Dear Floromancy Readers
Dear Floromancy Readers,
I am currently writing to you as Thirning Villa’s Artist In Residence (AIR) in Sydney, Australia. I have lived here for six weeks alone in a big, old house, surrounded by public tennis courts and a cricket field in Pratten Park, feeling as I normally do at most residencies: on view, with moderate privacy, an experience that I feel is akin to a life as a zoo animal. During my initial tour, the AIR program director introduced me as “our artist,” as if to suggest that I am some sort of exotic creature (and to most of whom I meet, I suppose I am).
I want to be clear that my gratitude to the Inner West Council of Ashfield for this opportunity in Sydney – and to all AIRs before it – is not only vast but has ultimately, made me a better artist. My career would not be where it is today if it were not for my attendance to programs such as these. I am deeply honored to all AIRs acceptance of me and to their gift of time, space and financial assistance, three things that are near impossible to live without as an artist.
Nevertheless, my participation as an AIR (Thirning Villa marks number ten) always requires at least a week of mental preparation to settle in and another week at the end of my stay to pack it all up and move on. I fly back to the States next Friday, March 24th and right now I have the all-too-familiar unsettled feeling that once again, I have to disrupt my routine and cram all of my crap (clothes, shoes, screw-gun, hundreds of eyelets, brushes, paint, etc.) back into my giant suitcase in preparation for planes, trains and automobiles. My self-inflicted pity-party reminds me of what Sanford Biggers said in regards to being an artist:
“If you want a normal life, get a normal job.”
What’s a normal life anyway?
For me, a “normal life” is what you give up in order to be a “successful” artist.
To quote my father, “a person has about the same chance of becoming a successful artist as one does becoming a professional basketball player.” And yet, here I am. People tell me all the time, “you’re doing it!”
(Someone please define “it”.)
I finished my MFA program in November, 2012. Today, I am an internationally recognized artist getting paid to travel and build my artworks all over the world. This ambitious objective is one I created for myself at the very beginning, in the face of adversary. In graduate school, I zeroed in on this intension and focused every ounce of my being on attaining my professional goals. I have taken myself to the very edge and then pushed myself over it while traveling across the globe to build work with less that $50 in my bank account, not knowing when the next check would come, fueled with a fierce determination that somehow, I would figure it out. And I have been successful… but at what cost?
Often, I feel as though I am swan diving into the abyss.
I am 41 years old, single, somewhat homeless, have an enormous student loan debt, and live without any kind of savings or retirement fund. The stress of my life’s instability keeps me up at night and my remedy, more work: research into the next gig, grant or AIR.
However, the grass is always greener.
I also feel (relatively) free: I only do what I want to do when I want to do it with the knowledge that I am working towards stability, that I have come this far, that I am, at the very least, living an authentic life.
Everyone wants to know how I have managed this professional stature. Some of my success has been built on sheer willpower alone whereas the other part has come to me through the help and support of my family, friends and colleagues, all of whom I extend tremendous thanks. I know that I am extremely fortunate for the help I have received. And so, in the spirit of recognizing all of my blessings, I have created a list of 20 items that I have applied in my own professional life that I hope may help you, dear readers, with yours:
1.) Make work, all the time. Live, breathe, eat and sleep work.
2.) Stand by the integrity of your work. It is yours and deserves your unwavering devotion and confidence. NEVER COMPROMISE IT FOR ANYONE OR ANYTHING.
3.) Find your voice, one that people everywhere will associate only with you and your work, to the point that other people’s artwork reminds them of yours.
4.) Find a mentor: a person who is doing what you want to do and ask them for an internship, ideally paid and if not, accept it anyway. Knowledge is power and education is invaluable.
5.) Know what being successful (for you) looks like and build into your daily practice visualizing yourself as such.
6.) Be willing and ready to give up everything.
7.) Learn how to live on nothing.
8.) Know how to cook and feed yourself on $5/week.
9.) Your art materials and studio space are the most important things: without them, there is no work. If you have to, always choose workspace over living space (just like many before me, I have lived illegally in my studio.)
10.) Know how to make something out of nothing and how to make art in any situation.
11.) Constantly search for opportunities, whether that’s money, exhibitions or networking with other professionals.
12.) Invest in your community: if you want people to be interested in your work then you must express interest in theirs.
13.) Keep a calendar, one that will give you notifications of upcoming deadlines.
14.) Research opportunities and keep them in a file on your desktop.
15.) Get the best photographs of your work as possible. Paying for a good photographer is totally worthwhile.
16.) Save everything: every proposal, letter, etc., and later use that information to copy and paste into new applications.
17.) It is called a “studio practice” for a reason. Remember: in the end the most important thing is the work, which ultimately requires practice.
Some helpful links:
18.) New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA)
19.) Alliance of Artist Communities
20.) The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing by Gigi Rosenberg
Finally, I have included at the end of this letter a documentary I created of myself in my truest form: building my most recent installation, from the first string to the hand-painted the last. “Incurvation,” was installed at Delmar Gallery in Sydney, Australia and is part of the “Light Fields” group show on view now through March 26th, 2017. I hope you enjoy it. Also huge thanks to Dan Bailey, Gage Gilmore, Jared Pepper and Chris Childs for their musical accompaniment, “Visitors,” featured in this documentary.
In closing, I wish the very best of luck to all of you in your quest to becoming “successful” artists. All it takes is hard work, self-determination and faith in knowing that everything is possible if you want it badly enough and are willing to work for it.
Saturday, March 18th, 2017
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