Letter 1: What it means to be an artist

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN MAY 2012.

 

I am an artist, which means that I like to create – visually, musically, or verbally… It doesn’t matter. I live my life in order to create, and I get my sense of fulfilment when I am being creative. If I am not being creative, I have a tendency to slip into a sort of a depression, because I don’t feel that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

The way I see it, an artist only has so much time allotted to him, and in that span of time, the artist has to create every masterpiece he is capable of creating. In the beginning, the artist has not much technique and lacks sophistication in his method, but his ideas are wild and abundant. At least that is how it was for me. I had a million things to say and a million ways of saying those things, and although my technique was more or less nonexistent when I started, I could push forward on the strength on my ideas alone. My creativity propelled me forward.

In those early years, it is a good idea to sketch and solidify every idea you have. I find that as I get older, the amount of ideas that come to me has lessened. I perhaps don’t have as much to say now as when I was in my early 20’s. But the ideas I had then are all in my notebooks, and although they had been crudely executed, they are alive and ready to be worked with. Now that I have more knowledge of technique, execution, composition, marketing, and so on, I can recycle the sketches I made when I was first starting out. And I can execute those ideas more skilfully then I could have done when I first came up with them.

But getting back to the subject of being an artist, I feel it almost as my duty to constantly push forward and improve my technique, composition, ability, and so on. Because with every level of improvement, new masterpieces become possible. When my technique was less developed, I created certain very good paintings, and these paintings could have only been created at that time. As my feelings and tastes change, I gravitate towards creating different things, with different color schemes, different subjects, and in different sizes. It looks to me that I am going through phases, each lasting a certain amount of time, during which I create paintings that are similar in style. Then, something shifts and the phase is over. Suddenly I shift into a completely different phase of creation, and everything changes.

This is perhaps why artists often feel uneasy when they are not working. Subconsciously, I am aware that I have only a limited amount of time to work in the current phase of creating, and if I do not use my time wisely, I may not be able to create my masterpiece, or my best painting from this particular phase. Furthermore, if I am not always working and learning and improving, I am falling behind when it comes to creating my future masterpieces. I think painting in general is like weight-training, and once in a while, you paint and come up with that incredible painting that takes everything to the next level. This is what I am referring to as a masterpiece. And in some way, creating that masterpiece is equivalent to setting a weight-lifting record. It is simply not possible to do without training – i.e. without regular painting!

Now, I think you would not just select the profession of an artist if you weren’t completely in love with painting and also incredibly talented. Because being an artist is an obviously difficult profession, and you have to be quite good in order to be able to make a living from it. You have to love painting, you have to know what the people want, and you have to give them what they want, but in your own unique and individual way. It’s probably going to take years before you have any sort of success whatsoever, so if you do have some success in the beginning, don’t take it lightly. Be acutely aware of the kind of reaction you receive to your work, and if anything sells, try to understand why it sold. Sales in the art world are difficult, so it’s good to start thinking about them early on.

At the same time, do not fall into the trap of just making art for money. If you’re working on a painting and thinking how much you will sell it for, you have already slipped off the path and are walking towards the abyss. I think that the moment you put money first, you have become a sell-out, and your paintings will not have any soul. In my own experience, someone once told me that he will give me a hundred dollars to paint a painting. I could not do a good job because that idea, that the work in front of me would be sold for one hundred dollars, kept interfering with the creative process. The rule of thumb should be – make your painting and don’t think about the price of it until you have to exhibit and sell it. I think that monetary concerns while painting are counterproductive and have no place in the creative process.

That is to say, I hope you don’t get into the art world strictly for the money, even if you are really good at what you do. I expect that you will use my advice for something more than the mere making of money. My hopes are that my advice will help you reach the next level in your work and help you to create your masterpieces. Money should always be secondary.

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