I’ve heard it said that you need to do two things, to succeed as an artist. One is to be supremely focussed and the other is to be authentic. And so there are definitely artists that are making their one kind of art, with passion and enthusiasm, to the exclusion of everything else. They aren’t commenting on politics. They have diminished family and personal lives. They don’t interact about anything other than the art on which they are focussed. If you try to get to know the artist behind the art, you discover only this: that they are supremely focussed on making their particular kind of art. They spend all their time making their art and talking about their art. Their lives are governed by decisions relating to getting their art to succeed. If they travel, it’s to promote their art or to further their art. Art, art, art!
Isn’t that a little two dimensional?
In a world that needs so much more intelligent discussion and many creative solutions, isn’t it a little weird if all you care about is succeeding as an artist, with your own focussed type of art? Aren’t you, first and foremost, a member of the human species? Don’t you have responsibilities and obligations to your fellow living creatures to do something positive in the world beyond making your art? Yes, it’s great that you have found your niche and have pursued it with such single minded vigour, but how about the rest of life? Do you maintain anything like a work life balance, or are you so driven in your artist quest that everything else that matters is mere collateral damage? Is your fervour blinding you to life?
I see artists that are so laser focused on making their art a success that I begin to think, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Have you lost your ability to care and share? Do you have any thoughts at all besides those which directly relate to your art? Is there any content in your work and in your personality beyond the superficial details? What do you think? What do you feel? What do we need to do about the things that matter? Have you hugged a child today? Did you stop to think and listen, or to help and laugh? Isn’t being so single minded about making your art succeed a betrayal of your authenticity?
What are you? Some kind of Leonardo da Scrooge?
Now it’s possible that two dimensional people who are determined to make their art succeed are being authentic, in that there really is nothing more to them. However, I doubt it. The advice is correct. To be a successful artist you need to be focussed and authentic. If you lean too heavily on focussed, then you’re doing it wrong. You’ve traded your authenticity away. What have you suppressed or excised from your soul, in order to achieve this focus? If you’re hiding your fuller self and taking refuge in your mission to create art, you’re living a lie.
In balancing your authentic self with your disciplined approach to making and promoting your art, you need to keep yourself true to the fuller, rounder, all encompassing you that you really are. There need to be moments of pure, honest, integral humanity and joy in your life and work, or else you’re doing no better than making sausages. Your back story and life is as important an ingredient in your work as the media and materials. Some of your life needs to be nothing to do with work. Your life is to be lived, not to become a mere production worker in your self-defined mission to make your art a success. Your life isn’t incidental to your art; it’s the other way around.
I used to think that only hard-nosed business people succumbed to this madness of disappearing into their work and ignoring the rest of their lives, but it happens to artists too. They forget to step outside the studio into the sunlight. They forget to think about other things. They forget to participate. They don’t smell the flowers or observe the best things in life. I think it’s a very lonely and unfulfilling existence, ultimately. So what if your art is in demand and selling for huge sums, when the rest of your life is an empty shell? What is the point of your art, if it is made only because you disconnected from humanity completely? How can you really impact and affect an audience emotionally, if your own emotions are crushed under the weight of your compulsion to produce more art? If you’re too busy to stop to talk to your appreciators, how can your work have any meaningful engagement with them either? Won’t your impoverished, isolated personal life show in your work anyway?
Every artist should step away from the easel, put down the chisels, turn off the computer, put down their instrument or leave the clay in its storage bag every now and then. It’s not good to be so devoted to your art that you become an ascetic. It’s not meant to be monastic.
Life is for living.