stronger your position, but it's the reverse, the person who lives most comfortably with their vulnerability is the strongest, the freest,
the most valuable player.

Shona in many ways is the persistent teacher that never gave up on her remedial student, and she once expressed frustration that english only has one word for all the nuances of 'love' she didn't teach me this per se, but if somebody loves you, or you tell somebody you love them, generally they will know exactly which nuance you mean.

Did I mention that I love Shona?

Foot-note to absolve personal responsibility - I don't know you, and it is possible that you have a pathology where you have grossly misinterpreted 'love' to be some flattering form of possession and control that is sacrosanct and inviolable to those you confer it to, and possibly are quite unwilling to be vulnerable or harmed by your notion of love, and quite possibly feel that any hurt you suffer by your own sense of entitlement, entitles you to exact hurt on the people you claim to love. My advice to you, if telling somebody you love them has been met with fear and withdrawal (very distinct from 'freaking out'),  is to closely scrutinize and evaluate your concept of love maybe enlisting the help of professionals. Your dilemma is not the dilemma found in the post above.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


I actually in only two sittings managed to read this. I wouldn't call Manic Pixie Dream Girls the bane of my existence but they are a reliable source of annoyance. So I'm glad the feminist critique exists about how one dimensional, superficial and shallow they are, if this critique could be made non-gender specific we'd be in much better shape as a society.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl is now a fortified trope, easily diagnosed, and the trope predates the name. For me my aversion to the trope occurred much earlier when my much less culturally influential friend Sam and I were in a theater sports team and he coined a standard phrase for rejecting suggestions - 'that's a drama students are kooky' he would remark, and it was a fundamentally correct and easy rule to follow.

Basically, if you are playing an improv game and need a scenario 'the beach' is a great suggestion as it is full of opportunities and places the participants can take it. A scenario that is 'my mothers head is made of puppy chow that wants to eat my girlfriend the martian kitten' is fucking shithouse suggestion to have to deal with, it smacks of an effort to be creative, it is a 'drama students are kooky' suggestion. The comedy improv equivalent of cramming your life story and political views into a shitty question at a writers festival.

Implicit though is a distinction between 'kooky' and 'funny' and further more that 'kooky' is in fact shit, and 'funny' is good. Manic Pixie Dream Girls are kooky.

I feel it's important to distinguish this notion from the argument 'women aren't funny' to say that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope has more in common with being Jerry Lewis, than it does with being a woman.

And the problem being that the MPDG's role is to lift a brooding male counterpart in a movie out of their doldrums and teach them a lust for life.

In reality, it's more like Bill Hicks' bit on nightclubs. You know where he stands at the darkest furthest exit from the dance floor and stands there with a drink in hand until a girl asks him 'you wanna dance?' and he replies 'oh yeah you read my mind.' His last statement is of course sarcastic.

The article I linked to at the start of this post indicates that there are men that are into this kind of lady, but for me I would have thought the reality obvious that a wisecracking snark like Juno just never stacks up against those friends who would never need to ever check urban dictionary for anything ever.

What a MPDG brings into your life is slapstick and kookiness where I would hope most people have actual comedy. Perhaps like the vast array of white males into submissive stepford Japanese girls, the real appeal of the MPDG is just another 'birds with broken wings', somebody whose questionable attire, dorky interests and pun driven humor speak of low self esteem ready for exploitation.

Thus it was quite insightful to read an article where the archetype was adopted out of a desire to rescue brooding boys.

Perhaps the flipside of this hollywood legacy, is the characterisation of males that is so far from reality. In high school movies, the jocks are dumb and belligerent football heroes manicured and attired to make them repulsively attractive while the awkward Michael Ceras and Joseph Gordon whatshisface offer the real heart of gold sensitivity.

I don't know what your highschool was like, but mine tended to be the exact inverse. The high performers tended to dominate all fields, sports, drama, music and academia. These were jocks, and they tended to have their shit together. The dumb and belligerent guys were just dumb and belligerent guys, lacking the personal discipline or insight to succeed at anything. And the awkward guys were just creepy, the Nice Guys of OKCupid, obsessed with pornography and resorting to dating emotionally disturbed girls 4 year levels down into the statutory rape charges.

To me, MPDG as a dating strategy is just the closest thing to synthesizing being a Japanese girl. Creepy white guys (and admittedly, less creepy guys of other ethnicities) are into Japanese girls because they come from a glamour brand obsessed patriarchal society that still equivocates them with chattel whilst simultaneously exposing them to the romantic notions of shows like 'Friends'. Thus regrettably they are sought after by the very men that make poor companions in their own cultural context.

So to and thus unto you, it probably cuts both ways, guys with no social intelligence are the gene pool you can tap into as a subculture simply by disguising yourself as somebody 'too weird' for the mainstream dating culture. You are if you will, that coveted op-shop find, you just have to chuck yourself into the bargain bin first, so the creeps don't think they have to compete against the jocular.

