The Artist’s Discipline

Please note: An edited version of this discussion was posted today on the home page of Absolute Arts.

What many people outside the arts don’t understand, is that succeeding in this profession takes just as much discipline as it does for the CEO, Athlete, Lawyer, Doctor. In most cases it takes more, since you already have the day job, and for your night job your calling happens to be to a discipline that we almost never feel equal to, in which we regularly disappoint ourselves, and from which the check is always late–often by a decade or two. Define “success” how you want, but to me it means succeeding aesthetically first, and financially later–which for most artists simply means turning some form of profit.

However you do define it, this kind of discipline is no screwing around. You don’t get there by going to all the parties, hanging out in all the bars, and talking about all the great work you want to do. If you believe in yourself, if your goals are realistic, and if you’re driven, then you clamp your mouth shut and work your butt off. Why? Because you’re giving something to the world that is bigger than you, and more important than you. In a sense you are serving others, and that requires great discipline. The end result will speak for you. Then you can go to all the parties and bars, at least until you start the next piece.

The misconception is that artists indulge in substance abuse, are hopelessly idealistic, and devoid of discipline. This is utter hogwash. Some of the most disciplined people I�ve known have been sculptors, painters, glass-blowers, etc. Not only did they work very hard, but man they had guts, laying everything on the line in a risky profession: their finances, their dreams, their futures. Some realized the dream, most did not, but every one of them lived with courage and dignity and often a self-effacing humor. It’s that last quality that will often save your sanity when all else is failing. Oddly, it’s also a quality that can allow you to laugh off your failures, and persevere through to success.

Sure this is a tough life, full of sacrifices and hardship (although not like those of a Vietnamese rice farmer). But I wouldn’t trade it for a million bucks though I might for two.

BlogCritics / Art Debates with Architects

Recently learned that BlogCritics did a review of Artist’s Life. I believe these folks are in Toronto, and gather they have a broad readership. Very nice fellow who wrote it up, T Stoddart. I’ll have to take him to sushi the next I’m up that way.

Had a great debate with an architect this morning. Concerned a massive structure he and his firm designed. In the lobby he wants a contemporary piece by an internationally known sculptor, while I prefer someone regional who’s on the way up. This will be one of several pieces in the lobby. The rest will all be done by regional artists. Who’s right? I am of course.

Just kidding. We’ll sleep on it. There’s a happy median somewhere to be found here. Always prefer that–while not compromising on the work.

Fox 4 News, Story on Petition for KC Artists

The area Fox Station, Channel 4, did a Story this morning on the Petition for regional artists. They interviewed the sculptor STRETCH, and David Dowell from El Dorado Architects.

I thought it went well. What do I like best about this issue? It’s now becoming an open discussion that in the end will have positive results for everyone: regional artists, the city, area students, and the arts commission. Some people think this is a dispute. Nay. This is really about cooperation and cultural enhancement; the antithesis of snobbery, in other words. And baby, that was the intent all along.

Approaching the Final Breath, II

The woman I mentioned in my post Saturday has survived surgery, following her stroke, and is slowly gaining strength though still unconscious. I went by the hospital the other day to see her husband and kids, but it was apparent they didn’t need me. The waiting room was filled with women from the Book Club, Birthday Club, and all the other clubs these gals have formed. I stuck around for awhile anyway.

It’s hard to say how this story will end, though things look promising for now. But man, this sure makes you appreciate the ones you love. Reminds you of how quickly you can lose them. Does art, writing, and passion play into that somewhere? Yes, everywhere.

Artist Meetings / Rejection / Allan Chow sky

A busy Monday. Three meetings with artists for a major project, one meeting with a contractor, one with a client. Somewhere in the midst of that I wrote an article, but don’t remember how.

Heard from a major publisher who, like the others, doesn’t have the guts to publish Everybody’s Game (I believe they were set to until they realized they couldn’t pigeon-hole it). Oh plenty of small presses are ready to put it out, but that’s not what I wrote it for.

