The Young Artist’s Guide to Playing For Keeps, Part 19

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.

You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.

You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.

You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.

You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

And I’ve been there myself.

Here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way:

1. Entertainment trumps art. Just turn on the television. The most popular shows no longer cast actors – they pluck citizens. And they eventually get famous for being, well, famous. But it wasn’t always this way. Forty years ago, we did our art because we had some form of overflowing passion. Some kind of fire. We did it because we couldn’t not do it. Because there was this thing inside of us that, this thing that said, “Now!” and if we didn’t give voice to it, we would go crazy. That’s art. It’s what defines us. It’s what makes life worth living. It’s how we bring our humanity to the moment. What sucks is, it’s an endangered species. And we can’t stand mute while it gets eaten alive. Otherwise magazine racks will replace museums. Fear not art, fear entertainment disguised as art. Are you an artist or an entertainer?

2. Talent doesn’t matter like it used to. With the right technology, a keen sense of timing, a strong platform and a wellspring of creativity; and with strategic positioning, clever marketing, consistent networking, occasional ass kissing, tons of grit, lots of little breaks and a world-class attitude, any of us should be able to soar to great heights in our field. Then again, we can never underestimate the power of being really, really good. Straight chops, pure ability, will always serve us well. The hard part is, awesome takes practice, and practice takes patience. And in a world of instant celebrities and overnight sensations, it’s tempting to want to shortcut the process. But if we’re smart, we hustle while we wait. We build our non-talent assets as we gradually get better. And after a while, after our ability evolves into mastery, we final let everything else go and allow talent to take center stage. How patient can you be?

3. Another worthwhile artistic investment. Some musicians were never that good at playing music. They just represented something important. Whether they created a spectacle, built an emotional connection, told a remarkable story, started a movement, inspired a revolution, changed popular culture, defied the norm, crossed categories, gave voice to a new generation or raised global consciousness, the fact that they didn’t have a lot of talent didn’t matter. They had bigger fish to fry. Which doesn’t mean talent is unimportant, just not as necessary as we once thought. If I were starting as an artist today, I’d invest more of my time creating, connecting, inspiring, dreaming, shipping, sharing, risking, performing, promoting and engaging, and less of my time taking lessons. What do you represent?

4. Creativity is about trying things. First, we listen to our heart. We sit at the feet of that thing that sticks inside of us and says now. And we put it out publicly so we can’t run away from it, and so the world will conspire to help us achieve it. Next, we give ourselves permission. We drop the illusions about what we can and can’t do. And we knock down the inhibitors that stop us from pursuing something dopey, different or whimsical. Then, we chase that idea down. We get experimental without spending money. We fiddle around with things. And we execute small steps that create the freedom to pause, test, reevaluate and adjust. Finally, we listen for what sticks. We watch for what makes us think, Oh my god – that counts? We ask ourselves: I wonder if I can take this further? And we become spawned by the childlike desire to see how far it goes. What did you try yesterday?

5. It’s not enough to write something worth reading. First, we have to do something worth writing. Life is subordinate to art, not the other way around. Our first responsibility as artists is to be human beings, to be real people, whose unique reservoirs of life experience color the canvas with rich textures. When he’s not performing spoken word concerts, Henry Rollins travels to countries most people have never heard of. When he’s not harmonizing our hearts into mush, Art Garfunkel goes on hundred mile walks. And when he’s not drawing cartoons, Scott Adams runs his own vegetarian food company and café. In short, they inhale. And despite our antisocial tendencies, despite the seductive low road passage of constantly disappearing into our work, eventually, we all have to get the out of the studio. We have to reengage with the world – to inhale – and procure meaning outside of our art. Otherwise we never get out of our own heads, never get out of our own limited worldview and never keep perspective flowing. At which point our work is no longer a masterpiece, just a paint by number. Are you living an art worthy life?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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