I recently attended the live showing a talk hosted by SXSW. It featured Jerry Saltz talking about what he is seeing in the art community during this time. Here are some of my notes and takeaways.
Crisis 2020 has impacted a lot of us. It is harder to be inspired, get out of our own heads, and focus on creating art. We are worried that we are either incorporating too much of current events in to our art, or not enough. We are worried that the normal art scene is collapsing around us and will never be the same. Even if we aren’t affected by the crises, we are plagued by the completely normal thought of never being good enough. That our art can’t compare to those around us. That we just don’t have that natural talent and therefore shouldn’t even try. All of these are constant fears going through every artists mind. Jerry talked a lot about these topics and I hope by sharing them I can help ease some of your worries as he did mine.
1. Show Up
“Push through the pain.” — Jerry Saltz
We may not be able to change the situations around us, or even the thoughts in our head but we can do our work. Put your butt in the chair and just do something. Art is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.
If you are worried about the impact current events will have on your art: The context of our surroundings will always be a part of who we are. No matter what that means it will be a part of your art too. This doesn’t mean that your art will start a movement or even offend a movement, just that it will be a your response to the current situations. Whatever you create is going to be how you respond to what is going on, no matter what the actual piece is, and I guarantee that there are others who are responding in the same way.
If you are worried you are not good enough: You don’t have a chance to be inspired or get better if you aren’t doing it at all. A person is a success when they are making art, even if it isn’t good and even if no one sees it. You might not get rich and famous but you lived a life with art and that is even better. So show up, put in the effort, do the rest of the things listed in this article, and stop worrying about the outcomes.
“Don’t try to create a movement, just do the work.” — Jerry
2. Get Quiet within Yourself
“Make an enemy of envy.” — Jerry
You do your art in the only way you can do it. No one else can do it the way you can. Stop trying to do what other people are doing. Stop being overly symbolic. Stop trying to use current events in your art in ways you wouldn’t. Stop comparing yourself to everybody else. You need to question who you are so that you can do your work in your way. Question yourself, look long and hard and try not to worry about the outside context. Be driven by curiosity and listen to what grabs you. Be radically vulnerable. Be hard on yourself — but not too hard. Honor your calling. Be your most, own, true self in your work. Pleasure is an important part of knowledge. Know what brings you pleasure and use it. I can’t tell you how to look at yourself and how to use your traits to create better art. But by doing this on your own, by yourself, I won’t need to.
3. Spend Time with Other Vampires
Vampires are people who stay up all hours of the night to work on their art. Jerry used this phrase a while back in this article he wrote.
‘You need to be vampires…’: Jerry Saltz’s 10 Tips for Art Students
(Originally and fully posted at SVA’s Close Up blog.)
You have got to be in contact with like minded people. They are going to be the ones to help motivate you, inspire you, and provide feedback. You need to start imbedding yourself into a culture that supports art and where else are you going to do that than with other artists. Post your work, meet other people, and follow the hashtags.
“[Art] isn’t [art] until it is imbedded in the social network.” — Jerry
Being in contact with other artists can be scary. It can lead back to those feelings of not being good enough. But we need to stop comparing ourselves to others. You can’t compare the work of Van Gogh to Andy Warhol, they just aren’t the same. They were on two different paths at two different times creating two different things, and so are we. Nobody starts out good, and neither will you. Everyone has to go through some kind of beginning steps, in which very little might be good. But the best artists showed up and kept working on it. Spending time with them will help you do the same.
“We are all losers on this bus, no one gets out alive.” — Jerry
4. Be Open to Feedback
“You cannot be defined by rejection.” — Jerry
As I have stated many times above, we are not going to create good work at the beginning. Some may even argue we don’t create good art at all. But the point is, while we shouldn’t compare ourselves, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t listen to feedback. Listen to your friends, and fellow vampires, take that feedback and use it if it is good and trash it if it isn’t. Either way you need to listen to what people are telling you, it is the only way you will ever grow. Feedback and critics shouldn’t be personal. Another reason to surround yourself with other vampires is because they are going to be the ones who know how to give better feedback. Some are gentle about it and some are brutally honest. No matter how it is presented though, remember that it isn’t about you. It is just art. It is just a thing and that thing can’t get hurt feelings so you shouldn’t either.
No matter what happens with your art, or where it takes you (or doesn’t), it is yours. It is a representation of all that you are and all you have done. No matter where you are on your artistic journey doing these things can help you. Everyone can benefit from doing these steps, even those not in the art space. Just remember what you can do is your work, what you can’t do is change the situation. I hope this helps you get out of your own head, away from all the crises going on and helps you focus on doing what you love — art.
Feel free to follow Jerry on Medium, feel free to follow me too. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation either, I would love to get your thoughts or other nuggets of wisdom.