Belowï¿½is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Living the Artist’s Life.ï¿½ Why have I posted it?ï¿½ Well, many people tell me they find it relevant.ï¿½ Also I’m in a hurry to get to a concert, and I figured you’d forgive me.ï¿½ Trust it proves worthwhile:
Now, Let Us Begin
All right, so you’re soon to graduate from art school, if indeed you haven’t already.ï¿½ Or maybe you never did graduate but just dropped out; maybe you wearied of what all those professors were trying to teach you, and just wanted to dive into it on your own.ï¿½ Or maybe art school was twenty years ago and you’re only now picking up where you left off.ï¿½ Or maybe you don’t want to be an artist but simply want to live the artist?s life.ï¿½ You want to create.ï¿½ You want your life to be your canvas.ï¿½ It can be.ï¿½ It should be.ï¿½ For all of us this should be so.ï¿½ For very few, it is.
But in some sense, you’ve graduated.ï¿½ Now what?
Assuming you’ve acquired the necessary background in painting or sculpting or printmaking, or maybe a smattering of disciplines, do one thing first: congratulate yourself.ï¿½ It wasn’t easy.ï¿½ It cost a struggle of emotions and finances and loneliness and exaltation and despair and odd alliances and odder rivalries but, in the end, it should have brought you closer to your calling.ï¿½ If it didn?t, don?t worry, time and hard work will do that.ï¿½ Time alone may do it, but not in the way that work will.ï¿½
Self-discipline, as you surely know by now, is far more important than trying to glide along on whatever level of talent you were born with.ï¿½ Learn to rely on the former and to utilize the latter, but never assume that your talent alone will win you your successes.ï¿½ Hard work will take you much further down the line than mere reliance on brilliance will, whether that brilliance is real or imagined.ï¿½ In fact it’s astonishing to me how often an average talent blossoms, over years, into earned brilliance, while born brilliance often recedes into mediocrity.
Anyway, in some form you’ve graduated.ï¿½ Now what?
You can travel, if you have the means, and even if you think you don’t.ï¿½ You can go to Europe; you can go to Asia; you can go to the Middle East; you can go to South America; you can go anywhere you want.ï¿½ It’s all a matter of preference, and inner desire, and the need to explore places that intrigue you, places that feed your art.ï¿½ï¿½
Let’s say you choose Europe, as I have twice now.ï¿½ï¿½ Yes you can still go there cheaply and live out of a backpack, tour all those great cities, taste of all those wonderfully diverse cultures.ï¿½ If you can, you should.ï¿½ Do it now.ï¿½ It can also be done later.ï¿½ If things go well it can be done several times later, but it will never again be as simple as it is right now, while you’re so young.ï¿½ It is good, when fresh out of college, to go to older cultures and learn what they have to teach you.ï¿½ It helps you set your bearings straight before starting the larger journey.ï¿½ And setting the bearings correctly now is far easier than adjusting them later, in midstream, even though most of us are compelled to do that, often more than once.
So go to Europe if you can.ï¿½ Let the Europeans humble you.ï¿½ They’re good at it, and enjoy doing it.ï¿½ Then when they’re done, ask them if they remember Harry Truman and George Marshall, and their reconstruction plan.ï¿½ Marshall and his peers helped pull the western Europeans’ butts out of the fire during World War II, and during the reconstruction after, when those same Europeans had nearly nothing left, having collectively, through the absurdities of the Versailles Treaty, brought on a war that destroyed a great deal of their continent, and damned near their civilization.ï¿½ And while it’s true that we may owe them much, gently remind them that they owe us too.ï¿½ That’s what makes the relationship work.
But maybe you can’t go overseas now.ï¿½ I couldn’t either when I finished college: I was simply too broke.ï¿½ So I wandered Americaï¿½ instead, eventually covering every state in the union.ï¿½ If this is your only option, then forget other cultures for awhile.ï¿½ Believe me, there’s plenty to see in this country: its vulgarity, its beauty; its greed, its generosity; its violence, its compassion; its appalling ignorance, its stunning levels of enlightenment.ï¿½ It’s a country of extremes, and to know it you must accept those extremes, and all their contradictions, and their wonder too.ï¿½ Also it is a country of many fine museums.ï¿½ Visit them.ï¿½ Visit as many as you can.ï¿½ And don’t tell me you can’t, because you can.ï¿½ How else will you see the masters?ï¿½ Who else will you compare yourself to?ï¿½ How else will you rate your own work?
Go to New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, St. Louis, Denver, Dallas, Washington, New Orleans, Miami, Kansas City and anywhere in between.ï¿½ No matter where you live in the contiguous forty-eight, there are fine museums within a day’s drive, and many smaller ones within a few hours.ï¿½ Get to know them.
You can’t afford a motel?ï¿½ For a long time I couldn’t either.ï¿½ That’s why, in my early days, I did all my traveling by motorcycle, often sleeping in a tent at the edge of each city, or in the apartments of friends.ï¿½ Lord the scenes I witnessed, the people I met, both maniacal and kind, and the experiences I immersed myself in.ï¿½ That bike was a cheap and incomparably stoked way to get around, although of course I had to accept the risk of possibly getting killed on any given day.ï¿½ For some people that risk is worth it; for many it’s not.ï¿½ Me?ï¿½ It was the only way to see Key West at sunrise, Hollywood Boulevard at sunset, the Olympic Peninsula in full rain, and Cape Cod in summer.ï¿½ For me, at that time, it was the only way to really travel, and understand, this country.ï¿½
In later years, when I had all kinds of art to lug around, I slept in the back of my aging minivan, always in a safe part of each city.ï¿½ I don’t advise that you necessarily do the same, but if you’re streetwise and know how to do this without setting yourself up, it will allow you to eat well, and to spend money on worthwhile things like books, decent meals, and gifts for loved ones.
Driving anyplace is an adventure.ï¿½ America is a land for driving.ï¿½ Enjoy the privilege while we have it.ï¿½ Dig on the old architecture, the old barns and farmhouses and train stations.ï¿½ Dig on the small towns, on their tranquility and simplicity and on their limitations as well.ï¿½ And never cross a major river–the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Columbia, the Hudson–without once stopping and standing at water’s edge, trying to behold all that has passed there, and all that is yet to.ï¿½ Toss a coin in it.ï¿½ Toss a rock in it.ï¿½ Pee in it if you must.ï¿½ But most of all feel it, and the life it speaks of.ï¿½ Then rejoin the masses of cars on the interstate.
(Note: I will finish posting this section next Friday)ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½