Three weeks ago I set off on a flight to New Zealand flanked by a specific group of travelers; tittering teens on their first unchaperoned adventure, elderly couples with an innate knowledge of sheepherding and its obvious correlation to international air travel, and a slew of middle class quarterlifers, predominately male, many of whom would return with a regrettable Maori tattoo around his thigh.
A prison of politeness, economics and engineering, our 747-400 lumbered across the Pacific – 13 hours to Auckland. California law protects poultry against similar confinement. I sat trapped by a tray table of half eaten swill, looking up with hopefulness every time a stewardess passed by, shifting restlessly until the refuse cart finally came to relieve me. Committing to a free prefab meal is undoubtedly a commitment to one’s own entrapment. Evidently, there is no free lunch after all.
Bourgeois as it may be, I am an advocate of exotic travel for those navigating the choppy waters of existential crises. You’ve got a lot of time to think, for starters.
I left San Francisco with several things up in the air: the remnants of an old relationship failing to fade away gracefully, the realization that I may have to adjust my expectations for completion of the most ambitious project I’ve ever undertaken and a general dissatisfaction with the pace of artistic progression.
Is the art world covered in ampullea of Lorenzini, receptors of weakness and fear? Is posturing a necessary component of creating one’s own mythology? Are we all just using the internet as a vehicle for corroborating our own delusions? We all sit here and blog on about our amazing work and how validating it is to have been included in a group show that actually cost us money to participate in. An art career is a sinkhole. And a sacrifice.
All things considered, I’m grateful to have a side job that allows ample time and resources to indulge in artmaking. Nearly a decade of working in entertainment has garnered some insights that can be unilaterally applied to one’s expectations for their art practice.
Not only will you not make any money, you’ll have to spend money to get started.
Unless you live in Bulgaria or Brazil, chances are you’re never going to “get discovered.” You’re going to put in hard time and progress quite slowly, with some inevitable setbacks along the way.
You will work with people who are sincere and inspiring, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of those you encounter will be putting on airs or looking to get something from you (if you have little to offer, beware, many galleries have couches too).
Sometimes the best opportunities pay the lowest (or not at all).
Relationships matter. Building genuine relationships will help you more than the dreaded “N” word (networking) and you may even be able to keep portions of your soul intact while you’re at it.
When you actually do make money, you’ll have to give a large percentage away in the form of commission and other expenditures.
Pumping yourself up on the internet may fool some, but unfortunately, you will still know the truth. Very few of us are good enough liars to believe our own bullshit.
I came face to face with my bullshit high above Golden Bay, on a mountain top nestled against Abel Tasman National Park. My friend Jess and I were at the Takaka market where we met some wonderful yogis (and not the Lululemon kind) who invited us to Kirtan at their ashram that evening. Sometimes what you need shows up when you’re not even looking.
Hand drawn map in tow, our station wagon wound up the mountain on increasingly sketchy roads, bottoming out on the various fords carving their way to the sea. With each turn Jess and I proclaimed, “It’s got to be around the next bend, right?” Over an hour of precarious one lane dirt road later, we arrived at our destination with a slight apprehension that we may be walking into a community rivaling The Beach given its remote location.
It was nearly dinnertime and we were invited to share their supper. Sitting on the floor next to the girl from the market, whose Sanskrit name is something I’ll never recall, I was asked about my art practice. Like any good bullshitter, I had my packaged elevator speech ready to go. I looked into her piercing eyes, made all the more vibrant by her shaved head; funny, how you really see people when they have no obstructions. There was no expectation or judgment in her eyes. Spouting my canned spiel would have been fine, but I wasn’t necessary. I had no reason to make myself sound good.
I accepted, and verbalized for the first time that I may not finish my project in the timeframe that I had planned. What had seemed like such a large pill of pride to swallow went down surprisingly easy. She looked on and listened intently, unphased by my admission of potential failure. I’m sure they see their fair share of people on the brink of existential crisis at the ashram. I had Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in my bag for hell’s sake.
Jess and I assumed dish duty in gratitude for our food and company before proceeding to Kirtan. Jess, being a former Bali resident and yogi herself had been to Kirtan, while I walked in all but blind.
The only two children at the ashram chased us down asking lots of questions, and explaining that the flowers in their hair were for the young girl’s birthday. Her brother, probably nine or ten, led off playing the harmonium and singing in a young but steady voice. It was amazing to see how involved and joyful the boy was at an age where most would be afraid to be so open and uncool.
In many cultures, music is an integral part of spiritual practice. I grew up singing in church myself, however, the difference in presence at the ashram was astounding. Every single person who was there wanted to be there. There were no children kicking the back of the pew, no sleeping old men, nor a resident bravado trying to outshine the group. It was joyful and electric while also meditative and peaceful. Group consciousness can be very powerful when the group is conscious.
We filed out without much pomp, as Mouna (golden silence) followed Kirtan. Heading back down the mountain to the campsite at dusk, I felt the first inkling that I was on my way out of the first world quarterlife funk. . .