Wednesday, January 31, 2024

What it means to be an artist, or an oyster...

"What it means to be an artist, or an oyster..."

A statement that I wish I had a better answer for.

I wrote this with Luna Lovefood on my lap in her new sweater.

If I gave the definition of what western society in general defines it to be, it might be a life of non-work. An existence sleeping in, doing what one wants, when they want. A life mitigated only by the imagination of the artist. When seen at an art show, they've undoubtedly "made it". They have numerous patrons, gallery shows, and the visual appearances any creative will have, should be reflective of the perhaps bohemian and borderline lawless and carefree lifestyle they no doubt enjoy daily.

That fantasy laded optic is so askew of the truth for at least 95% of creatives, it's depressing.

A message posted by a friend and colleague, really hit it on the head about being an artist in this modern world. It reflected the same sort of thoughts I have about money, social media, and the almost mundane necessity to stay relevant or at least seen, by participating in digital interactions as much as possible.

Facts be told, one must not only be "out there", putting time into creating, but also learning, marketing, attempting to capture the attention of anyone willing to listen, read, or appreciate what we offer through the semi porous translucent membrane of human perceptions and expectations.

As I shared in my last video journal entry, this is a year I'm taking to experiment and attempt to expand my horizons. All without doing the shows and conventions that I've normally done.

If it sounds insane, that's because it is.

But to that point, I am the single person effort behind relaunching my podcast, to all of the editorial, site design, media creation, and marketing that is involved. This takes no account of my comic work, illustration and design for clients, or time for rest and spending time on things like hobbies or those that matter to me. 

A point was made, in that post from my colleague, about the way that modern day marketing works. It's an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth that the more we post, promote, and create content of whatever kind, the better a chance we have of our work being discovered and appreciated. Even if most of the time it feels like we are yelling inside of an auditorium, with empty seats or worse yet, seats filled with people brimming with torpid disinterest.

At conventions and shows, you may find yourself silently screaming for attention as everyone else around you does the exact same. All vying for the chance someone will choose to stop and consider what we have and who we are. 

It reminds me of the faces of the animals in shelters. The overlooked ones feel pain you might not immediately recognize. The difference is many of us get to go home. They may never get that chance.

When I create something, and take the time to nurture and entwine it with effort from the mind and heart, navigated by an eye for clean design and presentation, rounded out by a proficiency and knowledge in them, I would love to think that there would be no problem gaining ground and making a living as an artist. That people would be elated to see something new. That people really can appreciate something made by a fellow human being.

Typing that last paragraph out makes it sound like I'm being petulant and difficult in my expectations of how working in a creative field is.

It's more born from burnout and the understanding that I'm part of a generation of artists drawn to mirage like goals placed by college and societal expectations. But then realizing that my career started at a point where a lot of the ways that the world of illustration worked, were heading on their way out. An extinction of skillsets in the name of corporate progress and banality.

Don't misunderstand me, I am grateful for the opportunities I've had and the often tumultuous paths I've taken to get to where I am. I’m just more of a realist these days.

But I'm well aware that life is often presented to us as an oyster when we are young.

You know the saying. 

That the world is our oyster. That's a weird idea to present to a graduating class, or someone suffering depression. 

I imagine it means that when we open it up we will find a pearl. But if I remember right, it takes a granule of sand entering the internal area of an oyster, causing irritations, which lead to the creation of a pearl.

If one takes that literally, it makes no sense in today's world, but then again it does. Much like the struggle of maintaining an online presence and attempting to be witty, creative, authentic, whatever other sort of adjective you want to place here, there is a duality to the idea of an oyster being your world.

It would mean that you have to be irritating enough to create something that is held at value by others, who can forcibly remove it from you and then present it as something they found and will sell at some later point without your involvement. We've become so comfortable with the work for hire aspect of nameless creation in the name of an umbrella brand, it's a wonder that any creative cut loose in layoffs doesn't just take up a whole other less stressful job like bathing rabid orangutans. 

But an oyster does tend to parallel to what a lot of people in life do.

When we are young starting as larva/children we are buoyant and move around by foot until we find somewhere to attach themselves for the rest of their lives, until something comes along and removes us forcibly. Oddly enough historically, that's one commonality, it's almost always humans that will do that to both of us.

Talking specifically about creative people, and I will use myself as the example, it's extremely easy to look back on my younger years and realize how much more freedom I never realized I had at the time.

How today, I am much less entrenched in my worldviews and habits. But that isn't true of the points of my professional life. I'm not even talking a physical location necessarily. It could be a long standing goal I've never gotten to. It could be making time for other people or experiences. Or dealing with any of the other challenges in life that fear and insecurity threatened to rob me of.

