Excerpt From Chapter 4


Dear Readers: I’m posting here the first half of Chapter 4, which as you’ll see marks the beginning of the practical information. Much more will follow over the next few months. Best,


Sculpture: “Quan Yang,” by Linda Gastrom, Stoneware, Lifesize.


Chapter 4

How do you begin the process of putting your career together, gaining a following, and achieving your goals? Well that’s a complex, multi-layered question which I’ll address in stages. I’m going to begin with some fairly obvious topics, since I’m obligated to cover the basics before moving on to the subtleties. So even if you feel you’ve already mastered these aspects you might want to browse this section; you never know when a useful idea will come up.

How Will You Know When You’re Ready to Show Publicly?
By this I don’t mean showing in a gallery, but in public venues, since before most galleries will consider your work, they’ll want to know where you’ve exhibited. But before you begin that process, you may want to ask yourself whether you’ve realistically evaluated your work, since we’re all on occasion guilty of self-deceit. To do this, ask a few qualified critics to give you feedback. And please note, by critic I mean someone who isn’t in love with you, isn’t a relative, and doesn’t owe you money.
Rely on people who will be honest, who have a good eye, and appropriate sophistication for what you do. This means that if your work is avant-garde, then a devotee of Thomas Hart Benton would likely not be a good choice. Whoever your critics are, consult them, and the harsher aspects of your inner voice, before you commit to exhibiting. After you’ve covered these bases, then by all means proceed.
Example: In my case, how did I know when I was ready to begin approaching literary agents? Because after having written for fifteen years, I’d become confident in my work and my critics felt the same. Once I achieved that, I doggedly went after the agents. Four offered me representation.
What if I had approached them five years earlier? I’m certain that all would have turned me down, and I’d have slid into that common pit of rejection/despair. My work wasn’t mature enough at that point. Similarly, I advise that you don’t push too hard for public exhibition until you know you’re ready. There’s no rush; take the time to prepare and grow so that you blow away your viewers the first time out.
You may still be in art school when this occurs, or several years out. However it works, you can be sure of one thing: there’s no way you’ll be as well prepared for your first show as you will be for your fifth. But diving in and undertaking that first show is how you’ll learn to prepare for the later ones.

Establishing Goals and Setting Deadlines
If you’re working to become a successful artist you’re essentially working to become self-employed, building a career that eventually allows you to quit the day job. One of the best ways of achieving this, apart from creating magnificent work, is to master the task of defining goals and setting deadlines. I realize this is a given, but have noticed that artists don’t tend to excel in this area of career-building, while other professionals—architects, executives, lawyers—often do. Why? Because the firms they join assign them goals which if they don’t fulfill, they’re fired. For artists and other entrepreneurs, goals must be self-fulfilled. No one fires you if you fail, but if you’re always broke and your career going nowhere, it amounts to the same thing.
Most artists would frankly rather just create than be bothered with this stuff. I don’t blame them; so would I. Unfortunately if we don’t have a specific goal that we’re constantly working toward—with a deadline assigned to it—we likely won’t create with as much drive and focus. I constantly have to assign difficult goals to myself and my staff, then we must achieve them in a certain amount of time if we’re to take care of our families, as well as all the careers we’ve been entrusted with. I dig some aspects of that, especially when success results, but do weary of the process now and then. I’d a hell of a lot rather just be working on my novels. Unfortunately they’re not bringing home the bacon yet, so I must remain focused on setting goals and deadlines. Because I enjoy the art biz, that’s not such a bad thing.
Everyone I know who is successfully self-employed, be they artist or restaurateur, is faced with this same chore. Those who master it normally succeed; those who do not normally don’t. Of course it would be great if all you had to do was get into a gallery, blow everyone away with your first show, then sit back and field the calls from collectors, critics and talk-show hosts. After all this does happen—to maybe one artist in a million. That’s what is known as Right place, Right time, whether you’re a sculptor, actor or musician. For the rest of us, building up a career is a process that takes many years. You may as well accept that likelihood, with the self-imposed goals and deadlines that will help make it happen. It’s not really a drag, especially when accompanied by successive achievements, and a lot of fun, along the way.
Goals and Deadlines: An effective way to handle this task is write out the goals you want to achieve this year, then over the next few years, then over the next ten. You should assign a deadline to each, since a goal without a deadline is just a wish—to paraphrase Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
Set your sights high but be realistic. Otherwise you’ll needlessly set yourself up for failure and depression—which none of us needs more of. Go back and review the goals every few months, adjusting them to suit the changing course of your life, since all our lives are constantly evolving: tragedy, ecstasy, failure, success. Honestly assess if you achieved what you set out to, and if you haven’t, why not? Don’t be too hard on yourself, since you are your own best ally, but do kick yourself in the butt if necessary. That’s been a regular practice of mine all my life, though I do it kindly.
Example: Here’s a set of goals that I helped a painter in his late ‘20s throw together. It’s typical of what I’m referring to. In fact you can find dozens of sample goal sheets online, but this one of course applies to artists.

Jake’s Ten-Year Plan
This Year:
Join an artists’ coalition. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Get accepted by a cool gallery. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Participate in at least one group show. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Submit to six juried shows in other regions. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Participate in Open Studios Weekend. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Finish one painting every week or so. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Get a handle on my partying.

Two Years from Now:
Submit to six juried shows in other regions. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Design a new website. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Increase prices. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Book first one-person show in the gallery. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Finish fifteen strong pieces for the show. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Submit work to art magazines to get press. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Finish one mature painting every week. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Finally get to Europe. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______

Five Years from Now:
Be in in three galleries in various regions. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Participate in at least one show per year. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Submit to six juried shows in other regions. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Finish one mature painting every week. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Land magazine and newspaper articles. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Increase my prices. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Drink cheap champagne to celebrate. Any date will do.

Ten Years from Now:
Be in five galleries in various regions. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Participate in at least two shows per year. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Continue submitting to six juried shows. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Finish one great painting every week or so. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Make enough money to quit day job. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Prices reflect my many achievements. Start Date:_______ End Date:_______
Return to Europe; drink better champagne. Any date will still do.

Unfortunately Jake didn’t get accepted by a gallery until the second year, but adjusted for that by completing several paintings for a one-person show he set up at a swank restaurant on the 39th Street in Midtown. Of course the show had a deadline, which he either had to meet or infuriate the restaurant owner, so he met it. Nor did he exactly finish a painting that he was happy with every two weeks, but the last I heard, he was holding himself fairly close to this. All of the other goals for his first year he fairly well achieved—thanks in part to this rather tedious list, and the deadlines he assigned to each task. Did he enjoy drafting this? Not much. Did he dig it when things began to click? Sure. Will he keep redrafting this after he begins to succeed? Likely not.
If you don’t feel you need this, cool. Some people can do it just by keeping a mental list that they check off periodically. But that is not a common trait. So you might try this in a way that suits you, as long as the process stays in step with your inspiration. Go back and update it as needed—especially sticking to the deadlines you assign yourself.
I fear that if you don’t do this, or something like it, your career will not really move forward. Hence that coffee shop where you go to hang out with friends and talk about your careers, and how wish you wish yours was farther along? Ten years from now you’ll still be having the same conversation, only with less passion. Please don’t do that to yourself. Set the goals, set the deadlines, then achieve them repeatedly, since this is a process we pretty much follow our entire lives. Once things go well, you can write me a note from your vacation spot in Jamaica, and tell me how glad you are that you kicked yourself in the butt all those years ago. I would enjoy receiving that.

Photographing Your Work
I’m not a technical writer, so I’m not going to get into the intricacies of photography in that sense, but I will cover the basics.
I used to hire photographers to shoot slides and transparencies of my artists’ work. Now we do everything digitally, whether I’m working with a professional or one of my staff members. A pro will typically charge by the hour, whatever the going rate is. This doesn’t mean you have to hire the most expensive shooter in town. Instead, try to find an emerging pro who shoots out of his home. You can locate these people on the Internet, or through photography societies. Later, as you learn about the process, you’ll be able to shoot your own work competently if you wish.
One of my artists shoots her abstract oils outdoors against the wall of her garage, using a basic digital camera she bought for $250. The lighting is adequate, she crops the garage out of the shot, enhances the contrast digitally, and the galleries all think the photos were taken in a studio. If the day is sunny, she simply puts the piece in mild shade. Because almost all galleries review digital images before asking to see originals, she doesn’t bother printing photos unless this is requested.
This rather unorthodox method works, but ultimately it’s best if you set up a corner in your house where, with the proper lights, you’ll be able to shoot your work indoors, night or day. When you do, don’t use a flash. Like direct sunlight, it will wash out color and cause glare. It’s best if you shoot under controlled studio lighting with covered strobes. If a background must show, it should be neutral.
It used to be a standard practice to shoot both slides and prints, but now most artists keep everything on disc or some form of digital storage, printing only what they need. When a client or gallery requests images, you simply send them by e-mail, following up with a printed photo if necessary. Normally that isn’t needed, everyone is trying to use less paper these days.
Finally, do you need to photograph every work that you create? If you feel compelled to, sure. If not, just shoot the ones you’re happiest with. But please, always be sure to shoot and document a piece after it is sold. You can use the fact of the sale, and where it was placed, for marketing purposes later.
Speaking of which, please try not to look down on words like marketing and promotion. Robert Rauschenberg was a master promoter. So were Diego Riviera, Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keefe. It’s an essential part of the business. It can be a distasteful part if handled poorly, or rewarding if handled with integrity and passion. We tend to prefer the latter approach.

A succinct, well-written resume is an essential tool. Below is a typical one, this for a sculptor who works in stainless steel. Some of the achievements I’ve listed are substantial, some not. I list them all regardless, since as a whole they seem more impressive than they do individually.

1955 Degree in Sculpture Design, CO State University, Ft. Collins, CO.
1962 Studied sculpture under Richard Stankiewicz, New York, NY.

