Connecting—in the dark, in space, in time

Some of you are part of the Jerry Saltz Facebook Tribe. And what a tribe it is, nearly 4600 strong and growing daily. For those of you who are not, here’s my take on what Jerry is doing on Facebook: By operating as more of an art advocate than art critic (Saltz does in fact write art reviews for New York Magazine) and by being such a sincere, passionate and personal voice, he has hobbled together the most diverse, non-hierarchical, lively artist community on the Web. He’s the best art troubadour I’ve ever known. And as one commenter pointed out, FB is perfect for artists—“you can participate in the discussion but then step away when you want to work, all the while in your pajamas. And you don’t have to smile.”

A few days ago Saltz posted this message:

Mia Pearlman asks “about the REALITY of being an artist. NOT career stuff, resume, etc. But the day-to-day stuff no one EVER tells you about: the studio; finding inspiration; fallowness; fear; isolation; rejection; being broke, hating yr work; creating community. What do you know now about the reality of being an artis…t that you wish you knew then? How do you sustain the rollercoaster craziness of being an artist?”

So far that question has garnered 427 comments, some of them so insightful, inspiring and wise I had to assemble by own abridged version to refer to when I’m feeling blue. Perhaps you’ll find some solace in these comments as well. (Out of respect for the respondents. I have omitted individual names.)


hmmm, not sure I would have even understood “then” what I know now. But, even the crummy moments are mine – all mine – and that ONE piece, or ONE moment, or ONE inspiration makes up for all the other stuff. Well – most of the time anyway. OK, well SOME of the time. Oh, every now and then.

That it never gets easy. You can never really relax, you’ll never feel like you’ve made it, no matter what you achieve it will never be enough. In some ways that’s great, some ways it’s torture. Also, if you want to have a family, and you are SURE you want to have a family, then go ahead and make babies. Don’t listen to anybody’s BS about how having a family will ruin your career.

I draw at least 2 hours everyday whether I’m inspired or not. It’s a part of my routine like the way other people go to the gym. I don’t believe in inspiration or muse at all.

One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to build faith in my process (and myself), that it would lead somewhere good eventually, even if I felt totally weird about my work, or hit blocks, or got rejected from 7 residencies in 2 months, which happened, or couldn’t get anything done for one reason or another, or wasn’t interested in what everyone else thought was cool. I gave myself a lot of grief and agony that was just wasted energy. And once you get the faith you have to keep it going—its an ongoing process over many, countless, ups and downs. But it makes those openings wayyyy more fun!

it seems counter-intuitive, but I now consider a good day job to be one of my most important tools: it enables me to be an artist by paying my rent, supplies, healthcare, time-off etc. My energy/anxiety is now spent on making the work rather than how I’ll afford to live. I’m much freer to really explore where my curiosity and imagination lead me, which is one of the true beauties and joys of being an artist, IMHO.

What I wish I had known earlier: that you can’t just create, you have to put yourself in people’s faces so much that they have to pay attention to you and what you’re doing.

i don’t ask if its sustainable, i just show up everyday and work hard as hell.

when i get depressed/emotional/feeling inadequate (often), i remind myself that i am blessed to be CHOOSING this wondrous and crazy intense life/style. and that that choice is actually empowering. and then i find a way to get back to work.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am creating a talk for art students, artists, etc about this very topic, because I think most of us are totally unprepared for the reality of being an artist. No talk can replace going though it oneself, and its different for everyone, but at least people can feel less crazy and isolated in the process, like I did. Plus, aren’t we all curious what other people do in the studio, how often they go, how they come up with ideas, etc? SO: I would be happy to quote anyone here and give full credit, but if you do not want your name to be used that is fine, just let me know.

I totally agree about inspiration—or as my Mom, who is a writer, always said: TUSH IN CHAIR. Or, you can’t write if you’re not at the desk. That said, I get most of my ideas when I’m cooking or on a walk—I find time away from the work to be absolutely integral to my process. And I no longer feel guilty about it!!

My advice follow through on every hunch- trust. Be resourceful use street smarts, appreciate others, know thyself to thine own self be true. Show up, get busy and work for the cosmic good. Surround yourself with people who you are a support to -and are supportive of your talents and abilities. Let others help you. Love what is.

