Instead of clear goals, the arts offer openness and ambiguities. They allow you to set up extremely individualized paths, within which almost anything can be done: you can choose your own processes and semantics, use specific media and materials in unexplored ways, and even define your own quality ideals – just to name a few. Noone can really tell you what to do in the arts; you need to define your reasons of operation on your own, through endless exploration, accompanied by the omnipresence of (often unexpected) successes and failures. To understand what you might want to do, you need sensitivity and self-assuredness:
- Self-sensitivity: you need to refine your sensitivities to understand your personal wants and urges. The lesser these sensitivities, the more you depend on external stimuli to guide you – which rarely represent your personal ideals. The stronger your sensitivities, the higher the chances to actually fulfill them, and to be satisfied.
- Self-assuredness: you need to refine your ego, so that you can actually trust your sensitivities. Your self-assuredness guards you from all sorts of transgressions and missteps – at the ubiquitous risk of becoming self-centered and ignoring the world.
To succeed as an artist, you need to somehow “master life”; you need to find strategies and solutions for all sorts of problems, and slowly distance yourself from the bottom of the food chain. With introspection and care, you will find and establish beneficial processes, environments and collaborations. Your visibility will grow. The following major challenges will require your long-lasting attention:
- Work: You need to find the right emotional and mental spaces to push your work forward, in regards to content and form. You need to stay sensitive to your works’ potentials – even though you are the person most immersed in it, and thus the most prone to being blind to it. For this, you need to establish tools of realization and understanding: (a) discussing your work with yourself (through introspection, writing about your work, etc), and (b) discussing your work with others (through studio visits, social media connections, exhibitions, etc). You need to be able to convey the potential of your visual-mental universe. You need to become not only a builder of worlds, but also that world’s brand ambassador. You need the tools to let people know about your ever-changing, -transforming and -growing artistic vision.
Your work might start out positively basic, with just a pencil and some paper – but soon enough, you will feel the requirement of more complex infrastructure: a studio with storage space, proper lighting, camera equipment to document your work, a computer with the appropriate software to edit your works and portfolios, plus a reliable data backup. The better these solutions suit your needs, the more focused you will be able to work; the more complex they get, the more energy will be required for their maintenance. Finding solutions that strike the right balance between ease-of-use and complexity, between minimalism and efficiency, is an ongoing challenge. The better you understand your needs, the more adequate your decisions will be.
- Network: You need to establish a network of trusted, loyal, reliable collaborators from all sorts of sub-fields. This might include graphic designers, photographers, curators, text writers, frame makers and generalist craftspeople to help you build specific works or shows. You need people who can offer financial support, but also those whose feedback lets you grow (instead of being stuck with people who use your work as platform for their agenda: to hurt, damage or dominate you, etc). You need people with networks stronger than yours, who want to use it to your advantage. Support doesn’t always come as encouragement or acquiescing yea-saying though; at times, it arrives as benevolent criticism – which is necessary if your actions are morally, spiritually, emotionally or economically unsound.
Your network is based on individual loyalties, and thus a complex result of how you engage with yourself and others: there will be no lasting loyalty from others if there’s no loyalty towards them; and neither is likely to exist without prior loyalty to yourself. Networks are based on self-care and care for others: your self-care focuses your mental, emotional, and physical health (healthy living and eating, reading and doing sports, psychotherapy or yoga); the less you care about yourself, the less loyal you are to yourself. Short- and long-term goals can require opposing loyalties, which makes this topic challenging: the more you understand the world and your needs, the potentially better your decisions. Your care for others shows in your capacity to listen, support, protect and provide for others: lunches, coffee talks, late phone converstaions, family vacations, evenings or weekends spent together. You can rarely make up for uninvested time: if you continuously prioritize your work before your kids, partner, parents or friends, it will likely result in spiritual loneliness – even if you, in theory, have a family and children, or a long list of social media contacts. Weirdly enough, your network begins with self-care; but it can only thrive on your attention to others.
- Psychological knowledge: Both your work and your network are built on human interaction – even if you work on your own, far away from others, you’re constantly surrounded by and embedded within yourself, a fellow human being. Being alive means to question life, and our potential place and purpose within it. That’s why you will benefit from establishing a deep psychological knowledge about the inner workings of humans: it will help you better understand yourself, and to better know what to expect from your collaborators. Who supports you, and who wants you to fail? Who cares about you and who doesn’t? These questions sound basic, but often require knowledge and experience garnered over decades. You want others to understand and work towards your goals, without requiring you to be pushy or off-putting. By properly understanding people’s motives and your mutual attractions, you can often find ways to connect. You need to be able to accept help in the first place – if you’re unable to do so, you’re usually on your own; life is possible, but harder that way.
We would all benefit from “mastering” human relationships; which would let us understand what’s actually going on between (and within) us all the time. It pays off to work on this. Doing so requires a deep inspection of yourself, your childhood, your traumata and pains; the more you know about yourself, the more you can know (about) the people around you, since each of us has their own traumata and pains, and their subsequent, individualized coping mechanisms. The more you understand and transcend your pain, the better you can relate to and support others. Life is more humble then. Books, benevolent friends, and obviously psychotherapists or coaches can serve as tools to get there. It requires a lot of insight to understand whether which of these tools are helpful, and actually work in your favor. Accumulating these insights is based on making mistakes, and trying to learn from them. Psychological knowledge is based on failure, and thus very similar to the artistic process. Embrace it.
It’s impossible to sidestep life’s blows, but we can lessen their impact by anticipating them. You can expect certain challenges and anticipate potential solutions without being overly paranoid. The more you understand life’s complexities (other people, new situations, the pitfalls of a structured, domestic life, etc), the more you will appreciate strategies that navigated you safely through them. Memories of failures can be used as platforms for future success. By being circumspect, open-minded and relentless in approaching your life and work, you will gradually find a path that will make it all a little easier.