Thinking about my super hard-working boy.

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Artists are dismissed as dreamers. But being an artist takes focus and perseverance. It is a tough job, grounded firmly in the real.

Dreamers are roadkill. Artists work. That’s why they call it “The Work”. Not “the ideas,” “the notions”, “the dreams”, “the visions”.  The Work.

Being an artist means seeing the world as it is and having something to say about it. Most people don’t. Most people are content with hackneyed second-hand points of view. Tree hugger or tea partier, paper or plastic. But being an artist means diving into what is really out there, building your own filter from scratch, a filter that adjusts the contrast, brings out the details, heightens the textures and looks deep into the shadows. If you have nothing to say, your hands will tremble, your lines will be weak, your compositions will be flat and your audience will be yawning. You need to reach down and take a stand. On something, anything.

Being an artist means working to see yourself as well. To figure out what colors you see in. What shapes you like. What appeals to you. And trying in some way to understand why. Not why as in words but why as in feelings, nuances, shades. What do I like, me? I like bent things, dead things, wounded things. I like things that are beaten by the sun and wrinkled by the years. I like to see their history in their surfaces, to feel what has happened to them, to trace the map of their journey carved into their flesh, to empathize. Why do I like these things? Is it because I know I am not perfect, I have been ravaged, I persevere and I honor those who do too? Or is it because I cannot actually make beauty? I need to ask myself these questions, even though I don’t aim to ever articulate the answers. I need to see in to that ugliness and share why it is so beautiful to me. So you can see it too, so you can see the love inside your own pain.

Being an artist takes courage. It takes balls and sweat to see the world through fresh eyes and to develop the skills to express that vision and then go out on a limb and share it. Because it’s a long row to hoe, a thankless journey most of the way, a trip no one ever asked you to take and no one feels obliged to cheer you along on. If there are any spectators along the road, they are probably skeptical, probably see you as a self-indulgent weirdo too lazy to get a proper job. But don’t look to me for sympathy. Or applause. Because being an artist is a cause you choose for yourself, the rewards are in the journey, and there is no Promised Land. You have to want to proclaim your vision, to broadcast your voice, to change the world. The finish line doesn’t lie at the doors of the Whitney Biennial, it lies at the grave. Every day is a lesson and a revelation and they follow one after the other to the horizon, providing their own reward. Artists accumulate wisdom and depth and no gallery owner can take a cut of that and no auctioneer can ring a gavel down upon the lessons learned. 

The only thing to goad you on is your fire and your nerve. Because after all, who asked you? Who asked you how you see the world, what’s good or bad, what needs changing, what could be. No one. You decided you had something to say and now you want to say it. No one is obligated to listen but you will make them sit up and take heed.

Being an artist means being an entrepreneur who imposes his vision, who asserts the value of what he is doing and insists people look at it and take him seriously. No one else will do it for you. No one else will come up with your business plan or a strategy or a new idea. You don’t answer to a committee or a board or market research. You make your product, you sell your product, you create your market, you get your ass out of bed each day and punch the clock you built.

Being an artist means being a craftsman, a self-promoter, and productive without a boss, a company, a client. You are making a product no one asked to buy, sourcing your own materials, developing your strategy, and above all, shipping what you make. It can’t just sit in your brainpan or your sketchbook, it needs to be stretched, framed, and hung up for the world to see and buy and resell and love and learn from.

If that scares you, cool. Museums show about 2% of the work they own. There’s already plenty of genius in storage.

But if that excites you and inspires you, awesome. Do the work and bring it on.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 

—Howard Thurman

40 thoughts on “Thinking about my super hard-working boy.

  1. Omg Danny, you are spot on! I was talking to my partner tonight and we were discussing how it seems some generes of artists stop doing what they do and others don’t. She said artists like myself and you will never stop drawing, that genere of art will always be alive, but for photographers it seems to die out n I said I hope that can change. I say we will never give up. I agree if we just dream and don’t do it, it will never happen. Doers is what we are, and for the last 10 years building up on my arts I feel like I am finally getting somewhere truly getting out there with my art, people asking me to do illustrations for them, so exciting!!! :) Big projects happening for me right now. Never stop drawing, Danny :) so pleased you gave up your job and started working for yourself, that’s the best life, not easy yes but more enjoyable.

