Being an artist can be challenging. A lot of life shit can get in the way; the need to make money, put bread on the table, gas in the tank, and such. And then there’s just the human penchant for distraction, which some of us have more than others. All sorts of people are afflicted with all sorts of different habits, norms, and mind tics.
Taking on a warrior mindset can help. By that, I don’t mean the violent side of warriorhood; but the determined, tactical, and strategic side. It will mean being ruthless about some things.
Once, an Asian conductor in one of Seiiji Ozawa’s master classes was going through a particularly emotional and difficult time. After some discussion, Ozawa said something to the effect of, Sometimes, you just need to be strong.
Warrior mode means you’re going to make some life decisions that put you in a better place for making art. The decision process of, “will this further me along in making art?” becomes a heuristic – a decision-making tool.
So what might it mean for the artist?
Setup life so that you have fewer needs and distractions. That’s challenging in US culture, today. And it’s only getting more so. In the 1940’s and 50’s, artists had apartments in New York City’s Union Square – Pollock was there, as well as Rothko and the DeKoonings. Rents were about $20-50 per month – which was a lot of money back then. But it’s not as much money as an apartment in Bushwick is today in today’s money. Back then, if you were tight on rent, you could throw a rent party, invite all your friends, and the small contributions would be enough to get you through. Today, that just wouldn’t work; the numbers are much higher.
Outside of the urban areas, transportation can be challenging; here, you need a car. And the second you need a car, you need gas, insurance, maintenance, not to mention the cost of a car. Where can you go where you wouldn’t need a car?
Really, watch the stuff you buy. Things need care and attention. Even if once a year you move it from this spot to another. If it feeds your mind, great – if not, reconsider.
A lot of artists lack organizational skills; they relish the chaos. In warrior mode, you identify your big overall goal, and keep that in your mind’s eye as you encounter the various impediments to getting there. You adjust, and readjust, and keep moving closer.
Isolation is unhealthy. The use of isolation in prisons has been deemed cruel and inhumane. It’s in our DNA – our species needs the touch and feel and voices of others. If you’re in the middle of a conservative village, you might have family, and old friends nearby. But you also might not have people who “get you.” You need that being understood, perhaps more than anything. Not a lot – just some. Find the people who understand you to some extent, and stay in touch.
We need community. It doesn’t mean you have to hang out at a Cedar Tavern every night getting sloshed – often, even a “hello” on the sidewalk is nourishment enough for a day. Other times, yes, you’ll need those conversations.
If you’re not in a community, find one. Or make one.
Polishing the sword
If the artist lacks energy, or is ill, she can’t make art. You’ve got to take care of yourself. That means eating well and exercising. If you haven’t developed those habits, try them on for size, and keep a journal. It’s very likely you’ll find that your concentration and energy improves.
We love our art supplies. We go to art supply stores and drool, and buy new paper and sketchbooks, and paint. You are your most important art supply. Without you, none of that stuff is ever going to get made.