Juried Exhibitions:
2010 Group Show, Leopold Gallery, Kansas City, MO
2009 Two-Person Show, Adieb Khadoure Fine Art; Santa Fe, NM
2008 One-Man Show, Leopold Gallery, Kansas City, MO
2007 Boston Museum of Fine Art
2006 One-Man Show, Adieb Khadoure Fine Art; Santa Fe, NM
2005 One-Man Show, Leopold Gallery, Kansas City, MO
2004 One-Man Show, Khadoure Fine Art; Santa Fe, NM
2003 One-Man Show, Khadoure Fine Art; Santa Fe, NM
2002 Sculpture in the Park, Loveland, CO
2002 One-Man Show, Leopold Gallery, Kansas City, MO
2001 One-Man Show, Khadoure Fine Art; Santa Fe, NM
2000 Sculpture in the Park, Loveland, CO
2000 Two-Person Show, Khadoure Fine Art; Santa Fe, NM
1999 Sculpture in the Park, Loveland, CO
1999 One-Man Show, Leopold Gallery, Kansas City, MO
1998 Two-Person Show, Shidoni Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
1993-97 Sculpture in the Park, Loveland, CO
1993 LauMeirer Contemporary Craft Show, St. Louis, MO
1992 Sculpture in the Park, Loveland, CO

Leopold Gallery; Kansas City, MO
Adieb Khadoure Fine Art; Santa Fe, NM
Vail Fine Art; Vail, CO

Select Commissions:
2010 “Abacus,” BKD, LLP. Kansas City, MO.
2009 “Deep Sphere,” Warner Brothers (for the film Watchmen), Los Angeles, CA
2008 “Hemisphere,” BKD, LLP. Springfield, MO.
2007 “Five Rings,” University of Kansas Hospital, Kansas City, KS
2006 ”Sphere,” H&R Block; Kansas City, MO
2005 ”Horizon Interrupted,” Loveland Sculpture Garden, Loveland, CO
2004 ”Stellar Outpost,” Private Collector, San Diego, CA
2003 “Giving More Than You Take,” Osborne Plaza. Olathe, KS
2002 “Design & Innovation,” Overland Park Convention Center, O.P., KS
2001 “Picasso’s Eye,” Private Collection, Boston, MA
2001 “Design and Innovation,” Mack Truck, Bethlehem, PA
2000 “Floating Sphere,” Private Collection, San Diego, CA
1999 “Ripened Grain,” DeBruce Grain, Kansas City, MO
1998 “Hemisphere in Steel,” Douglas Adams (author), London, U.K.
1997 “Pathfinder,” Private Collector, Santa Fe, NM
1996 “Elevators, Wheat” Kansas City Board of Trade, Kansas City, MO
1996 “The Journey,” Private Collector, Las Vegas, NV
1996 “Westward,” Private Collector, Miami, FL
1994 “Monolith in Steel,” Private Collector, Denver, CO

2010 Kansas City Star
2007 Shy Boy and She Devil, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
2006 Not By Bread Alone, Paperback Book
2005 Southwest Art Magazine
2003 Kansas City Star Magazine
2001 Kansas City Star

This resume fits onto one page and reads quickly. Do I mention that Arlie nearly gave away his first commission? No. Nor, when I was building up his career, did I ever discuss how many rejections he received in the early days. The only thing I discussed was what an exceptional sculptor he was, and the incredible future he was facing. Once he began to achieve his successes, I was willing to discuss his difficult years with clients, since it’s a great story and inspires admiration. Likewise, I advise that you only discuss your work in terms of success, not failure, until the failures are behind you.
Example: When the Beatles, largely unknown in 1962, were preparing to leave Liverpool for a gig in Germany, their manager printed posters promoting a concert they were to give prior to departing for their “European Tour.” That tour was a long-term engagement in a Hamburg nightclub, where they slept in a dank backroom and played eight hours a night for pfennigs. Did this type of promotion detract from their following? To the contrary, it helped establish them. Within two years they were on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the music world was changed forever—if not certain aspects of the world itself.
If your work has substance, these mild exaggerations do no harm. It’s the work that counts; the promotion merely helps you get the public’s attention so they can assess it for themselves. So fill out the resume, exaggerating if you must but never lying. As the years go by you’ll achieve things of greater significance, making moot the need to exaggerate. Of course it would be great if you never had to do this, but rarely will you meet a successful artist who didn’t have to in the beginning. Very rarely.

If you haven’t accomplished enough yet to make for an impressive resume, you can write a biography. A bio sums up your education, philosophies, exhibitions, etc. Just make sure it has real substance. Here’s one we currently use.

Jennifer Boe

Jennifer is a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, and has been working in fiber since 1998. She creates works in needlepoint, interpreting different aspects of contemporary society: junk food, tobacco products, everyday retail items… The fact that she takes a demanding craft best-known as the pursuit of women from another era, and interprets contemporary culture with it, provides an ironic commentary that requires no explanation. Jennifer considers her work a combination of aesthetics and artistic philosophy.

Private collectors nationwide own her work. Other collectors include the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, H&R Block, and the University of Kansas Hospital. She was recently featured in Bust Magazine.

This is a brief bio for a young artist. Naturally our bios for established artists are longer. If you can glean any ideas of how to write yours from this, please be my guest.

Structuring Basic Commissions, Small and Large


Sculpture by Matt Kirby: “Pierced Sky,” Cast Glass, Stainless Steel, Mild Steel. City of Overland Park.

The simplest sort of commission occurs when a client falls in love with one of your works, but it’s already sold. Do you let them go away disappointed? We don’t. Instead, we offer to have the artist execute the same piece in a different size, be it painting or sculpture. This practice dates back to the time of Rembrandt, whose better-known paintings were often executed in three different sizes: study, enlargement, and monumental scale. The pieces are never exactly alike anyway. While they might capture the same mood or scene, there are always slight differences.
Most of our artists love this practice, but a few don’t care for it, since the idea of doing the same piece twice bores them, even if in different sizes. But for those who practice it, they always strive to make the second piece as impassioned as the first, so that it radiates its own particular fire.
If this approach leads to your first commission, make sure the details are spelled out in a letter of agreement. This should discuss size, price, date of completion, and the fact that you guarantee the client’s satisfaction. I mean you already know you’re going to do good work; the guarantee just clarifies this while winning the client’s confidence.

Let’s assume you meet an executive, restaurateur, or politician who wants to commission a large work. If it’s your first commission, please pay attention to what I’m about to cover. It details a set of circumstances that are far more common than not.
In the beginning with commissions, most emerging artists virtually have to give away their work in order to place it, since until you’re established, it’s hard to get the price you’re worth. I’m not saying you should give it away, only that you’ll face some challenges in this respect until your reputation is established. It’s no different for emerging musicians, like the Rolling Stones when they started out, initially performing for almost nothing just to get a gig.
Example: Arlie Regier’s first large commission, prior to joining my gallery, involved a huge work in stainless steel for a city park. He was approached by a local politician about it, and was so thrilled to be placing a substantial piece, that he set the price rather low. This often happens when emerging artists don’t have professional representation, since they tend to underestimate the totality of their expenses, while also hoping the exposure will offset the low price and change their fortunes, not realizing it rarely does. By the time Arlie finished with the hundreds of hours of cutting, welding, grinding and polishing, he regretted giving the city such an insane deal. Worse, no sales resulted after the big dedication. Why? Nothing was promoted.
If the installation isn’t promoted—which requires real forethought and effort—it will have little impact on your career. I’d love to tell you that the crowd who shows up on dedication day will automatically start buying your work the day after, but that’s rarely the case. This is why you must have a thorough understanding of what your real costs will be, why you must get the highest price you can, and why someone needs to promote the fact of the commission both while it is taking place and after it has been completed.
How do you promote a commission? By posting it on your website, notifying friends and clients in an email blast, posting it on your social network site, adding another line to your resume, and getting the press to cover. When the piece is finished, you’ll also want to create a postcard or photographic one-sheet that shows finished work. You can use this to hand out to prospects, while also converting it to a PDF for emailing purposes. And so forth…
Just use your creative sense about how you can announce the significance of this achievement without overdoing it. The possibilities are many. If you’re not sure of what steps to take, sit down with some promotion-savvy friends and brainstorm. Taking those steps will help you land future commissions, with you gradually increasing the price as time goes by.
Arlie? Because he made the sacrifices involved in finishing that first commission, it gave me an installation to promote him with once he joined us. Building from that, I was able to place his smaller works with more clients, win him larger commissions, and convince galleries around the country to carry his work. This lead to many breaks, including a piece in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Hence that first, underpriced commission wasn’t a wasted effort—but it might have been had we not promoted it.
What happens if, say, a restaurateur approaches you about doing a series of paintings for his restaurant but he can’t pay full price? Have him pay as much as he can, then barter for the balance. You can also do this with car dealers, dentists, accountants, contractors, and just about any trade you can imagine. How would I know? Because we’ve done it all.
Of course what you really want is to be well -paid for your commissions—with money, not meals. Sure you want this. Everybody wants this. But it takes time to achieve. So if an opportunity for bartering arises, you might consider it. As long as you strike a good deal, it’s fine. In fact you may want to make a list of people you know who like your work, yet never felt able to buy it. If they provide a service you value, and that you have to pay for anyway, this could be a simple way to start placing works and expanding your client list. Our dentist’s rather large collection reflects how well this has worked for us—and my family has had some damned expensive dental issues. Now if I just could have found a way to do this with the universities.

When you secure a commission, you should draw up a letter of agreement before you proceed with any work and before any money changes hands. This is essential, as it spells out the terms for everyone involved, and normally prevents misunderstandings from occurring later. I’ve provided a sample letter below, based on one we recently used with a patron who was sponsoring a sculpture for a major city.

Gloria Swanson Date
461 Ocean Boulevard
City of the Angels, CA 90210

Dear Gloria:

This is to establish terms between Matt Kirby, Artist, Gloria Swanson, Client, and Leopold Gallery, Art Advisor, in the creation of a monumental sculpture for City of the Angels.

