Friday, October 1, 2010

If you know what you want, then be specific

We all (hopefully) have goals and dreams. Whether it's living off your art (like Monkey + Seal's dream), or becoming the highest grossing actor ever, or being able to get 40 regular marshmallows in your mouth and still being able to say "chubby bunny," we often have some sort of benchmark or achievement that we are striving for.

Sometimes, your goal is specific. For example, to be the highest grossing actor ever, you need to start making tons of money through acting. Sometimes, if your goal is being an internationally-recognized artist, it might be a bit more nebulous. How many countries do you have to be known in? Who has to recognize you as an artist in said countries?

Monkey made this one of his goals a year back, hoping to be invited to show his paintings around the world by some of the largest lowbrow/pop surrealist galleries in places like Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Tokyo, Japan. However, he never really consciously stated that. He chose his goal to simply be "an internationally recognized artist."

When your goal is more of an internalized concept like Monkey's was, you'd be surprised as to how quickly you can achieve it. Monkey has been selling zines overseas for two years now via our Etsy site, and recently, he sold some ties and prints to some fans in Australia (thanks everyone!). Technically, he has now been recognized by someone as an artist outside the United States, thus qualifying him as an internationally-recognized artist.

Sure, that's not what Monkey really meant. It's not what you probably think of when you hear "internationally recognized artist," but the term is sort of a vague one. While Monkey is happy he hit this goal, he's made his goal more specific, and is still waiting to hear back from curators abroad.

The point of all this is that if you have a broad goal and are constantly working towards it, you may have already achieved it in a sense, without even knowing it. If this this is the case, congratulate yourself for a job well done. If you find that this is a bit of a let-down, that you didn't really get what you wanted, then it's fate's way of telling you to be a bit more specific with what you want.

The realization of knowing that you're already gotten what you wished for is a bit sobering at times, and the feeling of "this isn't what I wanted" isn't the greatest. Many times Monkey + Seal will realize that we were asking for the wrong thing, or perhaps we didn't even know what we wanted in the first place. Use these "mini" milestones and learn from them, and use them to figure out what you really want, and set your sights on it. We think that once you figure out what you want in your heart of hearts, the steps to getting it will be clearer than you could ever imagine. Now it'll just be up to you to taking those steps.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Risking Something - Sanely

Monkey + Seal are big fans of Seth Godin, a visionary marketer who knows how to be remarkable in a world of mediocrity. A few days ago, he posted this:

The problem with putting it all on the line...

is that it might not work out.

The problem with not putting it all on the line is that it will never (ever) change things for the better.

Not much of a choice, I think. No risk, no art. No art, no reward.

Inspiring and true? We couldn't agree more. Risking something is scary. You could fail, people might make fun of you (although, really?), you might be in debt, there are a lot of things that could go wrong. What we find, however, is that for many artists, this idea needs to be tweaked a bit.

Most of the time, when it comes to take a chance, we think of the worst scenario. What if I use all of my savings to pursue art and no one buys from me? Scary, right? Well, a lot of times, that is what separates the truly legendary from the known, the amazing from the good. If you're at the top of your game and you want to go for it, do it! Risk it all, and change the world.

However, many of us artists who aren't art giants like James Jean or Ryan McGinness, we're just trying to create something that we love and that we might possibly make a living off of. Many of us don't have huge savings to get us by if we don't sell art, or are time strapped since you're working 40-50 hour weeks just to get by. You might be like Monkey and have $200,000 in student loan debt. You might have been told that you would never succeed in art, or in life.

As children, artists are usually not fostered with the love and care that a child who wants to grow up to be a doctor or lawyer or (now) software engineer will be nurtured. Us artists are generally the troublemakers, the ones who think outside the box, who constantly asked "why?" in class, who might not have fit in with society's norms. Thus, many of us grew up with a society that doesn't like us telling us how we should be. We're ingrained with the scarcity mindset of only a few select artists being able to make it. We compare ourselves to giants when we're just setting out to learn how to paint.