  2. Put this one straight in your ‘Best of’ please, Danny. So many fantastic, real, powerful, helpful, brilliant insights, all rolled into one fabulous post. One to come back to.

  3. Danny, I think I’ll just live all of this vicariously through your blog. It sounds far too scary for me :-)

    Just kidding. But everyone can really ‘get’ the whole thing about struggle. I often think The Beatles were very fortunate in having such well defined parameters when they started – a song must be 3 minutes long with a catchy chorus and a backbeat.

    Maybe that’s what good art is like. An American exchange tutor at college once warned me, ‘Don’t become a hit and run artist, Joe!’ This was the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me about art.

    To master your craft you have to find what your version of the 3 minute single is…rinse and repeat. That’s craft. In fact someone once called The Beatles ‘songsmiths’ – very apt.

    Love the previous post too.

  4. Perfectly put. Great description of what it is to be an artist. Having been one for as long as I can remember, I sometimes wonder why so many people want to be one, but that is only on dark days.

  5. “You decided you had something to say and now you want to say it.” This is a wonderful line for artist me who still holds a part-time job in advertising and dreams of jumping ship soon. Man, your writing has soared since you clocked out of New York. I’m going to have my boy read this tonight. He’s about to pursue his artist’s way in Berlin next year. Wunderbar, this piece!

  6. I have never left a reply before but I have to this time as this article makes one’s hairs stand on end! I am a hobby artist and I am only discovering what I like and don’t like. This article is so spot on and inspiring on many levels. I will refer to this often and “draw” from it :). Thank you Danny!

  7. This message came straight out of your heart and your entire being! I have been following your blog and books since taking a course with Jane LaFazio…never responded but this was amazing.

  8. Wow! Wow! Wow! I sometimes think there might be only two ways to live life: the artist’s way or the boring way. It just seems that there aren’t that many other jobs out there that force you to lean into your fears EVERY SINGLE DAY as you must do to STAY an artist. Danny, this is so well-said. So heartening and challenging. I feel like I’ve just been “coached” to go back out for the second half of a tough game! I need that coaching every day.

  9. Thank you SO much for the good post! I am working on finishing 65 painted scarves before Nov 21 selling event and I so resonate with every single work you wrote. love it love it
    Thank you Danny, I am with you!

    xoxoxoxoxo
    Love Annde

  10. Hi Danny,
    If I may, who is the man in the “visual”? Kandinsky? I have no idea why he sprang to mind, because I don’t think he ever got to The US.

    Thanks for all your inspired writing and art. I keep going back for new inspirations.
    Best
    Jess

  11. Powerful stuff indeed Danny.

    Keep writing it, please. Just read and looked at Everyday Matters, and I have to say, that should be required reading for any aspiring artist because of its “realness.”

  12. I am so glad I found your blog (and your books). Every visit is a treat. You are an artist, but your writing isn’t too shabby either. Wonderful post!

  13. Wow! That’s right on par with where i’ve been tracking lately. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love following your journey. And I have admired your move to follow your passion. It’s easy to be envious, yet you have been very honest with the ups and downs or your journey. For me, I keep coming back to what is the right next step right NOW for me? And then looking to take it. Thanks for the passion in this post!

  14. Danny, I have so enjoyed reading your posts since discovering your work in September. I have introduced you and your work to my post16 students here in the UK.
    As for you most recent post, ” Thinking about my super hard working boy” I found it thought provoking and inspiring.
    Interestingly Turner Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry delivers a similar case in his recent programmes given for the prestigious Reith Lecture series at the BBC. Sometimes challenging, often funny and always insightful…..sound familiar?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/reith

    Recommended.

    Keep writing, drawing and enjoying life Danny.
    Best wishes
    Shirley

  15. You are inspirational. You write eloquently about the path of artists, and in your writing there are a great many gems that strike true, ring with a sweet honesty. Reading your posts reminds me of when I read the book “Art and Fear” which is packed full of wonderful advice. Thank you for writing and sharing for others out there.

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  17. In the internet age, it would seem that everyone claims to be an artist resulting in a lot of eye candy clogging blogging. You define the problem of voice well. In college, I couldn’t figure out where art came from and it wasn’t until the first Gulf War mess that I finally understood. The dam burst and now I have plenty to say about the terrible mess we’re in and its beauty. Thank you for an excellent post. I agree with everyone else–put it in a book introduction.

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