—Title: Pierced Sky

—Design: A sculpture in stainless steel, mild steel, and cast glass, created to conform to the original design, as submitted by Artist and approved by Client.

—Dimensions: 16’ high, 5’ wide, 14’ deep.

—Gross Weight: Approximately 3000 lbs.

—Finish: The mild steel aspects will be powder-coated in a black, mat finish. The stainless steel and cast glass require no special finish.

—Commission Amount: $95,000, which includes delivery and installation.

—Mounting Method: The method of mounting will be approved by a certified structural engineer, as will the stability of the sculpture, which will be fabricated in such a way as to warrant that the steel will not develop metal fatigue from wind, gravity, or natural lateral forces for the duration of its placement. Exceptions will be made in the events of vandalism, accidental damage, extreme weather, or Acts of God. All aspects of fabrication and installation will be approved by Art Advisor and Client.

—Installation: Artist will supervise installation, in concert with Art Advisor.

—Client Approval: Artist warrants that overall design, installation method, and metal quality are subject to approval by Client and Art Advisor.

—Client Monitoring: Client will be kept informed of progress via digital photography, periodically submitted by Art Advisor, as well as by studio visits.

¬—Deadline: Work will be completed and installed by November 3, 2010.

—Copyright: Artist retains copyright, but will grant Client usage in non-salable printed materials and internet promotions, as long as Artist is given credit in each instance.

—Terms: $47,500 downpayment; $23,750 when work is halfway completed; balance upon installation and satisfaction of client.

With sufficiency acknowledged, I sign my name to the above.


Paul Dorrell Gloria Swanson
Director Client

A lawyer didn’t draw this up, I did, although I advised my client to have her lawyer approve it. As for my part, I trust my business sense in landing commissions, negotiating them, and working out the details. Hence I rarely involve lawyers in formalizing agreements, since that tends to delay matters, drives up costs, and can inspire mistrust. But when I do need a lawyer for complex contracts, I hire one who operates on the same basis of mutual fairness that I do. It’s up to you whether you choose to involve an attorney. If you don’t, just make sure that someone with a keen business mind proofs the agreement, looking for weaknesses or missing details.
Regarding the commission for the sculpture described above, we didn’t get the first price we presented, so I had to negotiate to a slightly lower price—which I’d anticipated, so started with a higher price than I thought we would get anyway. The price we did get in the end was satisfactory. By the time the installation was complete, the client was ecstatic, the press coverage good, and the success of that work led to other commissions—but again, only because we promoted the sculptor, good old Matt Kirby.

Excerpt From Chapter 3


Dear Everyone: I’m posting this chapter in its entirety as well, while I sit in LAX, sipping tea and waiting for a flight to San Diego. I’m on the Coast for a series of signings, which I love doing, but first let’s get this handled. Next week I’ll begin posting the more practical chapters, but this one has its place too. I hope you enjoy it. Best,


P.S.  The oil is by Allan Chow, “Kansas City Skyline.”



Unless you’re independently wealthy, like Proust, or marry into money, like de Lempicka, you’ll have to take a day job, night job, or some other kind of job. If you’re driven, you can deal with the job for eight hours each day and still find another four to do your real work at night. That might not be an easy way to live, but it’s not meant to be. The tougher aspects of this life are what cull the good from the average, and the great from the good.
The object is to avoid taking a job you hate. It’s also a good thing if the job leaves the art side of your brain free, so that each day as you labor, your talent is subconsciously building up to the hour when you go home and do the work that counts. One of my painters works for a corporation as a graphic designer, but when he gets home each day he’s too burned out to paint well. Yet he couldn’t think of anything else that had a future, and finally put his art career on hold—a decision he still regrets, though he digs the regular paycheck. Many of my other artists who have succeeded worked a variety of jobs: carpenters, teachers, truck drivers, web designers. One of them was also a graphic designer, but worked for a laid-back firm that wasn’t very demanding, leaving her with less income but more time to paint. Her career has done fairly well, though she wouldn’t mind a larger and more consistent paycheck.
As for me, after college I wandered the country for years, working all manner of jobs before settling down, when I married and started a lawn service. To me, at that time, this was the American Dream at its best. I answered to no one, made my own hours, and had plenty of time to write. The money was good and the rewards of being outdoors great. I did this for eight years, wrote four books in the process, read the Encyclopedia Britannica in the pickup on my lunch breaks, and still had time for family.
This job also made me hunger for greater things, since it obviously didn’t satisfy my ambitions. It drove me to write harder, whereas a corporate gig with a fat salary might have made me lazy. Too much comfort early on, and a preoccupation with material acquisition, may dull your senses. You could wind up becoming a slave to your possessions instead of to your work. Consequently your work may languish. Luxury, if it ever fits the artist’s life, can come later. But be leery of that beast if you let it in the door, since once in, it’s very hard to get it back out—even as it’s bankrupting you.
Self-employment, if you can swing it, is the best way I know for an artist to control her fate. You can clean houses. You can paint houses. You can work as a fabricator, illustrator, carpet-layer. You can start a dog-walking service. You can work as a landscape designer. You can install the landscapes you design. You can paint custom signs. You can paint bodies. You can start a lawn service. This is America. You can do anything here, if you have the will and the drive.
But one drawback of self-employment is that artists who go this route rarely save much. We tend to just make enough to get by, so that we can focus on our art. Then before you know it you’re 50, with nothing in the bank. So if you do attempt this, try to save at least $75 per week, starting in your twenties. If you can maintain that habit, eventually hiring a financial adviser who will help you grow your dough, you’ll find you have even more time for your art, instead of going nuts over unpaid bills. Just be aware that seventy-five percent of all small businesses fail. It takes a dedicated entrepreneur to make one succeed. But if you have the talent for this, the freedom is incomparable.
The alternative to self-employment? Take work with a sympathetic employer, in a sane job where the demands aren’t too great, and where you can go home each night with enough energy to dive into your passions. The choices are yours, as are the jobs. You may not like any of these jobs greatly, but that’s okay. Discontentment with those gigs will help drive you to higher levels of artistic achievement. Just try to have a good time with the process, which at its best is something of an adventure.

Where to Live
Again, I have to bring up Europe, since there is no substitute for fall in Florence, summer in Provence, or Prague in spring. But since few of us will spend more than a few weeks in Siena, let’s focus on this country—which, fittingly, is often an object of longing for Europeans as well.
While Europe is a place where art is woven into the fabric of the culture, America, with its love for the commercial, is a place where art still remains largely outside our culture. Fortunately this is a flaw that is slowly changing. More each year, in small cities and large, art is becoming a standard aspect of education and a valued part of life. This doesn’t mean we’re on a par with Italy yet, but we are making progress.
And while we have overcome many barriers of ignorance, we still have a long way to go. This is less evident in the big cities than elsewhere, but it remains one of our great stumbling blocks. It’s also an issue we must address if we’re ever to live up to the vision that the founding fathers laid out for us—although Mark Twain felt we’d blown any chance of that long ago, when in the 1890s he wrote America off as shallow, greedy, and violent. The observation still applies, and yet doesn’t.
Are there disadvantages to living in certain places as opposed to others? Yes, if you live in a small town it will be harder for you to break out. Sure the Internet has made the world smaller, but there’s nothing like living in a populous city where the galleries are active and the arts alive. This makes it easier to socialize with artists and collectors, invite them to the studio, and befriend them. People like buying art from people they like. Living in or near a population center makes this simpler, but it’s also more costly and harried, so there’s always a tradeoff.
Even so, there’s nothing like taking up residence in one of the major cities for awhile, even if just a few months. In fact I consider it an unparalleled experience. But I’m not recommending that you become overly transient, since in the long run you’ll likely do your best work in a studio you’re comfortable with, in surroundings that inspire you, in a place that feels like home. If you choose a small town, great; the way you compensate is by being represented in a larger city, and by being active in it.
As for suburbs, God help you if you live in one. These are essentially designed as safe places in which to raise children, in a lifestyle that is primarily conformist, reflecting a frame of mind that is often apathetic. It’s not for obscure reasons that Western suburbs—meaning European ones as well—have often been described as sterile. How would I know? I live in one.
After marrying, I decided not to subject my family to the whims of my artist wanderings, so moved us into an old bungalow that the developers forgot to demolish when they built our suburb. My wife and I could barely afford the joint, but it set my children up in a great neighborhood with excellent schools: the same Shawnee Mission District in which I’d been reared. Sure, the suburbs might not teach my kids independence of mind or the need to question authority, but I would.
The drawback was I could never seem to write in that place. So I wrote in the gallery. My first space was downtown, amid the street people and office workers and trash. This was a great place to write. The people were fascinating, the neighborhood was good for inline skating, and I was surrounded by old architecture that whispered of bygone lives. My current gallery, in an old part of the Country Club district, is a good place to write too. It may not have the grit of the first, but for me it still beats the suburbs.
In prior years I always lived either in the heart of a city, or deep in the country. Chelsea in New York or central Connecticut. Ballard in Seattle or a farm on the Olympic Peninsula. Santa Monica in LA or a horse ranch near Solvang. I loved those places, but when the time came to raise a family, I chose a suburb. I’m not unhappy with that, although I sometimes think my more conservative neighbors are. They don’t enjoy questioning their beliefs, but with a rebel like me bopping around, they’re sometimes compelled to.
All I’m saying is you should either live where you’re inspired or work where you’re inspired. The part of the country doesn’t matter, as long as you’re in tune with the rest of the country. Besides, once you start to succeed, you can gain representation in galleries all over the country, who may end up selling your work all over the world. Then you’ll be able to live wherever you want.
How will you gain that representation, and the success that ought to accompany it? Read on. With hard work and dedication, I can help you get there.

