“Pay For Soup/Build A Fort/Set That On Fire” – Jean Michel Basquiat
The act of creating art and then giving that creation away is a very bizarre concept. Let’s be honest, selling your work is the thing you are striving for as an artist and you put your blood, sweat, tears, years and decades into doing just that. But a funny thing happens once you actually sell a work. You are grateful and feel a sense of strong pride and accomplishment, followed immediately by a profound sense of loss. It is like you are giving away one of your children. You created it. You have cared, loved and breathed life into it and it is suddenly gone, never to return. You can only hope that the person who has purchased your work is going to love it and take care of it as much as you have.
After a recent sale a friend replied to my concerns with, “What do you care? They paid for it and it is theirs now..”. And while I know that this friend is correct to a degree, I can’t help but wonder if the painting is being taken care of, or if has been damaged, forgotten, or even hung in a place where nobody will see it. I am sure this sounds ludicrous and even a bit whiny, but these are the things that I worry about. I am almost positive that most artists do. Then again, what is the alternative? Is it to keep all my work to myself and build a shrine to it in my apartment for my eyes only? Of course not. When it comes down to it, all artists long for their work to be purchased and loved by someone outside of themselves and they are grateful when it happens.
I have had my work damaged in the past. I have even had a piece lost/stolen in London for a show I had submitted to. It was one of my most realistic and best self-portraits that I have ever created and to this day I have no idea where it is, or if it was even destroyed or thrown in the garbage. It burns. It kills. And then you move on. You have no choice. It is an exercise in resilience and impermanence. It is actually something that all artists must go through in order to grow and evolve. Buddhist monks have been known to create meticulous works of art out sand that have taken days, weeks, or even months on end to create, only to wipe it all away in one destructive swipe! This is the ultimate example of acceptance to the impermanence of art in life. Build a fort, set it on fire…
It reminds me of a story my friend told me about his recent trip to Costa Rica. He had decided to go on a two week backpacking trek through the beautiful country, stopping at hostels and camping out along the way. The whole time he had kept a journal with him, which he wrote in religiously. He had been experiencing a rough patch in his life prior to this trip and he used the journal as a medium to exorcise past demons. No doubt it was a cathartic process in a beautiful new land. When he had successfully finished this process and his amazing journey, it was time to come back home. He grabbed his few belongings and hopped on a plane for Los Angeles. When he arrived and walked out of the airport into the Los Angeles air, he paused. After one final thought, he reached into his backpack, found his journal and then chucked it into the nearby trashcan before promptly hailing a cab back home. He had literally left the past behind. His writing or “art” had functioned as an instrument to work through his own personal drama, and was no longer necessary. Yet another example of the impermanence of art, life, and personal attachments.
I recently sold a painting to a private collector on the East Coast. I was shipping it out and ran into a whole slew of complications. Without making the story too long or overly dramatic, suffice it to say that I left shipping center unsure of the future of the piece and afraid of potential damage. The old anxiety, worry and doubt set in again and began to take hold. I tossed and turned at night and woke up early consumed with negative thoughts. With the help of my wife I finally came to terms with the situation and realized that I must simply let go. Give up control. A step further even is that control is an illusion. Art and life are finally impermanent and you must simply enjoy the process. Besides, I have had paintings lost, damaged, or stolen before. That is the worst that could happen and I have already been there. Take it as a simple reminder to live in the present moment and strive for radical acceptance. This is a better way to live your life in the end. Certainly a more enjoyable way.
I am happy to say, that in the last few days I have received confirmation that my painting arrived on time and was intact! The buyer was happy and so am I. All of this needless suffering and anxiety for nothing. How had I let this control my life? Maybe I need to practice more regularly the art of the Buddhist creative process to purge myself of an egoistic sense of control? Free myself from the trappings of an intense attachment to my work. Maybe I should be more like my friend who wrote in the journal, only to trash it upon its completion? This could be a powerful reminder in everybody’s life. What are you grasping too strongly to in your own life? Find something that you fear deeply and make a practice of living through that fear on your own terms as to immunize yourself from the real thing. It is a good practice, and a Stoic one at that. Thank you Marcus Aurelius…
On that note, I know what I have to do:
“Make A Painting, Set It On Fire…” – PMS