It took me about twenty-five years to realize that being an artist is being a self-identified member of a tribe. Your importance, relevance and status in the tribe depends on how much you support the tribe. Petty squabbles and disagreements over aesthetics and other artistic stuff is fine, even fun, but if you’re looking for affirmation from outside the tribe, forget about it because most of those people couldn’t give a crap about you, unless there’s money involved. The only people capable of appreciating what you do as an artist are your tribe members. It’s a weird tribe, but it’s our tribe.

Here’s one: if you think while making a piece that “this’ll be the one that makes me a success/gets me a show/everyone will love (or hate)/will take me to the next level” that piece WILL SUCK. In other words, its like sex: don’t over think it.

Yes, every time I think I have really struck gold–no one else ever sees it.

See the glass as half empty and convince yourself that only you have the genius to fill it to the brim. Be uncontained by the logic of others. Never censor what comes freely. Quit living within the expectations of others. Never allow yourself to get comfortable. Never confuse your idea of personal success with formulae belonging to someone else. Feel encumbered by the need to make work so badly that you wish you could die to escape the finality of completing the work. Be thankful that you are not dead yet. Be delighted by something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, once a day. Once a night. Once a week. Once in a while. Recognize delight when you experience it. Name your own terms and keep them to yourself.

I wake up relieved that I trusted myself to know that I wanted to make art. I never really feared being poor, so being pathetically broke at times is manageable. Even though I have never experienced any kind of success as an artist, I remain excited about the next painting. I am happy knowing that my drive to create is not dictated by the need to be an art star. I would tell myself as a young artist not to worry, you will be o.k.

The reason I say we have a good life is because we are choosing it. No one would be an artist unless their life depended on it. The rest is individual and to each his own. I remember my crossroads decision to step into that arena about 20 years ago but I was making art since childhood and knew my life would be defined and sustained by something creative. But it is not about “fame” or “money” although that can be the carrot at the end of the stick. It has to come… See More
from the daily work and pleasure of sharing,receiving and making a creative life. I think that there was a book with a title like “The Art of Every Day Living” written by Gerhard Richter.

I had been working hard in my studio last week and yesterday I could not pick up a brush. Ten minutes moved like 2 hours of agony, I felt frozen. I realized that the work is mental and my brain did not want to work. Then I started cleaning up the studio, and then… it clicked. I worked I found a slightly different rhythm than I had previously. I am in a different stage in the work and the transition was hard. It’s not verbal or terribly predictable. I found myself coaxing myself with: “You know this feeling”

Learn your craft. Bond with other explorers. Love their success. Don’t be swayed by trends. Know that critics, curators, etc. are the scaffolding. Read widely but include Clausewitz and Sun Szu. Embrace mystery and revel in ambiguity. Be kind. Never give up.

Art chooses us- we do not choose it. It is not a profession but a life. If one is fully committed day in and out and can find supportive friends, mentors and peers it is never lonely. It is often difficult to be the artist and the business person because they require such different hats. I believe we should do what we each do best and collectively will be happier and most successful. Part of more is better than all of a little.

what i have learned. never give up. if you throw in the towel, pick it up and use it the next day. dont skimp on materials. if you have no money, use what is at hand or make it about that poverty. invention and experimentation. sabotage every other career path so that art making is only focus. find your comrades. dont wait around, make your own opportunities. always have a studio even if you have to drywall over a window in the rented apartment. romanticize your life.

For myself art has always been a primary relationship- and all that entails. Love, suspicion, fascination, surrender, growth, commitment, disgust and on and on. But always there, loyal and demanding. It grows when I give of myself and has never let me
down, even when I’ve pimped it for cash.

What I find the trickiest part of all of this is that it is so individual. Each one of us has our own work, our own vision and our own path. Not knowing is part of the process. It takes a LONG time to ripen and arrive, if ever. Being sensitive and being bold just seem like incompatible qualities yet these are just the 2 pieces that are required to be an artist. Never quit.

it’s weird, when i think about my life, i’ve always been capable of LONG periods of isolation. and I still am. but out there, in the fly over zone, i only wanted to associate with the coolest people, and those people i love being around. your peeps. and the best thing about the art world is EVERYONE is a TOTAL SNOB!…and opinionated as hell, argumentative, sexy, (a little crazy) and REALLY COOL! that’s what i mean, it’s a community of cosmopolitan hermits!