Television and the Mass Media
The best thing to do with a TV, in my opinion, is to place it on the receiving end of a baseball bat. Little good has ever come from television, and the longer it’s with us—with its multiple channels, opiate influences and passion-draining hypnosis—the worse it gets. Oh you can make sound arguments for public television and certain dramas and certain comedies, but the bulk of the programming is corrosive crap, perpetually eating at the foundation of our culture, educational system, and ability to relate to one another. Of course I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
There’s so much else to explore, touch, and know in life that an addiction to TV can prevent us from experiencing. Our job as artists is to be out experiencing the world, not to become homebound, spiritually numb victims of Madison Avenue. So if you’re an avid watcher of TV, just be aware that the goal of the networks is to keep you that way, since profit is their primary motive, not cultural growth.
Example: In the late ‘90s I flew to New York to meet my first agent. I hadn’t been there in several years, and was glad to be back. The mood of the place had changed since the ‘80s, having become more sane and upbeat. There was a sense of optimism that I don’t think New Yorkers had felt, really, since the early ’60s. In fact many of the natives, upon learning I was an outlander, asked why I was there. I told them, and in every case they wished me luck. I could tell it made them proud to live in a city where an artist could submit his dreams, and great things might result. I’d never felt more at home in that enormous, swaggering, frenzied metropolis.
I rode the subway across town to my agent’s office, and as I did, packed in with the executives and models and Hasidics, I gazed up at the advertising placards. There was Madison Avenue’s whole mission laid bare. Ads for one of the big networks, they were listing reasons for why you should watch TV:

It’s a beautiful day. What are you doing outside?
Scientists claim we only use 10% of our brain cells. That’s too much.
Hobbies, Schmobbies.
Eight hours a day, that’s all we ask.
Don’t worry, you’ve got billions of brain cells.

And so on.
It’s partly because of garbage like this that I became a writer, and probably why you’re an artist. I could almost see the group of miserable souls who, together in some soulless office, composed these passages. It was so corporate—the very kind of corporate bullshit that people like you and me love to battle. Do our efforts matter? They will always matter.
You don’t want to be a pawn to these commercial empires. Far better to be hip to their game and use them however you choose.
The Internet is similar. We’re daily bombarded with information from a growing number of superfluous gossip blogs, e-magazines, and celebrity-driven websites. If you browse too many, you may wind up neglecting your work and dulling your senses, as if you’ve cut yourself off from the feast of life. I find the Internet in general, and social networks in particular, are adept at helping to deepen that sense of isolation. So while I participate to a degree, I’m careful to keep all that stuff at a distance.
Sure, part of your job is to be informed about the state of the world and its many cultures, but the other part is to live outside that world at the same time that you live within it. There’s nothing wrong with being well informed; in fact it’s a kind of duty. To that end I read the paper every morning, listen to National Public Radio each evening, and read the New York Times weekends. I’m just careful to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of useless information while staying abreast of events. Sure, I also surf useless websites on occasion; hell, it can be fun. But for the most part I only utilize the Internet where necessary, whether in marketing art or conducting research for a project.
What I much prefer is conversation with a new friend, debate with an old one, a bout of volunteerism, a long jog, a brief swim, an engrossing book, a bad play, a good night’s work, or a night of great sex. I get more out of these things than I ever will from an evening of televised tabloids, canned laughter, and websites that steal from my soul rather than feed it.

My brother calls it mood maintenance, his need to regularly bike, ski, rock-climb, or whatever. He loves how this helps him combat the blues. To stay active energizes us; to be energized helps us control our depressions; controlling depression allows us to work better.
I’m no jock but I do dig pushing my body, simply because the high gives me pleasure—hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back; learning to surf in my fifties; swimming twenty laps on a Saturday afternoon—before going out and drinking several beers on a Saturday night. Habits like this make me feel I can accomplish anything, and since I’ve often been faced with crushing odds, that’s helped more than a little.
Why bring this up in a guidebook for artists? Because I’ve noticed that somehow, from art school forward, many artists get the idea that it’s not cool to exercise. I don’t know about cool, I just know that if you don’t do it, the aging process sets in much earlier. And since a career in the arts tends to be something of a marathon, being out-of-shape just makes the challenges that much tougher.
For some people, getting exercise simply amounts to taking a walk each day, while for others it means training for triathlons. Either way, I’m not here to tout this rather obvious maxim. I’m just trying to make your journey easier, and staying fit is one of many things that, by my experience, helps. Or as one of my gin-loving friends once put it before yoga: “Honey, you gotta detox to retox.” That’s not exactly my take on the issue, but to each her own.

The Simple Art of Reading
Do I really have to address something so obvious as this? For those of you who read regularly, of course not. But for those who don’t, I feel I have to mention it for the following reason—the Internet, the magazine trade, and television are slowly killing what used to be a national drive to read books. This is a dangerous trend for any democracy, although I have little faith at this juncture that it will be reversed.
Whether you’re self-educated or attended a university, knowledge is likely something you’ll always hunger for. A great deal of that is acquired through experience and conversation, the rest through books.
I can’t emphasize enough the inspiration that can come from a balanced reading habit. This will broaden your knowledge of the world, history, and artists, which will definitely affect you and your work. It will also assure you of how art is woven throughout all cultures, all peoples, all historical events. Sometimes art is influenced by those events, often it presages them. By reading about the people who populate the history of art, you’ll learn about the natures, drives and adversities of artists from other eras. By studying other subjects, whatever those might be, you’ll simply learn.
None of these things interest you? No problem; perhaps biographies will. When well written, a biography can read like a magnificent novel. If the book’s about an artist you admire, then by the time you finish, you’ll realize how much you have in common—the struggles, the despair, the successes. The book will also fill in educational gaps relating to the humanities, geography, and the commonness of the human experience.
Some of my favorite biographies have been on Orson Welles, Simone de Beauvoir, Degas, Truman, Duchamp, Gertrude Stein, Jim Morrison, Jackson Pollock, Sylvia Plath and George Bernard Shaw. Naturally these works not only discussed the life of the person concerned, but the lives of related figures and events. Then there are the novels and books on history that I love to read, and reread.
Beyond books there are the usual art magazines and periodicals that you’ll find relevant. Some of these will relate to your interests, others you’ll be indifferent to. The right periodical though will keep you abreast of new installations, exhibits, debates, petty squabbles and emerging artists. Most of this is worthwhile, some is not. Either way, the exploration of it can be a great deal of fun.
Combined with new experiences, travel, and devotion to your work, reading will take you places that nothing else can, and open inner doors like nothing else will. It’s the best way I know to commune with those who passed before you. But then I would say that, being a writer.

Graduate School?
Before we go on to some of the more practical topics, I’d like to touch on graduate school a bit. Whether you went or not, or whether you intend to go, I feel it’s important that you grasp the fundamentals of this option.
An MFA is not for everybody, either financially or inspirationally. For those of you who are confident in your talent and connections, it may well be a waste of time. For those of you who don’t feel this way, it would give you a couple of more years to develop your work, as well as those priceless connections that the art world so much revolves around. Even if your instincts guide you toward graduate work, there’s not necessarily any hurry in signing up. Take a year off if you like. Move to some other part of the country, or some other part of the world. See how this affects you. Then when you’re ready, make your return to academia.
Before choosing your school, you might ask yourself why you’re going back. Is it to grow artistically, or are you merely going to kill time and chase boys/girls? Do you want an MFA so you can teach? If you do wind up teaching, will academic life impede your artistic growth or will you thrive within it, despite its inevitable politics, intrigue and obligations? All these can be good reasons for getting the degree, I’m just asking if any apply to you.
If you do decide to return, you may want to consider selecting a school that’s new to you, in a part of the country that’s new as well. This will broaden your experience, and the credibility of your resume.
Assuming you gain acceptance at the school of your choice, what can you expect? Greater freedom, for one thing, to choose the courses you want and to spend a lot of time in the studio. Many of your required courses will be behind you. Now you’ll be able to focus on your work. Also, other artists in the program will, like you, be at a higher level of accomplishment. You’ll find this stimulating—and on occasion frustrating, especially if you feel they’ve outdistanced you. Please don’t think that way; you should run by your own clock, not anyone else’s.
You’ll also get the chance to meet established artists who may occasionally visit campus. Get to know them, if you can. Older artists, for the most part, love helping younger ones. You’ll benefit from their experience, and perhaps pick up a contact or two.
Apart from all this, you’ll also get to spend time with professors who have been in the game for decades. They’ll likely take you more seriously now than when you were an undergrad. Bull sessions over wine or coffee will give you insight, encouragement, and on occasion, discouragement, depending on the nature of the prof and her level of optimism/cynicism.
Many of those professors will tell you about their work, their lives and experiences. Some of them will be outstanding artists as well as outstanding teachers. Some will be average artists but amazing teachers. Others will be just average as both artists and teachers, burned-out on everything—teaching, students, art, life itself—which isn’t to say they didn’t breathe fire at one time, before the burdens of life wore them out.
Try to gravitate toward professors who inspire you, and who have a realistic view of the world you’ll soon enter. Their wisdom is critical.
If you choose to enter that world as an instructor, please just make sure you’re as devoted to teaching as you are to your work. If you don’t feel the drive toward creating as deeply as you do toward teaching, fine. Perhaps that will be your art. If so, I can think of few things more needed or selfless.

