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July 17, 2017

The Trials, Hardships, and Cons of Being an Artist

Detail of "Fool" - Watercolor, Ink - by Johnny Perez, 2010
Detail of "Fool" - Watercolor, Ink - by Johnny Perez, 2007

We hear it all our lives as young artists...

Don't be an artist!  You'll starve!  You'll be poor!  You'll never make it, it's too competitive!
 I mean its not entirely wrong, but starting out is hard for most people, and giving up too early is a common thing.  I was lucky to have an encouraging family, and the fact that I grew up poor most of my life somehow made it ok or rather doable to live with no money.  So if I wanted to pursue a career with no money but I was happy, then I was confident I could still live, even if it was on nothing.   It really comes down to a matter of perspective for me.

I want to be real for a moment to say that I'm not some crazy successful artist, but neither do I consider myself less of an artist because I'm not "known."  I don't pretend to be more than I am, but I do choose to look at the bright side.   I do choose to think of myself as capable.  And I choose to define success as a never ending goal to better myself.  In that regard it is hard to lose.  I am faced with the same challenges as most in the world,  there is always someone out there better than you, and there is always someone out there more successful than you.  So what?  Am I just supposed to quit?

"Melancholy" - Watercolor, Ink, Paper - by Johnny Perez, 2010
"Melancholy" - Watercolor, Ink, Paper - by Johnny Perez, 2007
Not hardly, and not likely.  Yes, when I was young I had grand dreams of being "discovered" at a young age and whisked away to some glamorous life where I was dubbed "The Next Da Vinci, the Second Coming of Michelangelo"  LOL!  Hilarious.  I don't know what I was thinking but once I got to college I soon realized "the best" was relative, subjective, and based on much more than a dream.  Drawing is all I did when I was young, because in the middle of nowhere Texas, that's all I could do.  I let my imagination run wild, and I took inspiration from all my interests, and I'm sure it helped me improve a lot.

I was sure I was more adept at rendering some things than others, but there was always someone better.  And the flip side of that is, I realized that even someone who didn't render "realistically" did not make their art "bad", in fact it enhanced its interest even more!   I became jealous of the fact that what I once thought of as "bad art" was in fact really good and far more interesting.  It wasn't bad at all.  I just didn't know enough as an artist to realize how good it was.   I bought into the notion as a child, that "good" could only mean as detailed, or as real as something could look.   I'm happy that I learned better, and not to mention what a relief it was to know art was not so one-sided and narrow.  It is as expressive as any one person's imagination will allow.

I know I'm pretty much ranting at this point, but I just want to drive home an idea, and sort of, release this burden a little by reminding myself of why I'm doing this.  And maybe ease some mental anguish on your part if anything I'm saying helps you.  I don't have to be an artist to experience the hardships of life.  Life is hard.  And I don't have to be wildly successful to know peace of mind or to escape problems.  It's important to note here that the present is all that really matters.  But that doesn't mean that the past or future are not factors.  Learn from the past, and prepare for the future, but act now.   Be happy with where you are as an artist, but don't stop trying to get better.  That process will never end as I mentioned above.   Enjoy your current state and lifestyle, because mo' money mo' problems as they say.  But by then you can handle it with some preparation and research. 

It's hard to wake up everyday in the "same" spot, and have to go to your 9-5 day job and use up your energy and mental stores for work that you don't particularly enjoy doing.  It's hard to deal with coworkers and bosses, and for some, "corporate life" in general.  And after all that, to come home and be sad that you don't have anymore left in you to give to the blank page that is your potential art.   Oh yes I've cried over this many times!  So I get some cheesecake and put on my favorite show, and before you know it, it's 4 a.m. and you're covered in tear-soaked pajamas with graham cracker crumbs.  And the thought of just going to bed and doing today all over again tomorrow just freezes your body and you're glued to the couch hoping somehow you can get out of the cycle.   And the dream just sits on the horizon, part of this mythical time called Someday. 

And it all wouldn't be such a big deal to live as every other person with crushed dreams, or worse, none at all, and just work to pay the bills, and find some other small joys in life.  There are distractions galore nowadays with smart phones, and the internet.  But if you're like me, you're being nagged in the back of your mind, that you can do more, and you can be better, and you have what it takes.   Because in all honesty, you can.  It's just gonna be a BIT more work than you anticipated.   I mean hey, you can just as easily lose this dream of being a great artist and get a new dream!  But somehow you either don't want to, or you know it's just as much work to start all over from zero and build a new dream to work toward.   Personally I don't want to.  Art is all I've ever wanted to do, but how it's done and how to be successful at it, have definitely changed over the years.  And with technology changing, so too does your ability to reach audiences and get yourself seen.   But that doesn't mean its not still work.

You will have to work twice as hard as other people content with their lives working for someone else.  Those people are probably doing what they want, and are happy.  But I could never be them.  It may be self-torture but on some level the tortured artist is real, and this could be why.  We can't be content with everyday life.  We must work toward our dreams to feel a sense of purpose.   And we have to work twice as long and twice as hard to get half as far as other people.  And maybe we get lucky and get a boost!  But if not we keep working.  So what if I'm seasons behind on Game of Thrones.   So what if I haven't finished playing Diablo III yet.  So what if my desk never gets clean and organized!  I mean Life will go on, and as long as I did something creative today, the itch is satisfied.  It's not that bad.  I know it's cliche, but other people DO have it worse.
Insanity - Watercolor - by Johnny Perez,  2009

Another cliche that is especially true for artists is that it is about the journey, not the destination.  Because the act of making art is only beneficial to us, and the things we work through are our own personal struggles.  The artwork itself, is a product we are proud of, but we move on from it to do something else, and hopefully it will belong to someone else soon!  Art making is its own reward, and practicing makes us better which in turn puts us ahead of ourselves yesterday.  It's not so bad making daily progress!  So take the trials, hardships, and cons of being an artist and make great art with them!  And through the magic of alchemy you have turned nothing into something, which makes you a great artist today.  Or a magician, I don't know.  Maybe they're the same.

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