I am often asked how my career is going. There is a real curiosity especially amongst friends and acquaintances that are not artists. They just cannot fathom what it must be like to be doing something all day long that is entirely self-generated. There are no deadlines, except those we create ourselves, there is no certain time we have to arrive at the studio and hopefully there is no one overseeing our progress. It is, in the end, just you holding onto a handful of ideas, hunches and dreams. There is some security, some assuredness gained from looking back at what we have made in the past, but most of the challenge, most of the uncertainty drifts around what we might possibly be making in the future. It often is not clear.
So when asked from the outside, “how is it going?” if I were entirely honest I would say I actually am not sure. The movie is still playing. I don’t have a clue how all of this is going to turn out.
So I tend to speak of concrete things from the recent past- maybe a show or a commission I recently completed that – looking from the outside – makes the life of being an artist appear more like a job. I go in to the studio, people order these paintings and I produce them and because there is only one of me, the supply is limited so over time the prices go up. And yes, I am so fortunate because unlike everyone else driving to work in traffic at 8:30 am, I am sleeping in or waiting around in a beautiful setting for the muse to strike. That pretty much sums up how the outside world likes to paraphrase what we do. What’s funny is that I just kind of play along with this and help create this narrative.
But there is one problem. It isn’t true. Does it make sense, just because it is too complicated or daunting, to describe what we do more truthfully? I go to great effort to make art that feels authentic and truthful, so why describe the process of making it so simplistically?
But what can I possibly say that is truthful and will be understood by those who have conference calls and management meetings? What is the universal thing that connects all of us, whether we are artists, investment bankers, business owners, stay at home mom or dads, schoolteachers or even circus performers?
The one that easily pops to mind is money. But this isn’t entirely accurate. To try to describe the activity of art making from primarily a money perspective is almost laughable.
There must be something else. And then it hit me.
The one thing we all need, the one thing we all cherish at the end of the day is Learning.
It is what we are all after in life. We are learning about our selves and each other. We are learning about tiny pieces of the universe illuminated by the particular activities we spend our time doing.
It is also, when you really think about it, a pretty good yardstick of how well you have lived, if at the end of your life you can say that you learned so, so much. The knowledge we gain about each other, the world and ourselves is, in the end, how positive change occurs. And not just small incremental personal change but also massive world change. This kind of change is breathtaking and offers us purpose. It is the kind of change that makes life worth living.
So now when people ask, how is it going? I still mention the gallery show but put way more emphasis on what is actually happening in my studio and as a result, my life. I simply say, what I am mostly excited about these days, what I am so grateful for, so incredibly happy about is that I am learning.
I am learning more than I ever, ever dreamed possible.
In gratitude, Nicholas