Dear Artist

Dear Artist,

It is true, you are a messenger.  But you first must hear the message.  Only in the quietness of your own soul will you know what is being said to you.  As you listen deeply, your message will come forth.

You belong in the margins.  In a place where no one is looking, you work your magic, and when it is worked, it reverberates across time and space into the hearts and minds of the masses.  But you must protect your soul from identification with the prevailing culture. You may send your work into the brightness of that never-ending day, but your soul must always reside in the half-light of your own humanity.   

As an Artist, you must constantly tend to your practice.  It is not enough to think about your work; in fact, it is counterproductive.  Do not make a habit of considering the work you might do. Let the process of making be the art itself.  Your practice will then resonate between your real abilities and limitations, and it will be your art.

Makers make.  The greatest crime against you is the lie that your Artist life has no value.  Most of life is speaking this to you in subtle and not so subtle ways. It is not enough to struggle all your life to try and be an Artist.  You must ignore every compulsion to sacrifice your own soul for the sake of financial comfort, pleasing your parents, or avoiding the sometimes painful occupation of the Artist’s way in this world.  

Live close to nature, however possible.  Even if you live on the 30th floor of a high rise, or have no house at all, make time to walk slowly in a park.  Care for one plant on your balcony. Spending time in the natural world will invigorate your creative soul and establish your life in a much larger context.  Life is brief, and the universe is unfathomably large. This brief moment is yours. Everything in the “True Artist You” is desperate to emerge. All you need do is begin.  It will be painfully awkward at first. Fear and self-hatred may darken your days. It will not seem worth the trouble, and this is exactly what the uninitiated world would prefer:  to keep your voice silenced while money makes more money and humanity is lulled to sleep by the rhythmic, predictable sound of the American Dream.

Artist, take care of yourself.  What you make will shape the course of history.  We can all see the problems in the world, and many of us feel these problems deeply.  Some of us are not living as Artists right now because we do not want to enter into the pain of the world.  To you I say, “Come”. Come out of hiding. Come out of your fear and self-deception. You are meant to live another life, a life you must learn to live through experience and inheritance.  You must begin where you are today and determine that you will get to know yourself as you really are. No matter what you discover, you must open your heart to this new self and show great compassion towards whatever you find.  

A new lifestyle awaits you.  There is life beneath the surface of things, but you cannot yet see it.  You must become the one who inhabits a new reality in order to experience this new life.  I cannot tell you in full what will happen along the way. But I can tell you that if you learn to trust your heart, you will live into the truth of your life.  If you are an artist in your soul but not living or working as an artist, you are probably miserable. And I am sorry for you, truly. But you don’t need to numb the pain any longer.  In fact, it is the pain, the grief of your own disheartened dissatisfaction, that provides the fuel to begin the process of becoming your true self.

Your grief is the first step on your journey home.  You may even slip into depression. Be careful not to take up residence in your grief.  If your artistry is fueled primarily by grief, you should consider that there is another way.  There is an endless supply of grief, anger and bitterness in the world, and perhaps you have found a way to shape it into something people want to own.  Or perhaps you experience a certain sort of gratification in expressing yourself through the grief, but now this pain has become your Muse. You may be a very talented artist, but you are stuck in the bowels of existence.  You must become willing to take the next step on your journey.

There is no place like the desert.  Who upon arriving at the edge of a desert would want to go forward?  Sand as far as the eye can see! But you must cross the desert if you want to enter in to the robust artist life that awaits you.  In the desert there are no other voices but the many you bring with you. As you plod across the long expanse of unsheltered terrain, you will experience every compulsive desire to stop, to run, to end your life, to avoid your craft, and to return to making art in the grief of your own complaints.  In the desert, you won’t believe that you have what it takes to make it.

The desert is a time of testing and a place of refining.  What happens in the desert is unique to each person, but if you persevere, you will one day awaken to a new reality.  It is nothing short of a rebirth.

Many people are living right at the edge of their desert, stuck in grief and disappointment, and making art that attacks the prevailing culture for its many flaws.  Even if you are making a good living and receiving praise for your work, the deeper truth is that it is costing you too much, personally, to remain here.

Those who pass through the desert have died the deaths of every false and compulsive version of themselves, and all that remains are the essential components of a grateful, creative life.  

Your false self is a parasite, feeding on you, the living host.  There are attempts by you to “feel creative” every now and then (like a drowning person coming up for air) but the majority of your life is lived through this parasite.  The true you doesn’t get to feel deep joy for the work you are doing, because you have permitted the parasite to determine the life you will live. The parasite only wants to survive.  It can never be truly happy. It is not you.

Crossing the desert is like a good long fast.  It will eventually rid you of your parasites. You will no longer think about life in terms of your retirement account and if you have the latest iPhone or how many Instagram followers you should have.  You won’t even concern yourself with how much work you are producing, showing, or selling. You will be marginally free of those thoughts, and remain free as long as you tend to the subtle motions of your soul.  

The art world is full of a lot of people, most of us clamoring for fame while struggling to keep the lights on.  The true artist life is a call to deep self-acceptance. It is coming to terms with being only adequately provided for financially.  It is accepting that your bank account may never move much past month-to-month living. It is learning to find meaning and value in a world absolutely full of beauty and wonder.  It is learning to pay attention to what really matters; and what really matters is you. You matter. Your soul matters.

The final step into your artist life is the acceptance of this incredible gift you have been given.  If you can see yourself and your life as a gift to receive, you have completely flipped the script that most of us have been conditioned to believe our entire lives.  This “gift” comes with deeply satisfying experiences of simply being alive. Sadly, many people die striving after this experience, having found only false and temporary versions of it.  The gift of being an artist lies in your fertile, creative life. You have removed all the blocks of shame and grief. You have realized that your work cannot please everyone, and perhaps will please no one.  You are free to make art that is truly inspired.

Making this life practical is about making it personal.  Every artist life will look different. What is important is honoring yourself in the process.  If you are more creative in the mornings, don’t get a job as a barista. If you need to stay up late into the evenings to create, don’t get a job as a barista.  Work to support the unique way that you are an artist. And try to work so that you have just enough to live on. If possible, don’t put yourself in a career that you can’t stand being in.  The wear on your soul will drain your creative energy. If you love being outdoors, work outdoors. If you hate working with people, find a job where you don’t have to interact much with the public.  You have permission to be creative in the way that you formulate your life. Just make sure you do it to radically support the artistic life that you must live.