One day I’ll meet an editor in a major house who does have guts, vision, and by god even passion. Until then I must work through these burned-out vestiges, pretending to tolerate their corporate blindness whilst trying to contain my scorn.

Been rejected lately? I know how you feel–except maybe I’m a bit more disgusted.

Sky above by Allan Chow. Oil on canvas, palette knife. Exquisite, no?

Oh yeah, publishers. No worries; I’ll win that game in the end. Sure I’m pissed. Now I’ve got to convert that to a positive, resolute sort of determination. Well, like you, I’m accustomed to doing that.

Excerpt from Cool Nation

Here is the final section from the chapter titled “The Invasion.” The other sections are on the sidebar, lower right.

The Invasion (Part 5)

Seth dove and I dove and alone together we swam and splashed in the chlorinated depths of the blue-white pool. Closed off from the world by a stockade fence, the pool was surrounded by hydrangea and clematis and hollyhocks, flowers that Mrs. Drummond tended with that intense sort of sadness that was so much hers. We swam and swam, throwing beach balls and tennis balls and splashing his older sisters in their checked bikinis, until finally Mrs. Drummond, with her platinum hair and dark eyes and quiet voice, came out and said: �Do you boys have to be so loud? Do you?� Then she would retreat to the barbituric-amphetaminic shadows of her home, the house always cool, the blinds drawn, the black housekeeper forever busy keeping their inventory of stuff dusted and clean.
Mrs. Drummond often spoke to us like strangers, and in her beauty she seemed to me unapproachable, almost unknowable. She frightened me also, for once I had come upon her in an upper hall, having been sent upstairs for towels, and she was weeping, passing through the hall and weeping. She looked at me, I at her, and she said Oh Petey, then went into her room and closed the door. I stood before it a moment, then went back out into the sunlight and heat. I never mentioned to Seth what I�d seen, for I knew I had seen a family secret.
Mrs. Drummond drove a Lincoln with suicide doors, Mr. Drummond drove a Lincoln with suicide doors�each with a magnetic Christ on the dash, for the Drummonds were Catholic. Every year they had new Lincolns, always white, hers a convertible, his a hardtop. And every Sunday they went to Saint Ann�s for Mass, dressed immaculately in the fashion of the Kennedys, Mr. and Mrs. Drummond no doubt hungover from whatever party they�d attended the night before.
All their children were girls except for the youngest and the oldest. The oldest, Keith, was everything to us. Although only in thirteen he was like a god, Lindsey Lahski always at his side, swimming with him or smoking cigarettes with him or under the tiki lamps at night making out on an air mattress, Seth and I watching through the slits in the fence as his hand stole up beneath the smallish brassiere, then down to the thighs, only to be repelled and finally slapped and then the girlish: �No! I told you no.�
�No. I said no and I mean no. No.�
�Nikki Robinson does.�
�Good. Go to her then.�
Getting up and buttoning her blouse. He pulling her back down onto the mattress, murmurs of apology, then the making out all over again. Keith promised us he would bang her the next year, when they both turned fourteen. We believed him. He was our idea of a god.
Keith and Seth had their rooms in the basement�not like Jackie�s simple room, but rooms that were sleek and enormous and well furnished, with big windows that looked out onto the pool and tennis court, and each with their own bathroom too. Keith was allowed to smoke in his room, and also to swipe his father�s old issues of Playboy, which we would spend hours searching for some sign of pubic hair. We couldn�t find any. Seth said they would never show that anyway. Keith said they would someday, but we didn�t believe him.
Keith hung out with some kind of gang that was an assembly of similarly bored punks, who in the woods behind the Indian Heights Country Club supposedly sniffed glue in their shack and gang-banged girls and drank beer. There were rumors also that they rumbled with the rough boys on the Missouri side, but I didn�t believe it. They were none of them like my brother, who had rumbled, and had the scars to show for it. They were just disaffected suburban brats whose idea of tough was a streetlight broken or a carton of Camels stuffed into a jacket and out the door.
Seth�s father we rarely saw. When we did see him his tipsiness was as obvious as that of the drunken whistler on his bar: the little figure that had one arm around a lamppost and that whistled �How Dry I Am� whenever you put a coin in the slot. Even when sober Mr. Drummond�s deportment belied a habitual intoxication that seemed to be there as much out of habit as substance. Oddly the deportment rarely changed regardless of how much he drank: he smiled just as much, told as many jokes, and remained in his own way as distant to us as Mrs. Drummond. His children he seemed to look on as a curious if accidental result of his marriage�accidents that he apparently hoped someone else would raise. The rest of us, his children�s friends, were virtually nameless and faceless to him, although he did on occasion associate the right name with the right face.
He was a car dealer, or rather owned a Lincoln/Mercury dealership that other people ran for him. All that the dealership required to function apparently was his occasional smiling presence, the closing of a sale or two, and his appearance in the late-night television ads that ran repetitively and idiotically on Fridays and Saturdays. The ads were poorly conceived, poorly produced and abysmally acted, and of course brought him a flood of business, keeping him and his family buoyed with Lincolns and booze and stuff throughout all those strange, distant, far-gone years.
I loved the Drummond house and I feared it, fearing it for reasons I didn�t understand so much as felt. Whenever I left it to go home though, across the pasture to our simpler house and simple cars and abundance of love, I felt grateful for what we had and who we were. I liked the Drummond�s pool, I liked the tennis court, I liked the big house with its white furniture and wet bars and frigid rooms, but I didn�t want it, and I don�t think Seth wanted it either. He had it though, whether he liked it or not, and that would ultimately prove to be his greatest curse too.

Approaching the Final Breath

A friend of ours had a stroke this week. As I write this, she is lying in a hospital bed unable to speak or move, with her eyes fixed on the ceiling as her husband and kids sit around her. She is only 45, active, doesn’t smoke, all of that. But then came this brain tumor…

I had the privilege of coaching one of her kids in baseball for four years. Man, the times we all had, especially at games, when the families would gather and we, the adults, would ensure that every kid was given the chance to develop and grow. This woman was always at the forefront of my cheering section–especially for the strikeout kings, at least until we taught them how to hit. Oh, did we teach them.

But at this moment nobody knows whether she’ll survive surgery, or how she’ll be if she does. At she least she got to love her husband and kids fully before this time arrived–in that beautiful nonconformist way that was always hers. Hopefully she’ll get to carry on with that, but at this point nobody knows what will come to pass.

Life is so brief. I guess I’m writing this to remind you, as I hope you’ll remind me, to love those at hand while you can. In the end, as we each approach our final breath, I can think of no greater legacy to leave behind–even great art.

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Jerry Moon opening

Piece above, Springfinger, is somehow elegant and violent at the same time. That’s a contradiction, but so is much of life.

Jerry Moon’s opening went very well. Great crowd. Plenty of wine–too much of it drunk by me. I’m going out. Good Night and Good Luck.

KCUR, Kansas City Public Radio: Petition Discussed

On Friday at about 11:20 Steve Kraske, host of the radio program Up To Date, will discuss the current Petition that is circulating for the purpose of gaining regional artists significant civic commissions. This will be on KCUR, 89.3.

If you live in the area, you might want to give a listen. Below is the description of the segment, which will last about 30 minutes.

From the KCUR Website: “Also today – a look at a petition circulating among members of Kansas City’s arts community has been launched to help Kansas City and regional artists gain significant commissions with Kansas City, Missouri’s 1% For Art Program.

Supporters of the petition feel that for too long regional artists been passed over within their own city, in favor of artists from larger cities. The petition circulators, while being careful to note that they’re not attacking anyone nor disparaging previous commissions, note that they are attempting to achieve fair opportunities for artists in the Kansas City area.”

Am I one of the people spearheading this initiative? You bet I am. Do I have time for this? Man, I ain’t even got time to sleep. Then why am I doing it? Because the situation is in need of positive change, and it’s apparent that the vast majority of artists and taxpayers here are ready for that change.

It’s likely no different in your city, wherever you might live. In fact I’d be happy to help you with the same; all you have to do is ask.