While my snob side thinks I’m an “artist”, the down to earth side is more “a worker in the arts”. Because of my background and the process of grinding out work though, the side that wins out is “the worker in the arts”.

I think you need to stop worrying about what other people think of you and just ask or say what you want. One of my major rules in life (and art) is only listen to the people you respect. What the others think/do/say/etc I could not possibly care less.

Time teaches you to not be so up about success or so down about failure. To accomplish goals, it is better to remain on an even keel. I think of Clinton and Obama. They remained cool and on task throughout their trials and tribulations.

I don’t know what “Beauty and the devil are the same thing” means, but I do now that for a lot of artists of my generation the discovery that beauty was something to be embraced and not feared was a godsend.

My friends and family expect me to be a bad-ass prairie dog optimistic seeker of beauty.

Re- Beauty- I felt like art tried to make me feel alienated- like nothing- for so long- Personally, I don’t want to be made anymore alienated then I already am- I write this in my artists statement- there is so much ugliness in the world- I need beauty to pull me through- really- It can be strange and dark and real and haunting- and still be beautiful- I am not looking to turn over rocks to find ugliness so I can be a too cool for school artist- I need to find the beauty in the world- it helps to mitigate the deep sadness and cruelty I see in the world-

“Be willing to be stupid” is good advice for anyone. Seriously.

Another thing that no one really talks about, but it is absolutely true, is that how successful one is as an artist – measured by conventional standards of success- is determined in equal parts by your talent and by your ability/desire to be social. I wish someone had taught me earlier how to re-define the definition of success for myself to allow me to be less social. Not that I would have listened…

I didn’t do ANYTHING people are supposed to do and so far it hasn’t hurt me: didn’t go to grad school, read a bunch of theory, be friends/associate with anyone I didn’t actually like, go to lots of openings or art parties, live in an “artist” neighborhood, have a studio in a big studio building, join a crit group, sleep around, do drugs, kiss ass, etc.

Maybe trite but Walt Whitman: ‘If you can see (the path) laid out in front of you, then you can be sure it’s someone else’s path.’

Also, a professor alerted me to this, but I recognized it as the moment I maybe really was an artist. You look at other people’s work and love it, and kinda wish you made work like that, but in the end you are powerless to make any work but your work.

in times when I haven’t been able to make “art” per se I have done many creative things that have gotten me through. Being an artist is hard enough without people judging who is or is not an artist and whether you do/think/produce enough to qualify. I once didn’t have a studio for a year and a half and it was super tough but being an artist isn’t always active or visible—there is also a subconscious percolation of ideas, taking in info and inspirations, reading, learning and figuring shit out, without which the art could not happen. You can draw all day every day, doesn’t mean the work is any good.

I remember Delmore Schwartz’s “In Dreams Become Responsibilities” As I sputtered along that became more true, Also the puttering, the procrastination and anxiety of starting a fresh work. Worrying about the idea, the intent, the constant failure of the work, the corrections, again the responsibility of continuing because there is no other alternative. the conviction that you will get it right and the bifurcation that you and it will collapse into a total dung heap. The few instants of success keep you going through the miles of failure. I knew this with out knowing it when I was a crude nascent stick-in-the-mud student and the years of practice has led me to “Oh Yeah, I know what this is” a comfort and a curse.
I wouldn’t do anything else.

the art work has nothing to do with the art world although they share a common denominator- art

Walt Whitman’s poem “No laborsaving machine” answers what I grasp as our REALITY:

No laborsaving machine,
No discovery have I made,
Nor will I be able to leave behind me any wealthy bequest
to found a hospital or library,
Nor reminiscence of any deed of courage for America,
Nor literary success nor intellect, nor book for the bookshelf,
But a few carols vibrating through the air I leave,
For comrades and lovers.

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