Whether we like it or not, America is the country that formed us (unless of course you’re from a different country). We’re citizens of the world, sure, and most of us labor to attain a world view. But whatever our view, this remains the country that gave us the opportunity to pursue our calling, and that formed many of our attitudes.
As Americans we’ve accomplished much for the world that is good, and have rendered plenty that is bad. We’re by turns a mediocre, whining, dissatisfied people, using up resources far in excess of our needs while always demanding more. Yet we can also be brilliant, stoic, generous, and we do remain, despite our various flaws, one of the world’s great republics. I try not to take that for granted, though I often do. I also try to remain mindful of the people who came before me, sacrificing for the right to vote, the right to an education, and the right to a life of dignity.
I don’t discount either all those soldiers who died on our own soil, on faraway beaches, or in distant jungles and deserts; some for the preservation of democracy, others for the most paltry of capitalist motives. Most had no choice but to serve, regardless of whether politicians sent them for reasons of nobility or greed. And going to war changed their lives irrevocably, whether through the loss of time, career, limb, or life itself. Some of them were artists, and many of them hated war.
Regardless of the war, or time in history, those people served so that you and I could have the privilege of drinking beer on Friday nights and complaining about what a bitch it is to be an artist. I know; I did my share of that when younger. Now I just try to remain grateful that I’m able to pursue my dreams and overcome my hardships, since the bulk of the world’s artists will never get that chance.
Grapple with your hardships—you’re meant to. Then transcribe the experience into brilliant work—you can.

Excerpt From Chapter Two

2. Author Photo
Dear Readers: Chapter 2 is often called The Emotional Chapter, since I discuss so many issues that typically are considered taboo, but which I consider critical before launching into the practical aspects of building an art career. I’ve posted this in its entirety, and believe you’ll relate to most if not all of it. I hope you find it of use.




Why on Earth Did You Choose this Profession?
You didn’t, it chose you. Or you were born to it. Or it’s something leftover from a past life that you’ve yet to satisfy. Or maybe you don’t buy any of that and it’s simply what you want to do. Either way it’s all good and sometimes bad, but mainly good if you want it to be.
The journey is long and the rewards many, it’s just that they rarely come as soon as we want or in the way that we first envision—like many things in life.
Most artists think their work will be ready to show to the galleries long before it actually is—just like writers and publishing. You may believe this too. Good. In a sense you must. That will help sustain you while you go about the process of getting ready. And the ego that sometimes made you ashamed when you were younger, for perhaps being too cocky or arrogant—don’t toss it away just yet. You may need it to help bear you through the privations, rejections and periods of self-doubt you’re bound to go through. But I do feel it’s wise to tame the ego. Let it serve you, not you it. Eventually your work will speak for itself anyway, and your ego will have nothing left to prove. And if you never went through that in the first place, congratulations—you’re rare.
Your journey toward master status may be brief or long, depending on the level of your talent and how the breaks fall. If it proves to be long, don’t worry—the greater the struggle, the greater the rewards, as long as you don’t give up. Learning patience is an ancient and priceless virtue. I’ve certainly had to learn it whether I liked it or not—and many times I didn’t. So have the vast majority of artists that I’ve worked with.
So, why did you choose this profession? In all likelihood you didn’t. Like me, you were born to pursue it with all due vigor, damning the torpedoes as you left shore. Cool. I applaud your courage. Now, did you remember to bring a life preserver? You may need one before the voyage is over. At least I have, more than once.

Nonconformist or Conformist?
An artist can be either. There is no written rule that says you have to be radically dressed, tattooed and pierced to dwell in the arts. All you have to be is open-minded. If you can’t be that, at least be bloody good at what you do. Chances are though, if you were born an artist you were also born a nonconformist. This is something you won’t be able to help and shouldn’t want to. In fact you should be proud of it.
Grandma Moses, in her quiet way, was a nonconformist. So was Whistler—God rest his turbulent soul. So were Martin Luther King, Jr., Henry Miller and Simone du Beauvoir. Nonconformists play an important role in our world, forcing conformist society—which also has its place—to question itself, its direction, and purpose. Nonconformists succeeded at this during the McCarthy era, the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam War, and gradually during the escalation of the Iraq War. Conformist society always attacks nonconformists for this, resisting humane change until finally, when outnumbered by voices of reason, they’re forced to acquiesce.
Personally I feel obligated to question society, although that has a tendency to cast me beyond the pale. Fine. The artist normally lives beyond the pale, and is often something of an outcast anyway. At first this may anger you. But later you may see the need for it and the anger will slip away. Let it, although there’s nothing wrong with letting it slip back in now and then. Good work can come from that emotion if taken in doses, but self-destruction is more likely if it isn’t accompanied by self-control.

Where does this nebulous, hard-to-explain, harder-to-define quality come from, and what is it that, well, drives it? I haven’t a clue. Is it essential to what you do? You bet. How will you know if you have it? Because of the way it rides you, rarely letting you rest, never letting you forget your calling. Drive is merciless, ceaseless, and in the worst cases heedless. I ought to know. I’ve been guilty of all that.
My own drive is never-ending. If I don’t write, I don’t feel fully alive. I feel as though I’m skipping out on an ancient and time-honored responsibility, regardless of whether I feel equal to the task or not. I also begin to feel like my emotions will explode. Does that make it any easier to face the blank page each day? It hasn’t yet. Does it give me confidence, even when a day of hard writing may not? Almost always.
Do you need to feel that same drive in order to create? On some level, yes—that is if you want to mature as an artist. Your drive can be mild, impassioned, or insane. But you should feel it in some measure; it’s partly where your inspiration comes from.
What if you feel no drive, but simply enjoy working in whatever medium calls to you? Great. You’re free of a terrific burden, which will allow you to just take pleasure in your art. After all, it’s not required that you be a tortured maniac in order to create. But if you’re trying to reach the higher levels of your discipline, being tortured, as well as something of a maniac, can be a handy thing—if you know how to take it. How do you take it? Like most things, by making mistakes then learning from them. I’ve made plenty. Does that mean I’ve learned a great deal? That depends on who you ask.

Contrary to a commonly held notion, we do not suffer more than other people. There is so much unspeakable suffering in the world—especially from poverty, war, and disease—that many of us in the industrialized nations don’t even know the meaning of true suffering, including me. I’m not saying that artists don’t have it tough, I’m just trying to put things in perspective.
But even if we don’t suffer more than others, we do tend to feel things more deeply. This, combined with our acute sensitivities, intensifies the suffering. Couple that with the usual insecurities, spells of depression, and years of rejection, and baby you’ve got one suffering artist. Or to quote good old Scott Fitzgerald: “…There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pinprick, but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye…”
He wasn’t lying either, since that dude suffered greatly—not necessarily because of what he went through, but because of how he took it. His wife Zelda too, although some claim that by the time she died, in that fire in the asylum in Ashville, she didn’t feel those things anymore. Maybe not, but I’d hate to be the one to speculate on the nature of her emotional state when the flames finally reached her.
Will you suffer? As surely as you eat, drink and breathe. Will your work benefit from it? If you choose for it to. Is this a necessary condition of being an artist? I don’t know about necessary, but I do know it’s common.
All right, so we suffer. But by God, we know how to live too. And by we I don’t mean just artists, but anyone who lives through the power of their creative drive. Few people are given the gift to live this way, few are able to feel so alive between the spells of suffering. That suffering is simply a part of the price you pay for your talent, and since you have to pay it anyway, you may as well pay willingly. The alternative is to live an unenlightened existence, and in the end no one really wants to do that.

Inspiration is in many ways an inexplicable thing as it tends to come from different places for different people. No one can really tell you how to gain it, maintain it, or renew it. But then you won’t need anyone to, since you’ll know this for yourself.
As for me, it tends to run like this: New people who intrigue me; old friends I adore. Riding my bike at night through rough parts of the city, or at 150 down the interstate. Inline skating for miles on a July afternoon. Four belts of whiskey on a Saturday night. No whiskey on other nights. An arousing flirtation. Great music. Great books. Teaching my kids to play baseball when they were younger, teaching them about the world as they grew older, or simply how to give. Telling my wife and sons I love them, but more importantly proving it. A hot night of hard sex where mild pain is as fine as the ecstasy. A cool night of gentle sex where all is sensitivity and warmth. Several nights without sex, since that act must remain special. Backpacking in New Mexico, snorkeling in Key West, canoeing in the Ozarks, surfing at Santa Cruz. Making a sad woman smile. Making an angry man do the same. Entangling myself in a risk that could possibly destroy me. Sunday dinner with friends.
The list is endless. Everyone has their own style, and mine likely couldn’t be more different from yours. Find what keeps you alive and challenged then. If you don’t regularly renew the challenge, you and your work will run the risk of going stale.
For me, inspiration is at its best when I can weep. I don’t mean publicly. I mean when my writing brings tears to my eyes, or some piece of music does, or the thought of an old family tragedy. The tears mean my emotions are fine-tuned, and if my emotions are tuned, I know I can work. If they’re dull and flat, then I have to try to work anyway. You have to work through your depressions, bouts of loneliness, dejection and despair. The work might be abysmal during these times, but it might also be great. Don’t rely too much on inspiration. Rely on day-in, day-out discipline. That will bear you through more than dreaming, although dreaming certainly has its place.
Wherever your inspiration comes from, whatever you must do to keep it stoked, do it—as long as the process is reasonably sane. Like drive and talent, you must maintain this most mysterious of the artist’s traits. Without it, we’d all be lost.

Are You Selfish?
I hate to say it, but selfishness has its place among us. This common but ugly trait can help sustain you through your initial years of struggle. As those years fall away, you’ll likely learn to temper it with a more balanced attitude. But probably the selfishness will, to some degree, always remain. Without it you couldn’t work as well, or with the devotion you’ll need to realize your vision. At least this has been the case with me.
Eventually, if the work is good enough and your confidence strong enough, the selfishness may evolve into selflessness. You may find yourself spending time guiding younger artists, or teaching low-income kids, or guiding your own children, realizing that helping them with their little victories and traumas is far more important than anything you’ll create. Oddly, realizing this often helps you create even greater work. It’s one of those strange contradictions in life, but a damn good one.
So go ahead and keep certain aspects of the selfishness if this is one of your faults, but more importantly, keep it in check. Otherwise you may find yourself without friends, lovers or family. If you’re cool with that, fine. If you’re not, please just be aware of the risks of this trait when left unexamined.

