Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How to Solve the Problem of "The Starving Artist"

"Is it a guarantee?" people have asked me, "if I work hard and become an artist, is it a guarantee that I'll make it?" Most people want to hear the answer "Yes, just stick to your studies and you'll be okay. You'll graduate school and find a good job and they'll take care of you for a long time." This is the old way of thinking. The answer is: Only you will know. Only you can determine that answer. Nothing is ever a guarantee (Not even for the lawyers). So is it still worth it for you to pursue it even if you can't predict the outcome? I hope so. It is for both Monkey and Seal.

Often as artists we grapple with a lack of abundance. We think, "jobs are limited and we are beaten by artists younger than us." What is hard to understand is that we become the very image of the "starving artist" NOT because it is the "ultimate truth" or "expected result" of being an artist, but because there is still yet not enough institutional, community support, and resources for the artist. AND we haven't switched our minds from being reactive to society to that of self-determined action. We hope things will fall in our laps, rather than taking action and going for them.

Five years ago, there were barely any books written about the career track of a successful modern-day artist (still very few now). Many older veterans will tell you they simply worked hard and were lucky to have "moved up the ladder." A lot of the Studio Gibli/ Miyazaki artists over 40-50 years old had little or no prior background in animation, they were simply taken under the wings of older mentors. Most have had to carve their own path and learn through others. Many alumni networks exists for ivy-league schools and academia studies for lawyers and doctors, yet only recently are art schools reproducing that format. So although there are internships out there, career help from art schools, this is still an old way of thinking - this is only ONE OF MANY PATHS to become a successful artist.

There is no clear blueprint. No ten-year "proven" track of academia, residency, and practice. Most artist graduates will probably tell you, that their path afterward was wide and unpredictable. Both Monkey and Seal have worked at various jobs: retail, web designer, graphic designer, t-shirt printing, tutor, UI icon artist, logo designer, marketing agent, illustrator, fine arts painter, concept artist, animator, fashion designer, etc.

It is part of the frustration and simultaneous beauty of being an artist: it is a flexible field and having learned the basics, you can do cross-jobs and apply your foundations in any related field.

Enjoy the times when you are struggling. Because this is the time for your to experiment and find your voice. Which field calls out to you more? What should you specialize in, if any? What style and mediums best suit the stories you would like to tell most?

"But I'm sick of being poor," cries the fledgling artist, "give me stardom, give me riches." No one denies that it would be nice not to worry about income and to continually have clients bid for your art. Yet at the same time, shouldn't we enjoy our creativity, our time, and our lives as it currently is? With all its thorns and roses? And shouldn't we walk the path in our own pace and find the beauty of our art through self-discovery? And reach stardom and riches when our artist identities are solidified that it can take on the masses? (Is stardom and riches your ultimate goal? Or is it creative freedom, financial rewards, and being respected by your peers?)

The great composer Stravinsky complained, "I cannot compose what they want from me, which would be to repeat myself. That is the way people write themselves out."

I am not an advocate of masochism. I do NOT believe that "you have to suffer first as a starving artist before you make your big break." I do believe that you can be successful AT ANY TIME YOU CHOOSE. But before you choose stardom, make sure your heart is at ease, then you will be able to continue to create art however you please, without giving in to the pressures of your future fans. Do not choose wealth and fame as an artist out of desperation (I'll make anything you ask of me, just give me money or I'll trade this life of an artist, for anything, anything at all) or avoidance of your responsibility as an artist (Now that I have money, I don't have to make art anymore! or Now that I have fame, it doesn't matter what I paint, people will pay me for it anyways). But choose wealth and fame to further your art, you voice, and your experiences in life.

So in the meantime, enjoy it now. Enjoy the time you are able to experiment, when you live and create and amuse yourself only and not the mass. Enjoy not having the track record to live up to, but to toot and play your own horn, while walking through life to your own drumbeats. And when the time comes, enjoy that too!

And remember, the quickest path directly to your dreams is to do more of what you love.

No comments: