We had a wonderful conference! The Surviving as an Artist class was very good with artists of many kinds showing up and asking questions, questions that needed to be addressed as artists within the Messianic Jewish Movement. Posted here are the notes from the lecture:
Why did you ever choose this profession?
So why did you go into an art? Either you have received a calling from God, you’ve chosen this path as your passion, or your just crazy, really crazy; the journey is long and the path is rocky. You think your work will be ready for a gallery in a year or two, it won’t, you think the first book you write will publish, probably not, that your first CD release will be a hit, likely not. It won’t be but you have to believe it will, you must believe this. That belief is what will carry you through the rejection, self-doubt, the endless rounds of depression/elation that you will inevitably go through. This is a profession that you keep feeling like a beginner and hopefully keep improving. If you do feel like you’ve “arrived” that is when your in for a big humbling because that is when you stop paying attention to your basics.
Myths about the Lifestyle
There are some myths about an artists lifestyle: #1 Artists need to suffer to make good art. This is one of the most common and one of the stupidest myths about the artists lifestyle. That of the romantic, idealistic, isolated, starving artist on a mission to make good art. The idea that the artist is pure and needs to be isolated, concerned only with creating art work. Adhering to this ideal could keep you focused and keep you working endless hours in the studio. But it will also keep you isolated keeping to the idea that no activities or friends are good enough to pull you away from your work. These ideals will lead to pride, arrogance, and all you have to do is to read Proverbs to know how foolish it is to go after that in order to seek “good” art.
#2 Artists are loners. A common myth that artists need to be alone in order to make good original
artwork. This is a need for control over their work through isolation. If you are so worried that your ideas will be stolen though involving yourself in a community then their original enough, if your project is so easily completely stolen by another person by them watching you work then your either hanging out with the wrong people or your ideas are too obvious.
#3 Artists don’t have to deal with business or money in order to succeed. Very common misconception about the art life, art is a type of business like everything else. You will find yourself in large amounts of debt quickly if you go with this myth. There is a financial side of art, if you have no money to buy your supplies or keep the lights on then you will shortly be out of the business of art. Yes you may be freed from the anxiety of finances, but theres no affording anything.
#4 Artists are discovered. The myth presumes that inevitably talent to discovery, which inevitably results in fame and fortune. The positive side of this is the dream or fantasy of recognition, fame, loving fans, money, status, and your work in important collections motivates and encourages you. It keeps up the state of exhilarated anticipation. The bad part of this is that unfortunately talent does not guarantee fame and recognition.
Furthermore, fame presents as many problems as it may solve: the pressure to produce a large body of work for more exposure, overexposure, lack of privacy, unrealistic timelines for publicity, everyone wanting a piece of action, time spent chasing the markets or new trends, unrealistic expectations for money management, and showing work too soon. It’s a high energy environment and it can lead to burnout.
Adjusting your mindset: Fame is a complicated concept to manage. Just because you are known or have some aspects of market success doesn’t mean you’ll make lots of money. The reality is that few artists become famous enough to support themselves by their own work alone. The untold story is that even artists who seem relatively successful are often not just making money from their art. They still have their day jobs! It takes time to mature and build a coherent body of work, to create a unique vision and then get the recognition it deserves.
Assessing Your Goals
You need goals, why are you doing what your doing? Where do you want to be in five years? Where do you want your project to be? Who are you trying to reach with your work? You need a list of professional goals and a timeline to keep to, that makes it alot easier to stay consistent and actually completing projects.
What does God have to say?
Yes, what would God say about your work if he saw, listened, read it right now? Would he say, “good job good and faithful servant, your work has brought me honor” or would he say, “why are you doing work like this while carrying my name as a witness?” Is your art honoring God? If it is, visual artists, you will have a hard time just being an artist within the Messianic and Christian community, why? In my observance I think its due to the old belief that art is blasphemous. Then in the unbelieving community you will be seen as a lesser artist, you will
have to prove your worth over and over again, a constant professional struggle. But, it is worth it to follow God as a visual artist honoring Him.
Music artists, you have a unique struggle. You will have an easier time with the believing community. They are always looking for new worship artists, but, how do you not make your music sound almost exactly like everyone else’s. How? Don’t use the same three chord combination as all the other Christian music artists out there! There are endless jokes and comedy acts within and without the community making fun of this very thing. Your creativity must be unique for you to survive as a music artist, if it is truly unique you will be noticed by more than just your close friends and family. Try to find what it is about you that makes you and your work different from everyone else’s, ask God about it, what does He want you to write?
