Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Make Art Into A Sport and WIN

When you're actually watching a sporting event or a film/show about sports (like Rocky, or the Japanese drama Rookies that we highly recommend), it's easy to get swept up in the emotional whirlwind that surrounds sports. People fighting, pushing themselves to be their best, determined to win. Players sweat, grit their teeth, destroy their bodies and fight past their physical limits in order to be the champion, to win the cup, to vanquish their opponent.

It's all pretty amazing to watch, and after getting swept up in World Cup fever and having played sports ourselves, we understand the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (let's not talk about Monkey's high school water polo team...ugh). I mean, how can you not get a little excited over the Giant's win of the World Series last season?

In art, how can we capture some of that excitement? It's hard to feel the thrill of victory when you're staring at a blank canvas or would rather be playing Facebook games on your tablet rather than painting with one. With sports, the most enjoyable part (at least for Monkey) was always the games. Practice was a necessary evil, but the real fun is when you're playing a game (that's why in films it's always a training montage, not hours of them training). To figure out how to get pumped about painting, we have to figure out why games are more exciting then practice.

Games are more exciting because games or tournaments or matches all have objective outcomes. Besides hockey and soccer and maybe a few other sports I'm not aware of, you don't tie. You either win or your lose. You score more or they do, you get knocked out or you do the knocking out . Say what you will about bad referee calls, sports generally have clear, definitive objective outcomes, and it's those outcomes that we get excited over.

With art, you don't have a point system to keep track of or a win-loss record to deal with. There are no shooting percentages or conversion rates, or a final buzzer that you're racing to beat. But this is where we can start to make art into a sport - through practice. Because to be great at sports, you have to train your butt off. But at the same time, it's way more boring - it's not as exciting to see someone punch a punching bag a thousand times compared to two fighters dancing around each other throwing uppercuts and jabs. Just the same, it's not as fun to work on your art everyday compared to having people look at your final painting and give you feedback on how awesome it is.

In sports, there are the countless hours of training and practice that we aren't privy to as spectators. We don't see the weight training, or the rehab after injuries, the lap running or the thousands of practice swings. We don't have television cameras to watch people shoot hundreds of free throws late at night, and we probably wouldn't watch it even if we did. Just the same, people don't see all that you've put into your art. They aren't up with you at 5am struggling to finish that illustration, and they aren't there to watch you pour over reference books to make sure that your lighting is right. They aren't there to watch you drink another cup of coffee at your way-too-early-morning anatomy class, nor are they there for all the times your silkscreen didn't burn correctly.

One of our instructors used to say that if anyone ever asked you how long it took you to finish a painting, reply "X years" (with "X" being the years since you had started painting) because even though it might have taken you a few hours to actually put all the paint on the canvas, it's taken you years of painting to be able to do it how you did it. Our instructor would say "It took me 20 years to draw this" when we just watch him hammer out a figure in 10 minutes. That's 20 years of training for 10 minutes of game time.

So even though art is more like a sport than one might think, what is missing most of the time is are those clear "game" objective outcomes. Art is generally thought of as subjective, since you'll never be able to tell who is going to end up liking or hating your creation. So if you're in a subjective field, looking for the excitement about objective victories, the only way to go about things is to create your own standards and game play: create your own World Cup.

You can't win a tournament if there isn't one, so make your own. The way to do that is: Goals. Not the kind that you get from hitting a puck into the back of the net, but the kind that you set for yourself. If your goal is large (and it should be for a Championship level match), then break it down into manageable bites. Create your own objective outcomes for you to work towards.

You creating is the preseason. Show up for your daily/weekly/hourly painting session? Score! Finish your painting? Score! Get the reference for your next one? Score! Once you've finished with this phase, get ready for the regular season.

Figure out some concrete goals? You've already won your first game by "showing up on the page." Set a deadline to design those promotional postcards. Score! Hit that deadline? Score! Did you send those to the printer and just get them back in the mail? Score! Get your list of people/companies/galleries to send those to? Score! Did you send the postcards? Score!

Then, as things heat up, realize that you'll move on to the playoffs, and before you know it, you'll be at your Championship match. Whether you have a long or short season, whether your Championship is getting a gallery show or being able to retire early off your art, take it one match at a time. Make sure that your games are ones you can win, as you want to keep that winner's high up as much as possible - it's much better to have a 1000 game season and win them all rather than have a 5 game season with everything riding on each game. Set yourself up for success, not failure. Ride the positive, winning vibe rather than focus on any setbacks because in art, your opponent is always going to be the toughest ever: yourself.

Yes yes, we all have art rivals, or people you want to prove yourself to, or those jerks that think being an artist isn't a profession or a "real job" (although we don't see why that's a bad thing anyway). But when it really comes down to it, you're really fighting against your fears, your doubts, and your insecurities, nothing else. Because if even your rivals or your haters or whomever actually fell off the face of the earth, it wouldn't put you a single step towards achieving your goals. It might make it easier or enjoyable, sure, but the truth of the matter is that unless you release the rhino and defeat your inner demons, you'll never win the games against yourself that really count.

So now that you know how to create a Tournament of Tournaments with your dreams as the grand price that you can win, all that's left is to go do it. Now go take your place in the arena of your choice and take to the field. We (and your dreams) are waiting.

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