It's hard being an artist.

So while I believe that you need to put it all on the line to be a professional artist (emphasis on the professional), it doesn't need to be this sink-or-swim mentality. You don't have to risk your entire savings, or your financial well-being, or your ability to sleep in a warm bed and eat a decent meal, or to be able to afford internet. What you do have to risk, however, is much scarier for most.

You have to risk your pride, your ego, the safety of being unknown, and your life.

You have to constantly put your work out there for judging by the masses (because if they never see it, how can they buy it?), and some people might not be into your stuff, especially if you're showing it to the wrong people.

You have to risk the safety of being unknown. It's a lot easier to lurk in forums and not leave comments on blogs, to scan from the safety of behind a computer screen. It's scary to go out and email art directors and gallery owners, even more scary to go up to them in person and show them a portfolio. But that's the hustle of a professional artist, and even if it's scary, you gotta do it.

And your life? You have to risk your life in this profession. Not in the "if you don't become a professional artist you'll die" sense, but in that whether or not you know it, you are putting your life on the line by NOT following your dream already.

Think of how many hours you've spend at work, doing something you don't even like, or at best, something you like, but don't love. Risk your lifetime pursuing what you love. Give up countless hours drawing, or painting, or playing music, or dancing. Be willing to spend all those years and years and years of your time pursuing the dream.

I'll let you in on a little secret. Most artists aren't born with some innate ability. Whether they went to art school or not, every huge artist we've ever met has the exact same work ethic: 6-12 hour days painting or drawing. 6-7 days a week, for years and years and years. That's how they got to be where they are. They weren't tapped on the shoulder by the talent fairy and magically elevated to success. They have devoted their life to their craft, and that is how they are where they are. There might be exceptions out there, but to be honest, if you were an exception, you wouldn't be reading this right now.

So take a risk. Make a blog today for your artwork if you haven't already. Post something, if you haven't already. And put it out there, post your link, show us your stuff. No guts, no glory, right?

Monday, September 27, 2010

877 Valencia Group Show

On Saturday, Seal had her group show opening at 877 Valencia in the Mission. It was relatively a small space, but the traffic was great. Seal got to live paint with James Garcia of Kulayan Arts and Wednesday Kirwan of Gama-Go. She realized what a fun privilege it is to be able to paint in the streets of San Francisco and to have art displayed in public spaces and local businesses. She met strangers and friends who stopped by to observe and ask questions. She loves San Francisco for its love of local artists.

The start of my live-painting, I had in mind a tree in the snow. After 30-40 minutes, James and I decided to switch to see what we could come up with. I like the creativity and unpredictability that comes with collaborative art. The pieces below are currently unfinished. We'll be working on them sometime in the coming weeks and will re-post the final. As friends of Monkey+Seal, you get to see our process and a short glimpse of what's to come.

The start of the collaborative mash-up with James Garcia.

James's piece, in which, I was able to partake in. He did the gorgeous colorful tree on the left (photo doesn't do the details justice). Since I had a brain fart, I added my signature jellyfish and raven on the right. I love working with other artists, since they have different ways of approaching the painting. I especially loved the palette that James was working in. It is also currently an unfinished piece, the final will be re-posted.

Wednesday Kirwan doing a painting of a beautiful girl.

Inside the show. The owner of the space was 17 when he got married to his wife. He and his wife worked hard while going to school and opened up his business in 1979. They have been doing well ever since, and are big supporters of showcasing local artists. It's touching to hear the success-stories of people who have struggled through their adventure cycle and came out on the other side.

When Seal is live-painting, she remembers how fun painting and art is. Sometimes it takes putting your art out in front of people to remember why you paint. To see people's reactions, questions, . . . that your art has somehow impacted them, even if by a little bit, this is what it means to make art. Sure you can make art and keep them in the closet from prying eyes, but ultimately, art is communication with people's thoughts and emotions. In the end, it needs to be seen and appreciated outside of yourself. So take out that half-written novel and unfinished painting, finish them and let them see the light of day.