ADVICE to a YOUNG PAINTER
FIRST AND FOREMOST, DETERMINE IF WANTING to be a painter is just a passing romantic or otherwise fanciful notion or whether in fact it is a genuinely primal calling you must follow to be whole. Then, know what you’re getting into. The number of people in America today who can understand and appreciate real painting is about the same as the number of wild condors in California. Motive is everything, so if you find yourself daydreaming of becoming lionized amid a shower of applause, prizes, awards, chic soirees, and fat checks, then painting will be a waste of time, as this will guarantee your station outside the gate, knocking to no avail for the duration, and there will be no spiritually dignified Life in Art. There are probably places you can still access serious formal training in drawing and painting, but I don’t know where they are. To be on the safe side while you’re looking, steer clear of the so-called art institutes, as well as the pointless, ineffectual art departments at colleges and universities. Instead, be proactive by drawing, painting, reading, and traveling. This will eventually result in a real education and a path of your own while at the same time being far less expensive than a fraudulent degree. It will, however, put all the heat on you to pay attention and study diligently. Keep in mind as well that to become proficient will require a minimum of ten thousand hours of actual painting.
CHOOSE YOUR HEROES CAREFULLY, identifying not only those who were truly great but also those whose sensibilities have spoken to your own. In doing this, remain suspicious of anything less than a hundred years old. We’re only eighty-eight years away from Monet, so do not be seduced by recent historically romantic prose. He did a great deal of unspeakable work. Be especially contemptuous when an ego-maniacal alcoholic who peed his pants routinely as a hobby sixty years ago while inanely drizzling paint all over the floor is referred to as an Old Master. Always go back as far as you can in your discipline. Remember and believe that very close to 100 percent of everything produced under the banner of Art in your time is utterly worthless. Be a seeker of truth and beauty. Never be impressed by the price of anything. Use your gift of the true artist’s X-ray vision to see through the fabric of manipulated reputations as crocheted by the unholy alliance of art dealers, so-called collectors, critics, and museum personnel, all of whom are perched before grinding wheels of their own designs, axes poised.
READ AS MUCH GOOD CLASSIC LITERATURE AND POETRY AS YOU CAN. You need to be fluent in the realm of verbal ideas and concepts to balance the essentially nonverbal ones you use in your work. Most writers, by the way, do not really subscribe to the specificity of the visual alphabet. You must. Along with poetry, novels, and essays, you would do well to read biographies, autobiographies, and letters. By all means do not stick only to the visual arts; include them all. This is to learn how others handled their journeys, bearing in mind you can’t emulate anyone else’s. Travel will serve to inform you as to the enormity of the world and its wondrous diversity. This will help with your sense of humility, which is of key importance.
NEVER FORGET YOU ARE A SWORN ENEMY OF THE STATE, and all manifestations of the Establishment, whether political, social, or pseudo-intellectual, are there for you to practice your place-kicking, so arm yourself with a stout heart and sturdy boots. Those in positions of power are almost universally charlatans, knaves, liars, frauds, or flat-out criminals. As a hopeful but still naive young artist, you may assume, as I once did, that surely somewhere in the world of art, especially in the museums, there would be intelligent, caring people who could identify and then stand behind the difference between feces and brown shoe polish, but you will finally become disabused of this once you are able to see through the ever-present smokescreen of “artspeak” and identify the huge, poisonous grease slick of furtive, underhanded capitalists roaming the territories for little more than the hope that a few fleeting moments in the spotlight will result in a straight flush.
NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THE FACT that a gallery is a store, and nothing more. If you have to use one, keep your ego out of it, and concentrate on whether the proprietor is keeping his store in order, selling his wares effectively, and paying his bills on time. Watch your back. The higher the table stakes, the more you will need to maintain the bat signal pointed at the dark skies over Gotham. Work diligently with seriousness of purpose, but never take yourself seriously. There is no free lunch, so if something sounds too good to be true, it is, every time. Grants are always an inside job, so to get one ordinarily requires time on your knees kissing someone’s hinder. Don’t do it. Expect to be poor. Don’t plan on it like some whining loser, but think about how you’re going to survive when it happens, as it has to every real artist in history. On the other hand, by all means do not strive for wealth. It can happen, and has to some, but it’s always some stripe of fluke, and as randomly as it arrived, so will it disappear, and will not have had anything whatsoever to do with the inherent value of art.
IDENTIFY WHERE YOU CAME FROM, WHERE YOU ARE, AND WHERE YOU WISH TO GO. Travel only in healthy and intelligent company. Immerse yourself in great music, even though you may not be a student of its complex theories. Enjoy good, clean food. Learn how to gather it and how to prepare it. Take full responsibility for your own behavior. Be neither a sender nor a receiver of text messages. Live skillfully. And never watch television.
Thanks for pointing the way, Kurt.