Every so often someone lets me know that times are bad for artists. I’ve been receiving this message for years. The carriers of the bad news warn me in recession and depression — as well as in times of economic boom. I had another notice yesterday. This message of doom must be a function of the bearer, I thought. I’ve heard that even when there’s nearly full employment the use of food-banks still goes up. I’m thinking it’s more to do with “attitude.”
Maybe it’s always bad times for artists. But why do some of us see a half-full glass — while others see a half-empty? Attitude. I’ll swear on a stack of Lexus brochures that these times aren’t bad. Yesterday, another artist wrote that her art group was about to discuss — overcoming the current bad times.’ She wanted to know if I had any “guidelines.”
I thought about the individualistic attitudes of the great and successful artists that I know. On the other hand I remembered how “misery loves company.” I remembered how artists who are blessed with good times crawl wearily into bed at night with a kind of benign optimism for their tomorrows. And when tomorrow comes they have a gentle, easy-going sensitivity and love for what they’re doing. They may live in their imagination — maybe even in a fantasy. They may be a big bunch of self-deluders. They’re not much for luck. They have the weird idea that quality works in all seasons. They tend to favor escape and cozy up in their studios or their landscapes. They have respect for their own processes and push themselves to extract what they can on a daily basis. They are private workers who pay little attention to the competition. Some of them are roaring workaholics, but their work feeds them like no other addiction. They may be self-focused, but that focus tends to be on the brain-hand axis. It may be tedious stuff to others — but this compulsive busyness magnifies and recycles their creativity. You might even say that some of these folks may have a mild brain disorder. They fail to see the reality of it all. Their stunned and disoriented condition keeps them too amazed and excited to notice or believe that times are tough.
PS: “What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” (John Ruskin, 1884) “The harder I work the luckier I get.” (Samuel Goldwyn)
Esoterica: They may be stunned, but they know that it takes the efforts of others for the completion of their dreams. Our brotherhood and sisterhood extends to those who supply our tools and to those who have the ability to share our magic with others. Nobody said it was going to be a rose garden. But it can be, and for those with the right attitude it is pretty darned rosy right now.
This letter was originally published as “Times are bad” on November 19, 2004.
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“I always had a few people who liked what I did, and that was enough.” (Etel Adnan)
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