The Bohemian Life
This lifestyle is often overrated. It doesn’t tend to produce great art so much as it does the people who talk about it, and live it. You’ll have to taste of this world to know where you fit in, or don’t, or whether you even care. Life in the cafés and along the endless trail of gallery openings can have its charms, but you’ll likely find that the people who attend so many openings, and adorn so many cafés, rarely create art, they just love being around it. Many of them have either rejected conformist society, or been rejected by it, and wound up finding their home in the art world—a very cool and time-honored practice. After all, this has been a grand tradition since the time of Dante.
These folks—whether they be dilettantes, bohemians, or both—are essential to the arts. They help keep things vibrant. And while they almost never can afford to buy the art they adore, they do keep the openings interesting. Further, if a group of them take you up and talk you up, that’s good. They help spread the word about new talent, and genuinely admire what you do with all the passion of someone who almost could have done it, but didn’t. Hey, maybe they’re too content to bother with trying to get the world’s attention. I, with all the shuddering insecurities that first fired me out of the art cannon, can certainly appreciate the dignity of that.
The point is, you’ll have to decide which you are—dilettante or artist. Normally the two are different, albeit similar, types—and I do not feel that one is superior to the other. If you’re an artist, you’ll find you’re better off in the studio than at multiple parties. That isn’t to say you can’t party, you’ll just have to decide which pursuit is more important. As with most things regarding your work, there will be little to decide, since you’ll know the answer intuitively.
Speaking of intuition, is it important to develop that sense? To me it’s critically important, but only because I have an inner-voice that counsels me with relative reliability. For those of you who don’t hear that voice, or don’t believe in it, follow what you believe, whether logic or anarchy. But if you do hear it, please be sure to listen. Once well-tuned, that voice can become a magnificent guide through the maze of life.

Many of my friends became dope heads when I was thirteen, in 1970. So did I. By the time I was fifteen, many of us were addicts, forever listening to Cheech and Chong, tripping our way through Led Zeppelin concerts, always en route to the next party. My primary addictions were pot, hash and the occasional hallucinogen; smack and coke were preferred by my more reckless companions. By the time I was seventeen I began scaling back, fed up with the destruction of it all, while many of my buddies did just the opposite. I saw talent destroyed and families blown apart. Several suicides resulted, both the actual and the emotional. I watched as people I loved were reduced to lives of waste.
So if this is one of your struggles, naturally I’m a little biased if I urge you to quit or keep a firm handle on it. To me it doesn’t matter if it’s weed, coke, or ecstasy, you’ll never fully get in touch with your artistic power as long as this stuff dominates your life. It limits your growth, ushering in bouts of depression and paranoia, and will tend to make you lazy—a curse for any artist. Eventually good work, with a full life, should be all the high you’ll need.
I realized in high school that I would never become any kind of writer if I had all that ganja hazing my brain. I tried to imagine Mark Twain or Eudora Welty smoking a joint before writing, realized they wouldn’t, and began distancing myself from the insanity. To me the world is too mysterious and full of possibility to cloud it with such voluntary absenteeism. You couldn’t pay me enough to get high again. You could pay a great many of my old friends though, and they’d run right out and buy another spliff.
That isn’t to say I’m more virtuous, or without my own vices; hell, I’m as flawed as the average human being. But it is to say that I’m able to contribute more to my world than I would have otherwise. And I’ve inherited too much responsibility, as I feel we all have, to believe that I can carry out a worthwhile vision from within a cloud of cannabis. Maybe you can—Carl Sagan apparently did—but I find those instances rare.
So like a reformed smoker, I’ll probably never be open-minded about this. To me, rampant drug use was the worst thing that came out of the Vietnam Era—although many great things came out of it as well. We’re still paying the price, though not the way places like Juarez are paying, where thousands of people have been slaughtered in drug wars that are directly linked to our addictions. There’s nothing cool about that.
Even so, many people when young are convinced that they have to get wasted to seem cool. Then in no time their lives become a wreck. This is why so many celebrities go through rehab. Those who are unsure of themselves keep hoping they are cool, but are worried they’re not cool enough, so they mistakenly believe that getting trashed with their sycophants will fix it. The tragedies of Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Janice Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix indicate how well that works. Please don’t let it do that to you.

This is the same as dope, and just as bad. It’s also one of my vices. I don’t drink hard, I drink mostly on weekends, and then try to restrict myself to a few drinks a night. Sometimes I fail at this, mostly I don’t.
I have a few drinks in one of the cafés, my wife and friends have a few drinks, she and I go home, I wrestle with the dogs (my kids having outgrown that nonsense), wrestle with my wife (if she’s so inclined), sleep, and wake up the next morning with the sensation gone—as long as it was just a few drinks.
When it becomes six or eight, that’s different. The gray cells start dying off, your body suffers, the hangovers become a daylong hell, and before you know it, you’re addicted. That’s why I only drink moderately, although I didn’t always. When I was younger, if Saturday night wasn’t accompanied by six or eight drinks, I felt like I wasn’t living. Absurd. Eventually I learned moderation, as we all must. I also learned a little more about living.
I know I’d be better off never drinking, like my yoga instructors, but man that sounds so boring. Good bourbon, good gin, or a cold ale are things I’ve always relished. And I’m just stubborn enough to believe that this vice, in moderation, will never be as debilitating as the drug vice, even though of course that isn’t true. Would I be better of without the booze? Sure, and maybe someday I’ll even have the courage to drop it.

Depression: The Artist’s Malaise
Not until I was in my thirties did I realize that I’d been coping with some form of depression since childhood. This was so much a part of my nature that I never bothered to examine it. Instead I assumed that I was something of a freak and would just have to make the best of it. I hadn’t known anything different, and therefore had no reason to believe that I would ever experience a life lived otherwise, going under the delusion that this condition was rare, and that I’d best keep quiet about it, lest the shame of my malady become better known. On top of this I was a bit neurotic, being a writer, but trusted that would level out over time.
Well I never was a freak and neither are you. What I didn’t know, when younger, is that the vast majority of the human race is often coping with some form of depression. For some it’s just an occasional bout, fleeting and brief; for others it’s of greater duration, making even the simplest tasks onerous; for yet others it’s so crippling that it makes life itself an impossible burden. Coming from a family of two suicides and its share of emotional illness, I’m familiar with depression of that severity.
Compared to people who are severely, or clinically, depressed, my own case would have been considered mild. It never seemed mild to me—hailing from the background that I did, and the insane adolescence that I went through—but that’s because I was the one living it. It’s also because, in my youthful bouts of self-pity, I sometimes believed that my life was hard to the point of being unbearable. Well I had a lot to learn about what is truly hard and all the things that are actually bearable.
Does this mean that my difficulties were easy, or that yours are either? No. There is nothing easy about working in obscurity for decades, while still maintaining your optimism, loving others, remaining inspired, taking rejection after rejection like blows to the gut, maintaining your dignity, maintaining your sanity, earning a living, coping with creditors, finding time to sleep, and still giving all you can to your part of the world. That isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy. If it were, we wouldn’t learn a damn thing in the process of living it.
When did my depressions begin? I think at about age eight, when I first realized I didn’t fit in with conformist society. By the time I was thirteen, this made me feel unworthy. By the time I was fifteen, it drove me into bouts of destructive behavior. By the time I was eighteen, I resolved to deal with it through hard work, aggressiveness, and arrogance. By the time I was twenty-one, I realized the arrogance had backfired, that I’d driven away most of my friends, seemed incapable of making new ones, and felt even farther from finding my way. I couldn’t carry on a conversation, couldn’t snap out of my inner darkness, and didn’t feel alive. What I did feel was unwanted, untalented, and without purpose. My depressions deepened.
This and other complications led to my first breakdown, in college. That was followed a year later by a worse breakdown, when finally I began to contemplate suicide—a definite sign that I was taking myself too seriously.
Why didn’t I go that final step? I realized I just wasn’t made that way, so decided to accomplish something with my life instead. I mean I felt like I’d been born a loser, that no matter how hard I worked it would all come to nothing, that in the end I’d always fail—at art, love, achievement—and that this fate had been preordained. Realizing this, I said Hell, what do I have to lose? From there I began to rebuild, realizing that every minor victory was a step toward the next. Somehow after that I learned humility, how to poke fun at myself, and rediscovered joy—whether joy in the moment, or in completing some gargantuan task. I’ve been building from that point ever since.
It was also at that time that I began reading Nietzsche: “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets successfully through many a bad night.”
So I moved ahead with renewed vigor, throwing everything I had into the writing basket. Unwise move? Perhaps, but there are no half-measures in art. It’s all or nothing. That’s part of the insanity. It’s part of the beauty too.
That was in 1982, the year of my last breakdown. Now? I suppose I’ve been humbled too much, have accomplished too much, and love life too much to ever go down that road again. I tend to approach things with humor, and a determination to never let adversity destroy my underlying optimism—an optimism that has been much tested by adversity. This isn’t to say that I don’t still have my moments of self-doubt, I’ve just learned to control them.
How did I manage to leave the world of darkness and come to live in a world of light? By trying to give more than I take. Besides, I’ve never fully defeated my depressions and am fairly sure I never will. Roughly twice each year I still go through a bad bout for a couple of months. But I know that each will eventually lift, and that I only have to keep my vision intact in order to emerge from it whole. It helps too that I have many people who count on me. I suppose you could say that several of them love me, but only because I’ve worked hard in giving to them, a thing that I value even beyond my work—well, as much as my work, which is going pretty far for an artist.
Why have I told you this? Because I’m aware that many of you deal with similar issues, but are reluctant to discuss them—as if this common occurrence is a mark of shame. I want you to know that you’re not alone. Depression is a part of the human condition, especially among artists. I mean look at what you’re up against: when you’re unknown, no one wants your work; for years you’ll struggle to emerge from the amateur level, then even after you become a master, society will be largely indifferent to whatever you create; you’ll have to surmount enormous odds to make even a modest income from your art; you can’t walk away from it because it won’t let you; you have to create, even if it kills you; and the whole time you’re trying to present this gift of wonder to the world, the world doesn’t hear you because it, for the most part, doesn’t speak that language. Who the hell wouldn’t be depressed?
But take heart. Consider how fortunate you are to have your vision, and to be able to act on it, when many people don’t even know the deeper meaning of vision. That is nothing to be depressed about. That is cause for celebration.

