Advice on Being an Artist

I came across this sage advice from artist and sculptor Teresita Fernández, taken from a commencement address she delivered. 10 tips for artists:

  1. Art requires time — there’s a reason it’s called a studiopractice. Contrary to popular belief, moving to Bushwick, Brooklyn, this summer does not make you an artist. If in order to do this you have to share a space with five roommates and wait on tables, you will probably not make much art. What worked for me was spending five years building a body of work in a city where it was cheapest for me to live, and that allowed me the precious time and space I needed after grad school.
  2. Learn to write well and get into the habit of systematically applying for every grant you can find. If you don’t get it, keep applying. I lived from grant money for four years when I first graduated.
  3. Nobody reads artist’s statements. Learn to tell an interesting story about your work that people can relate to on a personal level.
  4. Not every project will survive. Purge regularly, destroying is intimately connected to creating. This will save you time.
  5. Edit privately. As much as I believe in stumbling, I also think nobody else needs to watch you do it.
  6. When people say your work is good do two things. First, don’t believe them. Second, ask them, “Why”? If they can convince you of why they think your work is good, accept the compliment. If they can’t convince you (and most people can’t) dismiss it as superficial and recognize that most bad consensus is made by people simply repeating that they “like” something.
  7. Don’t ever feel like you have to give anything up in order to be an artist. I had babies and made art and traveled and still have a million things I’d like to do.
  8. You don’t need a lot of friends or curators or patrons or a huge following, just a few that really believe in you.
  9. Remind yourself to be gracious to everyone, whether they can help you or not. It will draw people to you over and over again and help build trust in professional relationships.
  10. And lastly, when other things in life get tough, when you’re going through family troubles, when you’re heartbroken, when you’re frustrated with money problems, focus on your work. It has saved me through every single difficult thing I have ever had to do, like a scaffolding that goes far beyond any traditional notions of a career.
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Pen the Goat

Part of my creative process right now is to start sharing my work with the world.  My favorite (ever) acupuncturist once told me that creating art is only half the creative process.  The other half is giving it to the world.  If you don’t do that second piece, you are blocking your energy…  Felt true enough for me.

It is really tough to get the courage to put my work out there.  Some of it I am really proud of.  I’ve submitted short stories, a novel, and poems, and been met with mostly rejection.  That’s the name of the game, right?  Everyone knows that you have to get rejected LOTS before getting accepted.  And it’s not that my ego is so tender I can’t handle the rejection, it’s honestly that I find the PROCESS OF SUBMITTING so tiring and tedious that I avoid it…  I guess I don’t have true hope that I’ll get published, so I don’t see the point in putting the work into it.

For that reason, I am more and more drawn to self-publish.  My writing, music, and art.  Put it up for free, and let people have it if they like it.  In that spirit, I put my 5 best songs up on SoundCloud last night:  https://soundcloud.com/mstrongheart  …  Then I shared one on facebook…

I immediately starting mentally beating myself up.  “What if those songs are total shit and I’m the only one who can’t tell?”  “Does sharing these songs with my friends make me look like a pathetic attention seeker?”  “If people say they like a song, do they really like it or do they just FEEL SORRY for me?”

That voice, that critic, is a hard one to shut up.  But that critic will ruin EVERYTHING if you let it.  I’ve learned that much so far.  When I hear that critic taking its seat in my brain I say, “Oh, thank you for that.  It’s not your turn to talk, though.”  And I make it go away.  Because that critic EATS your fucking creative process like a goat.  Like a judgmental, red-eyed, critical, insecure goat.  You’ve gotta pen that fucker in.  Or better yet, let it go into the great wild pastures that are FAR AWAY from your art.  It will always come back, of course, but the more you can learn to treat it lightly, with an air of amusement, the more you can stop taking its voice seriously.

Shit and Gold

Obviously I’m not doing a great job of posting on here regularly, and I think I’ve figured out why.  I’m trying to make this blog look like a showcase of “good art”, of finished writing and pieces I feel proud of and want to show off.  But that is not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is to show my creative process as it really is.  To share the pathetic, endless angst involved in the creative process.  The self loathing, the fear, the anxiety, and the endless mounds of shit that get produced in order to get to a tiny nugget of gold.

I once read a quote from a writer who said that, in the beginning, what you write is 99% shit and 1% gold.  If you keep at it, over time, that ratio starts to flip.  Eventually, if you write for years and years and get really really good, you might get to a place of 50% shit and 50% gold.  But you will always have to produce that shit to find the gold.

If I try and preserve my posting space for the gold (and, let’s be honest, it’s mostly copper and bronze), I’ll almost never post on here.  This blog is intended to be about the shit.  TRUTH: I am sitting in my bath robe, frizzy hair, my entire life surrounded by half finished projects.  To my right is a graphic novel by a woman younger than me, and it’s inspiring because I know I could write a better one.  But… she wrote it and I didn’t.  To my left is several pages of printed notes for a copywriting job that I could probably whip out in 5 hours, but I have been dragging my feet on it for a couple weeks because I don’t want to feel bored.  And it’s pretty boring to write copy.  But it’s how I need to make my money right now so I can continue to make some shit, and hopefully a little gold here and there.

So, hey y’all, get ready for some shit.