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.

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