Writers, what are you writing that separates you from the unbelieving community? Have you been in prayer about what and how you should write something? Is He in your project? We as a believing community need more great stories that inspire us, we all need you and your skill. But God needs to be in it.
What's Your Inspiration?
You most certainly need inspiration, where do you get it? You need to live your life, try to stay positive, and help people. If you live your life in isolation you will eventually run out of inspiration because theres nothing coming in, you pulling out of a ever decreasing pool. If you pull your inspiration out of pain and suffering it will lead to depression and negative, dark work. Your work reflects how you live your life, what mood your constantly in. If your following God and adhering to His truths your work will reflect that, it will also be reflected in how you treat people. And helping people out can be a great place for inspiration!
Conformist or Non-conformist?
So are you going to do what everyone else is doing, or do what God wants you to do? Conformist is an easy road, non-conformist is hard. These days adhering to Gods’ truths turns out to be non-conformist. You must decide where you stand with things, because you will be asked. There’s no hidden rule that you must be pierced up, tattooed, to the left in politics to be in the art world. All you have to be is open minded, if you keep going after everyone who isn’t just like you, you will eventually get kicked out. It’s like coming into someone’s house and then verbally attacking them for everything their doing. Your actions speak louder than words, let your lifestyle and work speak for itself.
I was one of two believers in the art building in college, I never had to come up to a person and push my beliefs on them. After accepting them for who they were, not condoning their actions, but just being a loving person who didn’t do most of what they were doing, listening, helping them out, and letting God’s will be inspiration for my work. They started coming to me with questions about my faith and lifestyle.
The big question for all of us, how will you pay for things while your trying to get yourself out there as an artist? You get a day job, I know it doesn’t sound very fabulous but thats how you can feed yourself and your family while you are still earning little off your artwork. It also keeps stress out of your work because your not worrying what your next project will net you. You will have to make your work a semi paid hobby for a while, sorry. Finding employment that has something to do with your artform would be ideal, you have a skill thats worth something you can use it to help you find a job.
Mass Media: How TV and Movies Affect Art
Believe it or not the mass media need artists of all kinds in order to make movies and shows! The mass media effects art because thats the reference people have when viewing, listening to or reading your work. If you tell people your doing a certain genre of work then stay within that genre, though it is ok to try and do things like re-invent concepts like fairies or elves etc. But it’s a 50/50 chance you’ll get received well or not. You would be surprised to see how many artists are employed by movies and TV shows these days. They need classical musicians and music writers to make soundtracks, visual artists and illustrators to make concepts and matte paintings for them, animators to make them, sculptors, screen writers, concept story writers, actors, etc etc. Face it, if your an artist your in some kind of entertainment industry. Its just how will you represent yourself within that community? How will you handle the situation where a possible client or your boss asks you to make something that is against your morals?
College? Graduate School?
Now college of any kind is a big commitment, but you need to be absolutely ready for this move and I don’t mean financially. I mean you need to be ready for is burnout, physical, mental, emotional burnout. The kind of burnout you get where you can barely remember your name. You need to be prepared for this with ways to ward off burnout and get through school with your sanity in tact. If you go to get your undergraduate degree you need to follow a few pointers:
1) Don’t ever stop doing your own work, like the work your not assigned to do. The work that originally made you want to go to school in the first place. Don’t ever stop, have a separate sketchbook or notebook for it so your teachers don’t think your shorting them out of work that they aren't assigning you.
2) Participate and experiment with more mediums than what you are assigned, take some classes outside your concentration. College is one of the few places that its easier and cheaper to try out new forms of your art than anywhere else, they just have the facilities for it. You can find out what else you may be good at and can use it to contribute to your first art love.
3) Never give up your basics, no matter how good you are you never stop practicing your basics. Use them to warm up, do whatever you need to but never give them up!
4) Don’t give up on the degree, seriously. If you start going to college don’t ever dropout because your not only going to regret it your going to miss out on senior thesis. Senior thesis has to be one of the most important aspects of the undergraduate degree experience.
Now graduate school is another matter, it’s completely different from undergraduate school. Now I don’t know much about music or writing grad degrees, sorry, but I do know a bit on visual art grad degrees. Theres a few things to realize about grad school before you go:
1) A grad degree in the professional realm will not get you any farther than you have gone already. It is mainly to gain the credentials to teach at university or community college.
