A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post making a reference to the phrase, “Art is War.” In the blog post I mentioned that I was giving a presentation at a local event talking about how artists have to flip the script on how selling art works, and I called the event Art is War. It was all about how innovative artists were making a living with their work while fighting against a gallery system that tries to push them into doing something that doesn’t work for them.
The phrase “Art is War” didn’t come from me. I first read it when I saw Hazel Dooney’s blog, Self vs. Self. The tagline is “Remember: Art is War.” That phrase has stuck with me ever since I read it.
It still gives me chills.
Steven Pressfield wrote a seminal book called The War of Art. It’s a short little book that deals mostly with the topic of Resistance. At the essence of Hazel Dooney’s idea of the Self vs. the Self is the notion that artists are our own worst enemy when it comes to the creation of art. We can come up with a dozen reasons to not practice, to not work, to not market ourselves.
I Fight the War Too
I’m working on a one man show. Most of my friends know that I’m working on it. I was at a party last week and several people asked me how it was going, and all I could respond with was, “It’s hard.” The best work we do as artists often comes from a very personal place and it is easy to be discouraged by an inaccurate depiction, a clumsy turn of phrase, or a mistaken brush stroke. In other words, it’s easy to find a reason to quit.
But I won’t quit. And neither should you.
There’s a discipline to being creative. You have to put yourself in that creative space every day, and you have to work. Even if it’s all crap, you have to work. The same can be said for your business. You have to put yourself out there every day, even if you fall flat on your face. Failure is a part of life. He who risks nothing does nothing, and is nothing. Or something like that.
When it’s hard, there are a number of things you can do to inspire yourself. You can play mental games with yourself to squeeze out a little more work. You can make art for fun until inspiration strikes. You can really delve and puke up all of your little neuroses all over other people’s laps.
I’ve interviewed a host of artists and entrepreneurs who have done some amazing things.
Helen Aldous’ post Why Being a Square Peg in a Round Hole is Your Greatest Asset is all about using your own quirkiness, your own creativity that makes you the artist that you are, as an asset. Go ahead and think differently. Question authority. It’s all about you anyway!
Meilena Hauslendale, the Sharpie Artist, shared some deep insights into how she grew her art into a business that supports her. She’s a pretty inspiring lady. You should listen to her talk.
Paula Manning Lewis has sold more than 30,000 pieces of art. The Starving Artist is a Myth indeed.
There are many, many more interviews. These are just a few. You could probably spend hours combing through all of the interviews on this site. It’s fun to do them and I’ll continue doing them.
What I love even more than doing all of these interviews is reading about artists who do it completely differently than everybody else. There are lots of artists out there who’ve never heard of me and who’ve never read or listened to any of my interviews, and they’re doing absolutely stunning things all on their own.
I already mentioned Hazel Dooney. You probably already know about Hugh McLeod (if you don’t, you should – he wrote the book Ignore Everybody). Lori Mcnee is pretty amazing too. They’re all doing it for themselves, and it’s amazing to watch. These are all artists who do things just a little bit differently, who defy convention – who are winning the War of Art.
Sometimes, it’s not even about ignoring everybody. Sometimes it’s just a matter of what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Michael Whitlark, an artist I just met a few weeks ago when he joined ArtEmpowers.Me, is doing really incredible stuff. I won’t reveal all of his secrets here, I’ll just say that he has sold more art in the last few weeks than most of the artists that I speak to on a day to day basis. Also, he’s still in college. Hysterical stuff.
Some time ago, Brian Sherwin, a well known arts blogger and critic, did an interview here where he talked about how art galleries will eventually have to embrace the Internet. That hasn’t happened yet – not on any grand sort of scale, anyway. There are dozens, if not hundreds of artists out there doing it for themselves, with no hint of a need for a gallery or for an agent.
Art is War
If Art is War, you might say that artists are a the insurgents. There’s no formal training for this kind of art career. There’s no art professors telling their students to build up a fan base and create a movement so that they can have a career. In their world, it all happens through neat little galleries and academic treatises.
Not down here. Not where the rubber meets the road.
In military history, there are many stories about how a vastly superior force is routed by indigenous tribes with primitive weaponry and guerrilla tactics. They don’t stand and fight – they go around the bigger army, attack them from the rear. They melt away when the bigger army comes after them. They blend in among the common folk. They are never seen, but they are dangerous.
The artists that I’ve mentioned here, and dozens of other artists, are like that. They don’t have a big name gallery backing them. They haven’t been highlighted by a big name critic. They didn’t start with a big war chest full of money. Instead they connect with people through free tools like email, websites, Facebook, and other social media. They care about something so passionately that they build a following around it. When the Arts establishment comes calling and criticizes them for the way that they are doing things, the artist who wins the war makes her own decisions instead of bowing to peer pressure. You may not ever know who these artists are – unassuming, plain clothed folk, who are creating the Abundant Artist lifestyle that they want.