Lightning: it is wise not to make a target of yourself.
I’m informed here by the following list of encounters, ideas and experiences, as far as I can name them in the moment:
J.F. Martel, Guy Laramee, Brian Eno, Kate Raworth, Rebecca Solnit, Greta Thurnburg, Werner Herzog, my Masters study of Community Music, Rutger Bregman, hundreds of conversations and encounters with the valued people in my world, Nora Bateson and warm data, Donna Haraway and ‘making kin’, Wassail! 2018, my seven commission collaborators, the Cotton Factory Artist’s residency, Hamilton, Emerald Street, Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes, trust, love, betrayal, trauma, and four decades of artistic choices
To all artists, in all media and discipline, everywhere:
Do not ever paint, write, act, dance, direct or sing for money. Get paid, yes. But the primary objective of your work can not be financial compensation. In fact financial compensation is the least significant objective in making art. (Read J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015). He’s right.)
Never starve for the sake of your ‘art’. That’s an old trap of an idea, and it never applied to you. Starving’s a waste of your time; figure out how to live and thrive, so you can work. Keep a weather eye on your ego; you need less than you think. Werner Herzog put it this way:
“If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.”
Do your work out of love and respect for your human self, and all other human & non-human selves who struggle, fail, make wrong choices, and right ones. Paint for the dangerously passive-aggressive narcissist in his fortress of victimhood; for the seventh generation Welsh sheep farmer who calls out PETA on social media for denouncing the use of wool.
It is all “We”. You are not separate from any of this; it is your job to include, to speak for, to reflect upon and back to.
Artists are the ‘voice’ of a natural ‘We’, which includes all living species. Write, for the clearcut trees, the hurricanes and the fires, the floods and the traumatic, catastrophic changes in this world. Paint for all refugees, of all species.
Make art that holds space for and supports indigenous voices that speak for and to the land – people all over this planet who claim their integrity and walk their talk, through centuries of genocide. Learn how to be a good ally, on your own steam, without entitlement.
Look beneath the surface of things, then widen your gaze to see the larger context. Take a straight, objective look at power and its misuse, at how abusive behaviour always always always originates in unhealed trauma. Paint the humanness of that. Hold difficult space for change.
Mind your tongue and use your ears – the ones in your soul as well as the ones on your head. Use your anger to find and name the difficult beauty in all that you see. Paint that. Learn to walk away when nothing more can be done; always forgive as you do this.
Stand in your truth, then express that truth, through action, through art. Understand that your truth is not a weapon, it’s a shield – for you and for those in your care. A corollary: Some people do not have a truth to stand in, so accept this. Forgive their choices, support them as they search. Do not let them borrow your integrity and claim it as their own – that is not a kindness.
Do all of this, but also: connect, find relevance. Find ways for people to discover themselves in what you do, what you make, how you choose, what you choose. Articulate with clarity why any of it is important. Art is relational, connective: provoke and make space for honest discussion.
Find what you value, build ways to name and present the difficult beauty that We are. Do this with love, and with hope, inclusively.
Make your work count.