2) A grad degree can help you pull your projects together it you need that kind of accountability. Something you can do without paying $40,000 a year if you get other artists to help you with that, you really don’t need a grad degree to be successful in the industry.
3) If you do want to teach, great, try to give your students different and creative ways to solve their technical problems. Not every students is the same, so you will have to think outside the box to teach your class.
Pricing Your Work
This can be pretty hard sometimes because you put so much time into your work that you can tend to overprice your work. You can’t put time on a timecard when you work and then price it based on how much time you spent on it. Because a work you spent 40 hours on someone else could have done the same thing or better in half the time. You price your work based on quality, so if you finish a work in 4 hours that has quality enough to be worth $2,000. Same thing where you can also spend over 90 hours on something that only pays you $300. It’s all about quality. To figure out what kind of pricing you need to go with you have to look at market and industry trends, what the industry is paying professionals for certain qualities of work. Like for visual art you won’t ever get as much from a private consignment than you could from industry clients.
How will you know when to show publicly? When is your portfolio is ready?
People will say “you just know”, but how will you know? Why do they tell you that? What does that mean? There is a way to really tell when or if your ready. This is another case where you need to have your head in the mass media art, music, writing magazines or publications in order what the industry standards are. Go to shows and events to see what other professionals are doing in your area and what their charging for their work and take that as your reference when pricing your work.
Resumes, Biographies, Artist Statements
Yes, you need a resume, but unlike everyone else who has jobs in this country you have to also have a biography, and if you are a visual artist you have to have artist statements for every project you will ever create. You need a biography to tell your fans and followers who you are, to help them connect to you and your work. This is something you have to stay professional with, don’t write some kind of depressed rendering of your childhood. Your resume is written like most common resumes, but you need to pay special attention to your
skills section. Your degree isn’t necessarily going to speak for itself, there are skills you will acquire that your resume must have on it. Now artist statements are something that gallerists generally want to see all the time. When you have a finished project you want to show the gallerist will not consider your work until you have provided a statement about it, which is about a couple paragraphs of content you write to explain the purpose behind your work.
Clients, Dealing with Commissions
This is where your ‘paid for’ work comes from, and where you need to be most courteous and professional with people. You need to be a good business person for this, writing invoices, price estimates, negotiating prices and due dates, project briefs, status updates on projects etc. There are good clients and bad clients. Good clients will communicate with you, they will fill out your project brief completely, they will give you a reasonable due date, negotiate a fair pay for your work, and pay you on time. Those are good clients who are a joy to work with, but those people are surprisingly few and far between. Then there are bad clients. Those are the people who will tell you to do whatever leads as an artist, then not say anything is wrong until the very end. They won’t respond to your project updates or say anything of what they really want in the work. And the bad client will complain about your set prices and instead of negotiating they will guilt you to bring them down, it will end up being an
unfair price to you.
According to our constitution and laws when an artist puts their signature on a work it’s copywritten as your own.
Musicians, the moment you create your music is the moment copyright protection begins. Creation occurs when music and/or lyrics are recorded, set to paper, or otherwise “fixed in a tangible form,” according to the US Copyright Office.
Writers, your copywriting is similar to musicians, it starts the moment you create your content and set it to paper. You can protect your copywrite by getting paperwork on it through the US Copywrite Office.
A most important thing to have these days, visual artists you need it the most so you can have somewhere to post your regular work and a blog where your fans can follow you. Using facebook is a good idea as an extension of your site, but never use it as a main thing to rely on you will run into copywrite problems with your work eventually.
Musicians, it is not as crucial for you to have a website, it’s nice for a place to post your work and somewhere where people can buy albums from, but people don’t necessarily look for that in a musician.
I will say the same for writers because people don’t generally look for full on websites from writers but they do look for blogs, blogs, blogs, blogs!!!!!!!
Expanding your Life and Horizons, How your life effects your work
I talked about inspiration before, this is the extension of that. Life if your ongoing inspiration, so what will you do in your life that will really give you inspiration? I find that I am better at gathering great inspiration after I get closer with God, the closer relationship I have with Him the better and easier my work is. You can’t be a hermit, you can’t completely hate your job, and you need to keep a positive attitude. Or you will fall far. Your life is your inspiration, so what are you going to do with it?