I came under fire yesterday for being harsh. It happens. Not the coming under fire part, but the being harsh bit. You see, I have a philosophy...
There are a lot of poor starving artists.
Do you ever watch the first few episodes of American Idol? I do; it's fascinating television. So many delusional people in such a short amount of time. It's glorious! A good friend of mine once said that the reason there are so many contestants that are absolutely abhorrent singers is because all of those people didn't have someone that loved them enough to tell them they're no good at singing. (Either that or the poor schmucks simply refused to believe the well-meaning people that might have tried to educate the cacophanous vocalists). We live in such a politically correct, 'I don't want to be responsible for stamping out your dreams' society that we're no longer honest with each other. Hence, beautiful trainwreck television in the form of phenomenally bad singing.
The art-world is like that. Another good friend once lamented that art schools had become a repository of talentless people, and teachers only encouraged poor performance and lackluster talent by saying it was okay to discover one's self through the various mediums. That's fine if you're not expecting to find a career in the art world, but if you want to wear your big boy pants and work in the real world it's worth bupkis.
Let me use this analogy, and bear with me if you've heard it before:
Joe like numbers. He loves manipulating numbers in every conceivable way. Joe decides that since he loves numbers he should be an accountant. However, Joe never masters mathematics nor does he familiarize himself with tax law or pass the exams to be a C.P.A. but he opens an accounting business nonetheless. Is Joe an accountant? No, he's a delusional mess making the fast track for white collar crime. Would it have benefitted Joe if someone had spoken up and suggested all this might not have been a good idea? Absolutely!
So back to the art world. Approximately three percent of all graduating art students will end up in a career related to the arts. My personal experience with art students bears out that they're an incredibly lazy bunch, inclined to think they're more talented than they actually are, and perhaps inclined toward feeling more entitled than the average citizen. With this being the case, who will actually make a reasonable living as an artist? Very few.
Look. Here's the simple truth. It's an incredibly competitive arena. You have to have the hide of a rhinoceros, inhuman persistence, and you have to be willing to sacrifice all else in your life in the pursuit of excellence if you really want to 'make it'. If you find yourself making excuses for your work or you simply think your work is the grandest thing ever, hang it up, this isn't the career for you. On the other hand, if you simply want to make pretty things to enjoy yourself and other people seem to enjoy your work too, knock yourself out, and enjoy the occasional coffee house gallery showing; there's nothing wrong with that. Just don't be angry at the world if you like to play with paint and you can't get a job with Big Studio Company because they don't get your vision.
So am I harsh? Not really. In fact, I'm a pretty tender hearted guy (ask my wife any day). It really does bring tears to my eyes when I see peoples dreams realized. Similarly, it deeply saddens me when I see people invest so much of themselves into something, so sure that it's their destiny when it's really just misplaced effort.
I could coddle. I could tell everyone to follow their dreams and it will all work out in the end regardless of their aptitude, talent and skill, but that's really not helpful. What's helpful is to tell someone to find their strengths and play to them. Find something you're good at, and continue to develop that. And if art isn't that thing, then just enjoy the art you do and don't worry about people getting your vision or trying to impress people with it.
This gets back to my earlier statement. Why are there so many starving artists? Because there are a lot of bad artists; artists that didn't have people that loved them enough to tell them to do something else.
And in case I don't stamp out any dreams (which I really don't want to do), my final bit of advice:
Sure, follow your dreams, if you REALLY want it, if you're willing to WORK HARDER for it then you ever thought possible, if you're willing to SACRIFICE all for it, if you can look past the ones that will tell you it's impossible to make it, prove them wrong, prove ME wrong. Go for it...
Just remember, not everyone gets a gold star.