Neurosis: The Artist’s Badge
This ties into depression, but must be addressed separately. I’ll be brief, since it’s more important to focus on your art, the creation of it, and the eventual succeeding of it. The difficulty is I can’t do that without first covering these essential subjects.
Just as with depression, in my opinion the larger portion of our planet’s population is in some form neurotic—whether mildly or severely. This naturally includes artists. It may well include you. I’ll tell you right now that it definitely has included me over the years.
Is an artist’s form of neurosis any worse than that of the average person? Not in my opinion. Is it better? No. Is it more interesting? If it produces good work, yes, and sometimes even if it produces bad. Does that excuse artists from confronting, and dealing with, their neuroses? No, though not all people are capable of this sort of self-examination. But for those who can, that journey of discovery and self-awareness may be one of the most profound you’ll ever take.
Either way, being a bit neurotic doesn’t make you different from everyone else, it only makes you part of the family. Please don’t ever fall under the illusion that your quirks make you inferior; to the contrary, they make you like the rest of us. Observe them, know them, work on them, but whatever you do, please learn to deal with them. Otherwise, unfortunately, they will in time deal with you. I’d rather you were their master, not the other way around.

It may seem foolish to discuss this, but as with the previous subject, I don’t feel I have any choice—especially during this time in history when so many of us live lives of emotional alienation.
Few things have been more important to my work than the intense love I feel for certain people. I went out of my way to cultivate this after I hit my thirties, since when younger I excelled at the opposite. Now though love feeds me every day.
When I was a younger man working on my first novels, my self-absorption, anger, and ill-informed opinions tended to drive others away from me. That made for many lonely nights with the typewriter—not necessarily a bad thing for a writer, although there were some days when I just wanted to knock myself off and get it over with.
Living that way at times seemed hard. Oh I had my share of old friends, but our friendships were primarily based on our partying past, with little bearing on the present or future. I also had my share of lovers, but eventually my uglier traits would drive those women away, and I’d be alone with the typewriter again. In other words I wasn’t really connecting with anyone, yet so desperately needed to.
This can either make you crazy or make you strive for change. Well I was already crazy, so decided to try for change. I went about it in many ways, but the most basic was by admitting my faults, then trying to improve on them. This was an exasperating process, where for years what little progress I made hardly seemed to compensate for the pain and humiliation I experienced. But still I kept at it, forcing myself to face myself, mostly because I’m one of those people who can never seem to go through life in the way I started out, so am constantly working to evolve to a higher plane.
Fortunately, through all those strange years, my closer friends never gave up on me, and to them I owe a great debt. These were kind people who were happy with themselves, their place in life, and wanted to see me get to a similar place. Their gentle patience was a gift I didn’t deserve, but they gave it anyway, which made that time of transition much easier to bear.
The years went by. I became a husband and father, and realized that my children needed to be raised by an adult rather than a self-absorbed, overgrown boy. So apart from everything else I’d worked on, I began working on that. I’ll likely be working on that one for the rest of my life, but only in a way that fits—part boy, part man; part mischief-maker, part disciplinarian; soother of insecurities, wrangler of the same. Sure, I don’t fit society’s typical definition of an adult. Thank God, since that usually means in order to be an adult you have to lose the kid in you, and a kid’s capacity for joy. I simply can’t accept that. I’d be dead as an artist, and man, if I did.
As I matured love became easier to win, but more important to give. Love of family, friends, even warmth for the occasional stranger who only needs a moment of my time or a kind word. This is the kind of love that feeds me each day.
Then there is romantic love, which is altogether different but just as important.
I’ve been lucky enough to fall passionately, insanely, connectedly in love several times in my life, with women who felt the same toward me. It was glorious, wildly erotic, and inspiring beyond words. Each of those loves was precious; not one will ever die, since real love never does, despite the inevitable flaws that all loves have.
When I met the woman who would become my wife though—Annie—I knew we were fated after the second date. She was the only one I’d encountered who was willing to endure the difficulties that we both knew lay ahead, since I was an unpublished writer. I felt she would give me the love I needed, just as I would give her the same. Fortunately we were right. Does this mean it’s been an ideal marriage? Judging from our periodic fights, I’d say not. Besides, I’m pretty sure there is no such thing. But ours has been a very human marriage, with all the usual ups and downs. I’ve no doubt more of those await us. We’ll deal with them in our own way, since our mutual respect is deep, and since neither one of us tries to force the other into being something we are not. In other words, we give each other a lot of room.
With the other loves that ended, I always felt changed by the time I recovered from the loss—more open to the world, and more grateful. Had I held myself back, the road would have been calmer but so much less interesting. As much pain as the woman or I might have gone through on parting, I would do it all again just to feel the ecstasy, the certainty that I had known this person before, likely would again, and that it wasn’t really ending here. Of course love of that intensity normally doesn’t make for a stable marriage—not that marriage is for everyone—but if you’re wise enough, perhaps it can.
You can try to work without requited love, like Emily Dickinson or Edgar Degas. They worked exceptionally well without ever realizing their amorous dreams; in fact you might say that their frustrations sparked their work. But to me it’s much better if you can open yourself to this emotion, whether you’re straight, gay, sexually driven or sexually indifferent. Don’t worry if no one taught you how to love when you were a child; it is entirely possible to teach yourself. But other people can teach you even better. Let them. And if you fail to inspire love the first or second or twenty-fifth time out, don’t worry. Like depression, this too is far more common than most people admit. But I believe the whole attempt, and journey, can be improved upon with practice. Just be patient with yourself, and by all means maintain a sense of humor.
Romantic love has always been, and always will be, a maddening, ecstatic but painful journey—without maps, with many wrong turns, and a lot of wrecks. Yes it has its risks, but I’ve always felt that the bigger the risk, the more rewarding the payoff. The deeper the wound too when everything busts up. But wounds can build character, painful though that process is.
Remain open to all that love can offer, if that suits you. It’s one of the greatest gifts of living in this world. It can bring the pot to boil. It can open the floodgates. It can set the fires roaring. It can also destroy you if you let it, but that’s a gamble you have to take, and since you’re an artist, gambles should be nothing new. Within reason, you should be willing to take them all.

Man, that was a messy, emotional and rather personal chapter. But art largely comes from emotion, and there’s just no way I’m going to write this book without addressing these subjects. Of course practical advice, based on my years as a gallery owner, is equally important, and I cover those details thoroughly in the succeeding chapters. But the practical aspects are only half the story, and I simply cannot write a half-book, let alone one with the tone of a motorcycle repair manual. You’re all real people, with real lives and challenges. I’m not about to ignore the significance of that. I cover these subjects because I know they must be discussed, yet rarely are. Well now that we’ve discussed a few of them, we have the foundation and tone with which to discuss the rest.

Excerpt from Chapter One

2. Author Photo

Dear Readers: For those of you who are curious about the book, I’ll be posting most of it over the next few months. Thus every Monday I’ll post a large portion of each chapter. Glean what you want from this. I own the copyright so can share it however I please. I’ve been told by a lot of artists and instructors that LTAL has been very helpful to them. Hope the same proves true for you.




