979_Answering the Question

I am going back to my old high school as part of “career day” this week. There are some designers coming, an owner of an ice cream store and probably a few others, maybe a lawyer, perhaps even an astronaut, all assembled to talk about different careers.

Everyone has advice to give people, especially to those who are young and just starting out. I imagine these kids are just beginning to wonder what they want to be when they grow up. Heading off to college and realizing that at some point in the not too distant future they are going to have to declare a major. Of course as we all know, very few declare a major and then end up doing it for the rest of their lives—but at the time it seems like a huge decision.

So what do you say? What kernel of truth can I possibly impart? I knew early on that for sure I didn’t want to work for anyone ever. I don’t know why I was so scared of doing this but it was something I decided in 8th grade. I have no idea why. I worked in one restaurant in Lahaina, Maui for one summer – (“Longhi’s” – killer deserts and black and white checked floor? Have you been there?)

I did a stint making stained glass windows for an artist and then one summer working in a delicatessen making sandwiches. After that I went into Art with a vengeance and eked a living out of it. I did illustrations in my pajamas in my apartment in NYC. It became weird always working alone but at least I wasn’t working for someone else. In hindsight I might have enjoyed working in an office. I love being around people. Probably for everyone the route to what they are presently doing from where they began is a circuitous one. It has been for me.

I know that a key piece of being “successful” in the mainstream sense, i.e. making money, career etc. is to find what you love to do and somehow convert that into your business. For me it started by asking myself the question: what inspires me? I became somewhat obsessed with this question early on and have been asking myself the same one for my entire life. In my current job of mentoring artists, I now help others find their own answers to this very same question.

It has occurred to me that when you become so involved in this question, over time, you get better and better at answering it. The answers become more and more personal, more distinct to you. The tangible result of this thinking usually is something that is highly creative and artistic. Indeed the very practice of making Art IS a process of thousands of yes and no decisions based solely on what FEELS right to you. This culmination of thoughtful answers and decisions based on this question can take the form of a new business idea, a painting, a novel, a song, even a house – or whatever we feel compelled to make. If the output is connected to this  question, the result will be personal and a lot like you. And this feels wonderful.

I think a big part of being an artist is just the daily practice of asking this very same question over and over again. How marvelous to try and do whatever it is in your life that completely lights you up. In an artistic process one tries to compromise less and less, eliminate the unfulfilling parts so that eventually the distillation of your desires ends up being more and more potent and meaningful…that it ends up being something that was derived from you, something that it is truly yours alone.

It is simply your Art and a life spent in pursuit of it, seems to me, to be extremely meaningful.

What has been your journey to yours?