Following your heart doesn’t pay your rent
As you read this blog, if you read this the day it is posted you will be reading it while I change my clothes ten times as I get ready for the opening of my exhibition in Toronto. I am in total acceptance of my neurosis on the night as I have tried many times to quell it and have only made things worse. I am now someone who prepares to become weird the day of an exhibition opening and have stopped apologizing for it. My analogy for people who do not have art exhibitions is that it is kind of like creating a small wedding. Lots of commitment, planning, costs, and you usually drive everyone around you crazy.
Artists are generally known for their egos. I’ve lost count how many times I have heard what I do for a living is just a huge testimony to my glorified sense of self. While this is probably true to a certain extent, making art is a perilous journey for most and one’s only shield is a very confident sense of self, most artists are actually steeped in enormous self doubt and wish continually that they had done something else with their time. I would guess artists generally believe their sanity to be somewhat compromised and therefore are fatalists in the face of having to be social or attend something like an art opening. It’s like that Walter character in Breaking Bad (a show I have never seen but know everything about, thanks Facebook), why not just kill people in his way, he is in the midst of a death sentence anyway.
This kind of nihilism has never appealed to me. I like to be creative when I feel joyous. I search for a sense of wonderment and adventure when I work. An upbeat attitude has worked for me over the years; I never feel victimized by my work or the reaction to it because it comes from a place of ‘calculated naiveté’. Someone once said that I was hanging on to naiveté. I thought about this a great deal. It perplexed me and worried me. One day when I was in the studio I realized that perhaps I needed to hold on to some sense of innocence in order to express myself. Now I am able to manage my naiveté and use it when I need it. This may seem like a cynical approach but it isn’t, in fact I believe everyone should grab their eccentricities and turn them into fuel. People would be happier if they did.
What most people just can’t seem to comprehend is that it is very, very hard to be creative in our world. Not because we don’t have the tools or the ideas – we have loads of both. But try to get paid for your efforts. Anyone who creates for a living isn’t making one anymore.
I was recently told by an Ontario Arts Council officer that I should just follow my heart and be guided by that. Though I was tempted to remind her that in fact if I listened to my heart I would never sit down and apply for an arts grant I didn’t because I knew I would actually get angry. To me that advice was so loaded and unhelpful that I needed weeks to disseminate it. Telling an artist that they should follow their heart in a world where even Culture Days is paying 6 cents a word for blogging on their site (and only after you have agreed to an editorial policy as degrading as Sun Media’s) is tantamount to saying “artists should get over their obsession with eating and having a place to live, focus on your dreams and other illusions that no one will support.”
These kinds of moments, when some in my actual community seem to be as clueless as those who think art is a luxury or not a necessity, can hurt and make being creative even harder. And it is these moments when having an ego, or self confidence in your work clicks in and turns them into something that can be used. As my friend Don always says, we need to use our superpowers for good not evil. Egos can make these unfortunate episodes seem distant and not worthy of thought. So you see, artists need their neurosis, their egos and their eccentricities in order to cope in this world where you have to pay your rent and mortgage and can’t follow your heart to do either.