Who Am I?
I’m a gallery owner and art advisor, as I have been since 1991. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to rack up many accomplishments, which were built on the wreckage of multiple failures. In the business sense, the aesthetic sense, and the giving sense, I suppose I’m considered a success. That’s cool, but that state of success was preceded by a lifetime of artistic and financial struggle—bounced checks, creative frustration, black despair, and hundreds of rejections for myself and my artists.
Why rejections for myself? I’m a novelist. Writing is the primary passion of my life—driven, maddening, fulfilling, by turns sane and insane. Just as many of you can’t live without painting or sculpting, I can’t live without writing. The only reason I got into the art business was to support my family on the road to publication, which says a lot about my initial naiveté in both professions. But I got into this gig to succeed, and so undertook it with the same passion with which I write. I also got into it to make a difference in my part of the world, not just make a buck.
Have our successes come easily? No, for me they took decades of sacrifice, dedication, and very long hours. Was it all worthwhile? In some ways yes, in others no – all achievements have their price. My artists and I have paid that price, just as everyone must—usually throughout our lives.
Why have I written this? To help you succeed as an artist. The definitions of your success—whether aesthetic, rebellious, monetary, or all of these—are up to you. My job is to assure you that you can achieve your goals, and to assist with their realization. This book, based on all my years of experience, can help you do just that. I’ve been immersed in the arts since the ‘70s; many of my artists since the ‘60s. Collectively we’ve learned a great deal along the way.
Is this book only for artists? No. I’ve written it for the student and teacher, the writer and reader, the gallery owner and collector, and anyone else who lives within the world of creative drive. Further, the things I’m going to cover are not typically taught on campuses. Why? Because while art professors are greatly skilled at what they do—guiding raw talent toward mastery—most have never run a gallery. Why would they? That isn’t their profession, any more than to instruct in painting is mine. But unless you’ve managed a gallery, with all the risks and challenges that come with one, it’s not possible to fully teach about building a career that works. Both points of view, and both realms of experience, are essential.
And by teach I don’t mean perpetuating shopworn methods that usually lead nowhere. I mean cutting through the bull, being honest about what works and what doesn’t, and understanding why the art business, as it has traditionally been structured, is more often a recipe for failure than success.
Over the course of my gallery’s existence I’ve caused roughly $12 million to be invested in the artists of my region, about half of this through projects I’ve overseen, the other half through gallery sales. Is that big money? When compared to those rare dealers who routinely trade in the millions, no. But for the rest of us who struggle just to pay the rent, this series of feats have far exceeded my initial goals. They’ve allowed me to live the dream, though during the initial years it seemed more of a nightmare.
Now when a gallery begins to succeed in selling art, does that make it commercial—assuming that the work it carries is not? No more than when an indie film succeeds. You don’t compromise on the art; you create a market for it, however edgy it might be. Yet when an artist begins to sell well, their work and the galleries that carry it are often branded this way. This exemplifies a common dilemma in the arts, including music. The majority of all artists want to sell, but once they begin to, they’re sometimes ostracized by their peers.
Why? Because certain snobs look down upon the business of selling, as though it degrades the work. What, so it’s better to starve? Interestingly, I’ve noticed that people who have this view often are not artists, which basically makes them armchair quarterbacks, since if you’re not on the field, you can’t comprehend the risks of the struggle. Van Gogh would have given anything to sell just one painting. Warhol sold very well, and inevitably came under fire for doing so.
Where does this contradictory view come from? I believe it’s rooted in the fact that artists never want to see their work associated with a retail business—which they shouldn’t. Art creation should take place outside the market, driven exclusively by passion, vision, and a little bit of hell-raising where needed. However once a piece has been delivered to a gallery, it has indeed been delivered to a retail business. Frankenthaler understood this, Magritte understood this, and Picasso understood it best of all.
If a gallery is to be run competently, it must be businesslike. And like any firm, it must have a marketing plan, accurate bookkeeping, public relations skills, sophisticated graphics, annual projections, satisfied creditors, and the ability to convince collectors to invest repeatedly in new artists, so that those artists can pay their rent. Yet a gallery, like a publisher, is often also a place of idealism—lofty philosophies, lofty goals, a group of people working toward a common end that is bigger than they. This is the orientation of my place. But we’re a business first, since if we don’t succeed, nothing is advanced and all our families suffer—meaning those of my artists as well as my own. In this wealthiest of nations, I’ve never found that acceptable as an option.
My point? Unless a dealer can get collectors to pay a respectable sum for the work of artists in their region, then the arts there aren’t being advanced. No sort of commerce can grow without the investment of capital, and neither can the arts. When all the well-intended talk is over, if private and corporate collectors aren’t putting money on the barrelhead, it’s just lip service. Far better for accomplished artists to be paid what they’re worth. Your region in general will benefit from that in terms of cultural growth—schools, corporations, institutions, and other disciplines in the arts. Cultural growth, throughout the country, is what I’m most interested in. This is at the heart of what I call the Regional Renaissance—a concept we’ll get to later.
Convincing collectors to put down real money for art is a challenge I’ve been dealing with for decades, and I’ve done the bulk of it in the Midwest—an area not always known for impassioned collecting. My drive to achieve this has helped bring us a plethora of projects—an enormous collection for H&R Block in virtually all media; an eighty-five-foot sculpture in blown glass for the University of Kansas Hospital; a sculpture in stainless steel for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; dozens of works both large and small for a convention center in Kansas City; all monumental sculpture for the National D-Day Memorial in Virginia; a monument of Mark Twain in Hartford; paintings for restaurants and hotels; a monument for the Capitol Building in DC; and thousands of works for private collectors. Steven Spielberg has acquired art through my gallery, as did Charles Schulz and Douglas Adams.
What have I sold these people? A wide variety of art, since I believe that well-executed contemporary, conceptual and representational works are all legitimate. I’ve never been interested in debates about the opposing worth of these disciplines. To me, certain of these approaches advance new frontiers while others maintain critical standards. If I’m going to spend time arguing, it would be about the need to curb poverty and offer opportunities to low-income teenage artists, rather than debating the merits of Duchamp’s Readymades as opposed to Monet’s landscapes. To me, both have their place.

Who Are You?
By this, I mean what are your goals? Do you want to get accepted in juried exhibits? Do you want gallery representation? Do you want representation in more than just your region? Would you like to make a profit from your work? Do you want to give it away? Do you want to shock people? Inspire them? Amuse them? All of these are legitimate goals. I’m just urging that you define yours—although of course you likely already have.
Then after you answer those questions, consider these: Are you content with your work? Do you feel you’re pulling the best out of your guts that you can? Do you sometimes curse your fate, wondering why you were born with this inexplicable drive that society so rarely appreciates? Do you sometimes want to pack the whole thing in, only to find you can’t? Are you still wondering if you’re good enough, no matter how many years you’ve been working?
Welcome to the family—all this is part of our makeup, it’s just rarely discussed. But it’s when we address the rarely discussed and taboo that we often learn the most.
Something else—regardless of what kind of artist you are, please never forget that art—music, painting, writing, sculpting, creating—is a cornerstone of any civilized society. In fact the nonconformity that art usually springs from is an essential part of any democracy, since no society can progress without a healthy sector of nonconformity. After all if we didn’t have nonconformists, we’d still have slavery.
Is the artist’s purpose frivolous then? No. It’s just as significant as that of the farmer, the architect, the philosopher, the physician, the legislator, and the teacher. Those roles are all interwoven, not one of them more substantial than the other, each with its own critical weight. We are here, you and I, to make sure that society never forgets our place in that roll call.

Wonder Bread, Seven-Grain, and the Regional Renaissance
When I was growing up in Kansas City in the ‘60s, our cultural life was much like the Wonder Bread the schools gave us to eat—bland, unoriginal, devoid of passion. For years I thought this was confined to my part of the country, but as I began to travel, I learned it was a national malaise. Gradually I realized that the malaise had existed even in places like Westchester and Marin County. Only in certain pockets—Greenwich Village, Central Chicago, North Beach—had it been any different. Oh every city had its art movement, no matter how small, but the impact this had on the rest of each city was minimal, primarily because these movements tended to be centered in bohemian enclaves whose participants were written off as weird.
But now this country is going through a Regional Renaissance unlike anything in its past. In every region—the Midwest, the South, the rural West—art creation is assuming a life of its own outside New York and Los Angeles. What does this mean? For painters and sculptors who for years were told that if they weren’t showing in Soho, they didn’t count, the story has changed.
The art world is no longer centered in New York, but began dispersing across the country in the ‘90s, a movement that was much facilitated by the Internet. In Austin, Albany, Columbus, Sacramento, and hundreds of other towns, work is being created that could easily pass muster in Soho. Further, collectors in each region are beginning to participate. Ditto regional art centers, high schools, junior colleges, universities, arts commissions, and virtually every other entity in the game. These organizations, and the people who staff them, have worked for decades in bringing about this change. The beauty of it? Their efforts are paying off.
You can benefit from this renaissance. That’s why dealers like me have labored so hard in promoting the artists of our region. We were tired of being frozen out by the some of the more closed aspects of the elitist world—brilliant though it often is. So we created a world of our own.
When I was in grade school, my only experience with that world was when the Art Lady—a very kind but rather uninspired volunteer—would come to our class and in a nasal Midwestern accent discuss Monet and van Gogh. I’m not sure that she tapped our passions, but at least she made the attempt, which was more than the district was doing. The Shawnee Mission District, like most school districts at that time, spent a lot of money on football but little on the arts. And while SMD has since mended its ways to an extraordinary extent, at the time it was as imbalanced as most other districts nationwide.
My mother sensed the injustice of this, and tried to give us a deeper cultural grounding. This was at the same time that she discovered yoga and meditation, when fried food disappeared from our diets, and when concepts of positive thought were reinforced daily. Her journey, and the one she took us on with her, is a curious tale, but I have no room to discuss it here. I’ve done that in a novel, Cool Nation, which I suspect will appear in print one day.
So my mom, who our less imaginative neighbors thought nuts, gave my brothers, sisters and me a rare opportunity to explore individual growth. It was at this time that all Wonder Bread disappeared from our house, replaced by the seven-grain that she bought at a health-food store in Brookside. Not long after that she made each of us read Ram Dass’ Remember Be Here Now and other books of that ilk. She even asked my father to read it, which he did, then encouraged him to keep from mocking it, which he didn’t.
My dad, a bare-fisted contractor from the Ozarks, was shocked by the changes in his wife, but did his best to change in pace with her, hoping that if he did, it would save their marriage. Unfortunately, it did not.
Why do I mention this? Because in cities all over the country at that same time, other men and women were making similar discoveries. If they hadn’t, the renaissance we’re currently enjoying would not be taking place. Many of them did this at the price of ostracism, cruelty, and petty gossip that was damaging to themselves and their families. But for those who understood the worth of integrity and growth, none of those things mattered.
Ironically, the opportunities for those changes were rooted in two of the greatest tragedies of the Twentieth Century—the Great Depression and World War II. Had my parents’ generation not answered the savage challenges of those events, the seeds of prosperity that made the Regional Renaissance possible would never have sprouted. So my hat is off to that generation, and all the sacrifices they made—which many of them didn’t even survive to see the result of. And yet had it not been for the questioning nature of people like my mother, who were willing to listen to the generations that followed, we would never have known that a less conformist world existed, and would have apathetically gone on eating white bread for the rest of our lives.
Even so, this notion of rebelling against a conformist society was limited mostly to the middle and upper class. In the inner cities, especially among non-whites, the rebellion took on a different tone, since people there were primarily concerned with the rights they were being denied more than the freedom to express themselves. A cultural renaissance would gradually be felt in the urban areas too, but it would take decades for it to have much of an impact. That impact has been minimal, with opportunities for black and Hispanic artists still too few, but they are slowly growing.
What is the upshot of all this? For better or worse, the reins of the country are now in different hands. These generations tend to be more engaged in the arts and less shocked by nonconformity. I mean Cadillac recently ran a series of ads for which the background music was Led Zeppelin. Cadillac? This should tell you something. Those in charge now are juiced by the suggestion of nonconformity, even while certain of them are conformist in nature. In fact the byword for all things accepted, even at the executive level, has become Cool.
What does this mean for artists? A broader point of view, and a broader market, have opened up. No matter where you live, you can work with it. How? Keep reading and I’ll show you.