Everyone in your life will give you advice, but there are some standard pieces that will reoccur that often get misinterpreted. When applying these tried and true notions to artistic dreams, it’s important to embrace them wholly. I’m going to break down some of those well-known proverbs to success through the lens of the artist.
Charles Bukowski’s grave is marked “Don’t try”, not because he’s saying not to pursue, but if you must ‘try’ or force yourself to pursue, you’re doing it wrong. The affliction to create must be so deeply embedded in your being that you are forced to take wild risks to realize your dreams.
I’ve never questioned myself when faced with the decision to risk my health, my bank account, or my freedom when in pursuit of my dreams. In Tokyo, while making a film, I was running out of money and began taking any and every odd job I could from pouring champagne at fashion events to testing video games to starring in commercials to laundering dirty money. I saw it all as part of the grand plan and nothing was superfluous. Nothing was ever questioned as to whether I was still on the right track. The track takes many turns that cannot be anticipated. The only thing that is important is to hold on and continue because cutting my losses at any point would mean to fail myself and that isn’t ever an option.
One Step at a Time
When embarking on a journey to the grocery store, we don’t look at the grocery store the entire time we drive there. It’s impossible. We look at the turn or the stop light ahead. One step at a time, we reach our destination. And forget your past. Your GPS never asks where you have been, and is not fearful of the route, it just goes.
When pursuing artist endeavors that often seem like monstrous undertakings we need to frame them as a list of directions. One step at a time does it become a reality. This breakdown can be applied to any art form, but for simplicity, I will use filmmaking.
When making films, I start with the music. Music is a universal language and can say different things to different people. To me, it creates the mood. The mood of a picture is most important. It’s like the foundation that every good work of art stems from. If you know the mood of the film before beginning, you will be informed in each subsequent scene you write.
Once the piece is outlined and on paper, you can then dial in on specifics like dialogue, wardrobe, sets, and camera movement. Once these things are decided, you should be able to watch your film play in your head. This is going to help in explaining your vision when it comes time to recruit your team to execute the mission. The more you know, the surer you will sound in your pitch and the easier it will be for others to see your dream and subscribe to it.
At the age of 28, the Velvet Underground disbanded and Lou Reed went home to work at his father’s accounting firm as a typist for a year. It’s in these trying times that if Lou had taken no for an answer we would never have the song ‘Perfect Day’ or ‘Walk on the Wild Side’.
There are innumerable masterpieces that will never see the light of day because so many artists were cut down in their early days and could never stand back up. We need artists, poets, filmmakers, and creators, so understand that your art loves you just as much as you love it. Why wouldn’t it? It doesn’t make sense for your creativity to exist merely to destroy you.
We’ve all had trying times that make us question our decisions, but if you make enough moves forward it’ll be impossible to go back.
In 2013 I lied to my family and told them I was moving in with a few computer programmer friends in San Francisco to give up on my pursuit of the arts and become a coder. In reality, I moved in and began writing my second screenplay.
I had a private love affair with my work, it was secretive and sexy. By forgoing computer programming, I made another move toward my ultimate destination. When you continually choose to sacrifice for your art, you give yourself no other options. I’m not capable of being hired as a programmer which eliminates the option, forcing me to continue my artistic endeavors.
You should never be above anything when going for your goals. There should be no sacrifice too big (besides death or prison as those wouldn’t get you to your goal).
Amongst the hardest sacrifices I come across for artists to make is self-promotion and the dreaded day job.
When I talk about self-promotion I’m talking about social media and PR. For some reason, artists have a repulsive view on making things about themselves. They think it’s about their art. But the truth is in this day and age, people want to follow people. Make yourself a brand and shamelessly boast. If Dali were around today, do you think he would stay off of social media? The man who embraced the animation corporate powerhouse, Disney? Of course not. He would be feeding into the platforms, making everything about himself. Stop being punk rock by rebelling against the system and start being punk rock by making the system work for you.
And the day job. Bottom line is art costs money to produce and to advertise. Today, everyone has access to a camera, editing software, and enough time to create. The only difference is who is willing to sacrifice the most in pursuit of those dreams. Who will sacrifice the most sleep, the most blood, and tears? An artist is expected to not only starve but to work twice as much.