The Secrets to a Well-Lived Artist’s Life
I’m not a poet, a philosopher, or a deep thinker on any subject. I offer these insights to temper any thoughts of finding the secrets to eternal or temporal bliss in this life or another by reading my words. When Bob Dylan poignantly sings, “It Ain’t Me Babe,” he’s talking about me. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find nirvana if you know where to look.
Check out that video, the visuals are poor, but the piece is Dylan at the pinnacle of his power as a performing artist. He takes the song back from all the pop stars who bastardized it and gives you the full meaning of his intentions with quiet, haunting intensity.
It’s easy to visualize Dylan, who turns 80 in 2021, is one who has enjoyed the well-lived artist’s life. With his privacy and zaniness, we’ll never know despite full-blown college courses and the millions of words like these written about him. Still, I think we can agree he did it his way and indeed has taken a full measure of pleasure from his oeuvre.
Okay, So, What about You and Me?
It’s a safe bet you that you got what you got the hard way and qualify as John Fogerty sang, “I ain’t no fortunate son.” (He’s a mere 75 and still touring.) Life is hard sometimes and always never fair. No one deserves to deal with Covid. Kids miss high school proms or lose their grandparents too soon to know them as adults and many others face tragic losses of health, wealth, and missed opportunities. But we’re still here. We’re living, kicking, breathing, and making art. That means we have much for which to be thankful.
Henry Miller On Turning 80
Henry Miller gave us pearls of wisdom in his essay On Turning 80; I found this quote on the BrainPickings site:
If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power. If you are young in years but already weary in spirit, already on the way to becoming an automaton, it may do you good to say to your boss — under your breath, of course — “Fuck you, Jack! You don’t own me!” … If you can fall in love again and again, if you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into the world, if you are content to get nowhere, just take each day as it comes, if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you’ve got it half licked.
The Cult of the Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron kicked off a near cult-like classic three decades ago with The Artist’s Way. It only has a monumental 3,500 five-star reviews on Amazon. It’s a life-help book and an inspiration to follow the path of a well-lived artist’s life. Her insights, instructions, and exercises resonate with nearly anyone who chooses to think of themselves as artists.
I believe too few of us consider ourselves true artists. (Hint. There is no test, it’s a state of mind.) We get beaten down and defeated in our path to adulthood and give up the notion that we are a creative spirit.
I’ve seen it many times when working with some of the kind folks who follow me. They’ve lost their vigor; they question their ability and wonder if they have what it takes to be an artist. I know they do and work on giving them my best to rescue and pull them back in the boat.
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ~ Pablo Picasso
Who’s to Blame?
The cause of some unrealistic expectations and mistaken concerns are my fault and the fault of others like me who have spent lifetimes telling artists how to become successful in the commercial arena. Sometimes it’s parents, teachers, or spouses inadvertently transferring best wishes into undue pressure.
There is nothing inherently wrong with extolling the virtues of learning how to market art. It is a practical set of highly useful skills to have and utilize. What’s lacking is teaching that commercial success is not the ideal most artists need or want.
Commercial Success Isn’t Always What It’s Cracked Up to Be
Yes, of course, almost all of us want commercial success, and we daydream about it. We spend money on books and courses and time reading blogs like this to sharpen our abilities and learn new and better ways to get our work to market. What happens is the big picture gets clouded by the ones drawn up by others or our own convoluted misaligned ideas of what makes an artist successful.
If you get in a museum, sell your work for gazillions at auction, or are accepted into Art Basel or some tony gallery in Manhattan, everyone will agree you are a success—at least on a commercial and fame basis. But there is no guarantee such events make an artist happy or that their life is well-lived. Often, they don’t, as endless stories of car crash careers of high-flying artists attest.
You’re Not the Boss of Me
It ain’t me Babe to tell you what will make you happy or to anoint you as one whose life is well-lived. There is only one person who can do that. And, without me telling you, you know it’s you. That is as it should be. Beyond Henry Miller’s blunt “Fuck you, Jack! You don’t own me!” sentiment, I will add to anyone trying to tell you how to live your life or explain what is necessary to be a successful artist, your reply is, “You’re not the boss of me.”
You are your own boss. Never forget that. ~ Barney Davey
And now that you have it in writing, it’s time for you to decide what is important to you. You can have confidence and believe in your ability as an artist and still be humble enough to know there are many others whose work and talent eclipse yours in every way. It’s for sure; I ain’t no Henry Miller. I could not be if I tried. I’m okay with being me. I’m down with Oscar Wilde, who said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”
Keep On Keeping On
For me, that means to keep cranking out the best art marketing information I can because I’m good at it and enjoy doing it. What’s different for me these days is I don’t put unrealistic expectations on myself or anyone else regarding what they do with the information.
For some of you, it’s infotainment. You like consuming interesting perspectives on ways to market art. A few others of you will take my words and training and run with it until you milk every drop of opportunity from them.
There Is No Right or Wrong in How to Craft a Well-Lived Artist’s Life
The cool thing is no one is right or wrong in how they consume and use my information, or live their life as an artist. It’s all good, but not in the goofy philosophy of every kid gets a trophy. These thoughts are a more well-balanced, grown-up way of looking at life. It’s you learning to be happy with your choices.
The truth is it’s a hard path to build a thriving art business that will support you and your family and pay the bills. So hard that only a few choose it and have what it takes to stick with it. Others find ways to supplement their artist income. They strike a life/work/creative-soul balance that keeps them whole and happy.
The Ambitiously Lazy Conundrum
For the rest of us, we’re just going and getting along as best we can. And I include myself in this category because I could have been a millionaire if I chose to use high-pressure tactics to market high-priced courses and services to artists. But I could never bring myself to go that route.
It’s partly my personality. I’m what I call ambitiously lazy. I’m ambitious enough to learn everything necessary to build a colossal publishing and course creation business, but I’m too lazy to work that hard to make it happen.
I’d rather watch football on weekends than slave over my computer or spend countless hours knee-deep in some book or course that will change my life—maybe. I accept that I’ve left a surprising amount of money on the table because of my unwillingness to follow a proven script to have success on the highest level.
I Can’t Go There Is Partly to Blame
Sometimes it’s not just laziness; it’s more that there are things I can’t bring myself to do. I’m okay with that too because I was always turned off by playing the manipulation and persuasion game that’s part of cracking online millions.
I cannot complain because I do alright, but my success is not spectacular. I’m pretty sure no one is going to be quoting excerpts from my books and blog posts three decades after I’m gone. That’s okay, too. A good part of my well-lived artist’s life is that I don’t hustle 20 hours a day like some gurus tout as the way to make a fortune.
Living a Joyful, Well-Lived Artist’s Life
I am working every day at living a joyful, well-lived artist’s life — on my terms. Much of my joy comes from knowing I’m positively affecting the lives and thinking of other artists. I’m helping them find efficient ways to sell their art, but more and more lately I’m also helping them come to a place of contentment with what they have and what they will do with their lives.
There is tremendous satisfaction when I get glimpses of my work in practice by an artist using it to up-level their success, or unsolicited testimonials from artists whose lives I’ve touched. When that happens, I proudly feel, “It’s me, Babe.”
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