Everybody assumes (incorrectly) that everybody else is having a better life than we are. It’s a peculiar belief, but it’s very common. We all somehow believe that other artists are having more success than we’re having, experience fewer failures, have no external distractions and drains on their time, are not facing personal or family challenges or are simply fulfilling their designated, assigned position in the artistic firmament.
The reality is different. Every artist faces obstacles that they must surmount. They all have the temptations of social media, where everybody else appears to have fabulous lives, with bountiful energy and where everything goes smoothly and right, most of the time. All the other artists seem to sell more, get more appreciation and acclaim, are in higher demand, experience fewer rejections or criticisms, have access to infinite materials and resources or just know what the right thing to do, with their career, is. They live in a blessed world, whereas we seem to live in a constant, energy-sapping, discouraging mêlée of failure, problems and limitations.
No they don’t.
You know they don’t.
Every artist goes through a sequence of daily challenges that are in the way of making their art. Sometimes, those challenges are big and sometimes small, but they’re always there. At the point of making a seminal record album, or masterpiece painting, the artist has no idea of the monumental significance of their most recent work. All they know is that it’s a Tuesday and they haven’t cleaned out the dishwasher or paid their electricity bill. At the time of creation of the work that will go on to transform their careers and take them into the stratosphere of elite artists, they might be broke, unaware that what they are doing is going to meet with such a warm and enthusiastic reaction and certainly not thinking of themselves as the champions they will become. What they are doing is purely creating, for the sake of creating.
They might have hopes that their creation will bring them good things, but they have no guarantee. They’re always taking a long shot, with risky outcomes. All that is known for certain is that playing it safe or not doing the work at all is the riskiest thing they can do. Compared to that, the fear of failure, the aversion to rejection and the idea that maybe they’re not good enough artists all fade away. What matters is that they are trying to make something special; something remarkable.
The disquieting doubts and the self-defeating self-talk are always present, but you have to quiet them, while you lose yourself in your process and find that you have lost all track of time. You need to believe in the redemptive power of art, against all the doomsayers (and even the objective experts) that tell you that painters aren’t selling anything at the moment, or that the music industry is dead, or that start-ups almost always fail. You need to put all that information aside and create that one brilliant expression of your taste, skill and sheer hard work that gives you a chance, just a chance, of being outstanding and of having your work recognised.
It’s easier to give in to the fear and doubts and produce nothing. Much easier. Except in the long run.
Your artistic life probably isn’t much different to any other artist’s and yet it’s wholly unique. It’s yours. You are its author. You can determine how much art is made, or how little. It’s up to you.
Don’t let any artist tell you their artistic life is anything other than a combination of hard work, luck, skill, imagination and a touch of inspiration. Some wear the risks lightly. Others are worried and anxious about it. The nonchalant seem to get more done and hence, fare better. The worriers don’t actually change a thing, even though they’ve expended all their mental energy on their anxiety.
An artistic life, I am convinced, consists of just getting down to it and hoping for the best, guided by a little planning and imagination. What never works is producing nothing. Producing something, especially if you have done so with care, a little wit and some humour, always opens up the possibility that somebody, somewhere will like it and respond to it.
Get on with it.