Thursday, May 25, 2006

Advice for Artists

1. A friend of mine recently relayed a quote to me: "Amateurs do it for the art, artists do it for the money."

While you and I and your grandmother's lesbian cousin can argue the literalness of the above quote, what we can't argue is the cold hard truth that underlies it. The only people who can write, act, paint, sculpt, film, or sing for a living are those who can afford it. What's the joke? Oh, you're an actor? What restaurant?

The point: don't do whatever artistic endeavor you're trying to do unless you're doing it for the money. Sure, have the "love," but don't do it FOR the love. Not unless you're rich. Otherwise, you'll just sit idly by creating your unique artistic interpretations of life while the jackass who hacks out commercialized formula pieces gets rich and famous (and is recognized as an artist when he or she dies). While you... well, while you just disappear in obscurity, occasionally popping up in conversation at the dinner tables of your grandchildren.

2. "That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun." - Ecclesiastes 1:9

For contemporary artists, this quote from the Old Testament defines both the bane and the bliss of artistic motivation. Artists are usually so vain, that they try to not only be unique, but original as well. Well, guess what, buddy? What you create is unique by definition, but nothing you EVER create will ever be original.

Bullshit, you might say. But, let's use writers as an example (as I, myself, am a writer) to prove my point. There's a common maxim in the literary world that there are only seven stories. Seven. One more than six; one less than eight. Seven. ALL OTHER STORIES are rip-offs of these seven, no matter how hard you try to make your story "original." Sorry, it's just not happening.

Side note: Those stories, by the way, are Achilles, Cinderella, Circe, Faust, Orpheus, Romeo & Juliet, and Tristan & Isolde.

My point? The sooner you realize and accept that you're creating something derivative, the sooner you'll become a true artist.

3. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." - popular maxim

This is both an entirely true and an entirely false statement. It is false in that those arrogant prima donnas who use the quote to ridicule teachers and editors have no idea what this quote actually means.

I've often said that there are three things to every thing: an art, a craft, and a science. From tying your shoes to having sex, from driving to cooking dinner, there is an artistic way, a practiced way, and a scientific way. Artists do something through talent and intuition. Craftsman do something through experience and comprehension. Scientists do something through research and procedure.

What am I getting at? Artists: leave the editing and the critiques to the editors and the critics (or, for those of you clever enough to follow along, the craftsmen and the scientists).

There's a reason that "artists" attend classes given by editors and critics. The editors and critics know what works. They know where to direct an artist's raw talent. Why? Because they read, they listen to music, they watch films, they observe the process of creating art, and they study the finished product. So the next time you feel like busting on somebody who's never been published, or never made a movie, or never released an album, keep in mind that he or she is one that will ultimately judge your work, study your work, and decide if your work fails or succeeds (by buying it).

4. "I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him." - Galileo

This last point, for those of you that are still reading, is my justification for writing this little article. Basically... who the fuck am I to be giving such advice? While it's no secret that I am not the most popular published writer in the world, I do, unquestioningly, feel that I am qualified to say what I'm saying. Why? Well, even though I fancy myself a writer, the truth of the matter is that I'm far better at editing than I'll ever be at writing. There's also the matter of having studied creative writing, communications, literature, business, film, professional writing, and history. At any rate, one can boil my advice down to this: learn from everybody, even the "untalented." Expect comparisons, even to other artists that you don't particularly care for. And, for fuck's sake, create something you can sell. After all, what's the point of making a statement if nobody ever sees it?


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Veddy INTerestink.

Posted by Jessica Lynn on May 28, 2006 - Sunday - 1:12 PM

Anonymous said...

Good advice.

Posted by Geoffry on June 26, 2006 - Monday - 12:25 AM

the half-life of linoleum said...

Wasn't there an episode of 'Murder, She Wrote' that found the 8th original story-line?

PattiKen said...

A cool guy I know likes to address this sort of thing point by point, so...

1. Ah, well... I guess I would say that money is great if you are lucky enough to make some, but do it for the fun. And if it gets your there, do it for the sanity. (though there are certainly many for whom that didn't work). Those who "hack out commercialized formula pieces" may get rich, but meh. Not for me. Can you say Bob Ross?

2. Boy, I played right into this one, didn't I? Except that I credited only six original ideas behind everything, not just stories.

I don't know who chose seven as the magic number, but there is a bundle of research that proves when asked for a number between one and ten, most people will say seven. Examples? Seven dwarves, seven deadly sins, seven seas, seven days of the week, seven Pleiades, seven wonders of the world, seven year itch, seventh inning stretch, and oh yeah, Seven of Nine.

Oh, and Romeo and Juliet isn't original. Pyramus and Thisbe did it first.

3. There's one more piece to this: And those who can neither do nor teach write about it. Kind of full circle.

4. And you do it very well.

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