And I might end it there, because I have dog shit to pick up, with perhaps the best phrase from the whole article:

Firstly, averagely pretty white women in their late teens and twenties are not the biggest, most profoundly unsolvable mystery in the universe.  Trust me. I should know. Those of us with an ounce of lust for life are almost universally less interesting than we will be in our thirties and forties.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013


As Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out, uncertainty is uncertainty. It's a truism that is forgotten often in the study of mathematical probability, and has particularly massive consequences in finance (where Gaussian distribution doesn't apply, but I digress) when 99% certain gets equivocated to 'certainty'.

Thus when the unlikely but crucial occurs, it can be quite stressful. Most of the stress in my life is interpersonal, and probably most of the stress in most peoples lives are too. The billionaire and the pauper have in common a fear of dying alone for example.

I'm all for risk taking, and informed risk taking, but interpersonal I think the difference between 'assuming' and 'knowing' often results in a bunch of unnecessary guesswork, and unnecessary risk taking, and unnecessary stress.

My very first post was about the Johari window, the concept that inspired me to start this blog. And a lot of what drives much of my behaviour is trying to take the guesswork out of me, for others.

Here's my experience though, because sharing stuff you keep to yourself can be quite terrifying, I have been constantly surprised (and relieved) that much of what I thought I was keeping secret, people assumed about me anyway.

Any dark secret I have confessed, has resulted thus far in zero change in the way my friends treat me. As it turns out, the exercise I've maintaining a facade was actually in most part an exercise in maintaining a blind spot. I was blind to how ineffective my deception was. Subsequently, most acts of deception are really just self deception.

But that's off topic, the topic is the stress of guesswork, there's an infinitely vast gulf between knowing something and assuming something.

Consider sexual orientation, we unfortunately have not progressed far enough through history that the decision to 'come out' is still one that needs to be made and individuals have to give great practical consideration. (fortunately though we have progressed enough that the variance in coming out experiences has much more positive skew)

I assume you are familiar with the term 'Gadar'. It is a fine example of the knowing/assuming dichotomy. The individual knows they are gay, their friends and family have assumed they are. The reactions may vary, from an unspoken tacit solidarity, to jocular naive ribbing, to covert attempts to repress, to physical harm.

The first thing to point out is, the assumption could be wrong. But for the purposes of the analogy, if you move the knowledge of your sexuality into the domain, the reactions change in nature fundamentally. unspoken tacit solidarity becomes actual spoken support, jocular naive ribbing has to stop, attempts to repress are no longer covert but overt, and physical harm can no longer be blamed on 'I just don't like your haircut' but become a hate crime.

My point being, is that so long as you are operating on assumptions, you have to allow for the possibility that you could be wrong. You have to hedge your bets, or alternatively be prepared to lose.

Consider a much more commonplace example - asking somebody out. There's two ways people bring themselves to make that call (broadly speaking) one is to try and get as certain as possible that they reciprocate those feelings, the other is to not particulary care about the averse consequences of being wrong.

This I would project, carries on to the proposal, in which case the dichotomy would be more or less stressful, if you know your partner wants you to propose you can go all out and make a real evening of it, alternatively if you have to make an assumption, then you are facing a decision that will either cement your relationship (in theory) or prematurely terminate it.

Consider the dilemma we all subsequently face, not just in dating but in all relationships. The actions people can take differ between what you will admit and what you won't. And more often than not in my personal experience, what I won't admit is in my Johari blindspot, not my facade.

Keeping the people that actually care about you guessing, can be a survival skill in certain cases. People can react poorly to knowledge, particularly when it conflicts with their ignorance. But a lot of times it's just undue stress.

The gap between getting the wooden spoon (last place if you don't follow your sports) can be less stressful than the gap between being a contender and being champion. The irony is that the better/more acurate our assumptions are about people, the more stressful/frustrating the guesswork. How to act around a person with an addiction but won't admit it? How to encourage a depressive that identifies only as a poet? How to support your queer friend who is trying to 'pass'?

The secrets we keep may fool nobody, but they can still protect us from risks. The thing about risk though, is that somebody has to take them. In this case you just lump the risk on the people who have to do the guesswork.

There are of course, two catches. The first is for people who get indignant/offended by the idea that people would dare make assumptions about their sexual orientation, state of mental health, substance habits or even their hygene, you're a fool. We are social animals, everybody operates in our society largely on the assumptions they make about every single person they come across' character. This is the famous 'first impression' that may or may not last, and in both directions, you will be no exception.

The second catch is that whatever you put out their, lies or truth, doesn't get accepted at face value. You are getting bullied because your a 'fag' and you protest that you aren't. And it's true. It's no guarantee that the truth will be accepted any more than a lie, the bullying may not stop. That's the risk you have to take.

Some people when confronted with new evidence, reject the old hypothesis, some people when confronted with new evidence reject the evidence. What everyone will do, will test what you say against what you do. The truth in other words requires verification. And this is the crux of the catch, you may believe it to be true, and all it is is self deception.

That's why getting as much information into the arena, that is known and accepted by all parties is so valuable, it's a way of eradicating self-deception. And trust me when I quote 'It's a poor idea to lie to oneself.'