And yet there's a necessity to put myself out there. It goes beyond whatever I create, and relies on me doing all I listed above and also being some form of a social butterfly.

Marketing and taking the time to engage and network in a world that already doesn't know which direction it's really going, is simultaneously somehow erratically rewarding and also the most infuriatingly manufactured effort any one of us could produce.

There is no such thing as perfection. At least not in the way that so many of us strive for an expect out of life. In fact we will often raise or lower the bar to attain a status closer to our idealized concept of perfection, to make ourselves feel better and keep ourselves motivated.

Back around the middle of December I had decided that I would more than likely get completely off of social media for one year, and do absolutely no shows. I wanted to see if anyone would notice. I wanted to see what that would do to whatever ego I had. I wondered how much interaction and reciprocate of comments or likes were more valuable in my head, than me creating anything of real artistic merit or worth. I did realize quickly that that is financial suicide in more ways than one. That and I only have so much bone marrow to sell.

The unfortunate truth is that so many people are far more engaged with what they have going on that unless one has a sizable following online, I'm willing to wager that most people wouldn't notice or care that someone hadn't posted or shown anything off for a while. 

The social media machine is one that doesn't allow for extremely critical thinking or deep assessment of the connections we carry in life. To the contrary, it becomes more and more of an echo chamber.

Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely somebody that understands where I fit in all of this. And social media can and has often provided a connection point for people in my life that I may not see as often, or realistically may never see in person again. There are good things about it.

But the questions come up in my mind about how necessary and how honest are my efforts in what I create. I wonder to myself that if I excised myself from focusing so much on interacting online daily, exactly how much more what I accomplish in a week, a month, or a year?

I'm approaching this from a very personal standpoint. The more innocent, possibly high minded concept of what the internet would be and had potential to become, has more and more become a reflecting pool where we sometimes don't recognize the reflection anymore. What was once heralded as a bastion of information exchange has instead become a bastard. But a charismatic bastard, wearing cheap AI cologne.

It's an addiction, an emotional one, that is fastidious and painfully hard to rid of ourselves. Modern interactions happen more often via phone and screens, and it's not uncommon to see derisive ideologies about interacting in person with others. Something that is so fundamentally skewed when you consider that the human race is fundamentally community based and herd like mentality.

Everything I've stated above is what lingers in my mind when I release an image of a piece of artwork that I've spent a few hours on. It's what's in my head as I edit the videos that you may watch on my YouTube channel. It inhabits my secondary reactions when I forget my phone and cannot chronicle something to share later in a journal, or I'm unable to write something down and save it to my notes app. 

All of those reactions come from the need to stay current, gain the attention of people if even for a few seconds, and also bring about a disability in comparative structure with others experiences and lives. We see things said online as windows into another person's life. We often forget how carefully edited and staged much of what we ingest truly is. Some people would say that we've had that as long as storytelling has existed, as long as television programs have been around, so I feel honest when I'm trying to tell the stories of what I go through as an artist today.

I have to remind myself that what I'm trying to do will have longevity and merit if I keep it honest, straightforward, and keep as much of myself in it as I possibly can. While also at the same time not flinging myself off the cliff's edge of oversaturation and overexposure, or if quite frankly, I do whatever and no one gives a shit.

Sometimes I wish humans could live to be older, perhaps around 200 to 250 years old. Not just because of the immense amount of things we could learn and master with an extended lifetime, but we would witness even more vibrant and probably confusing trends emerge in modern society. I say that from a  somewhat ignorant view, that a longer lifespan could allow us all to give time for the things in life that matter. 

Self reflection and taking time to appreciate the world around us more, embracing wisdom to a depth few if any have ever achieved. Maybe in that stretch of time we'd also come to realize that things like engrossing ourselves within the modern facets of social media, need not be anything more than a passing fad. Enjoy it, but don't make it a false alter of worship and admiration. 

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, as much of a challenge as it is to be a creative individual, it is far more difficult to be a creative individual today, that can produce things that people will take the time to invest in and value. Because the real challenge may not always be that it’s your art that is undervalued, it's instead the amount of time and life spent on our parts that has no real perceived value. Just ask anyone working in HR. 

Don't believe me? Go to any major museum and listen to the some of the comments and conversations in the art galleries, the history item rooms. Just make sure you have a therapy appointment later that day lined up.

Thanks for reading, I sincerely appreciate it. 

- Mario, the Artisan Rogue

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