"An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one." Charles Horton Cooley
I am in the process of gathering all of my blog posts into book form, and I was trying to think of a title for the collection. I am considering calling it, The War of Art, as a play on words on the ancient Chinese military book, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, which discusses military tactics and strategy. This book has influenced businessmen, lawyers, and the military alike over the years, and, let's face it, choosing to pursue art as a business is a bit like voluntarily going to war. When I say "art", I am referring to any creative pursuit that does not involve the 9-5 in an office. The path to success and victory will be a battle and there may be casualties along the way. I decided it might be fun to look at some of the most famous quotes in the book and see how they apply to the business of art.
“Who wishes to fight must first count the cost.”
If you have grown accustomed to a daily grande cinnamon dulce latte from Starbucks and dinner out with friends, you may not be ready for the sacrifices necessary in considering making a living in the arts. One obvious cost of entering the War that is the business of art is monetary. Most likely you will not get rich. Unless you have someone kind enough to help you keep a roof over your head, you’re going to give up some luxuries. The other cost is your pride if you have any interest in "keeping up with the Joneses". Hearing the starving artist comment for the hundredth time gets old.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Who is your enemy as an artist? Your own self-doubt magnified by the general doubt of the larger populace at the concept of artist as occupation. You will wake in the middle of the night wondering why in the world you are attempting this lifestyle. Your family may ask you the same question on a daily basis. Are you going to change the viewpoint of the world? Are you going to conquer all self-doubt? No. Do not waste energy fighting it. Accept it, and continue to create your art acknowledging the undercurrent of self-doubt as a layer of the deep waters we swim in. If you struggle against it, you will surely drown. Charles Horton Cooley, the famous American sociologist, writes "we should develop a self-image that is more based on our own evaluations rather than how we believe others look at us." Read more about developing a strong self image in this article by by Joachim Vogt Isaksen.
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
I like this one a lot. Stew quietly in your digestive juices, and then, when you feel properly inspired, create with a decisiveness and sureness of action that will force others to take notice. Your audience cannot fail to notice the confidence with which you present your ideas or your work.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
Time and again, I have learned that when it seems as if the bottom is about to fall out, a solution or a new project presents itself. I don’t think this is luck. I think that the anxiety caused by chaos causes us to think in ways we have not in the past. It causes us to seek opportunities that were always available but invisible to us in the complacency of comfort. Do not fear the low points, use them.
“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”
If you feel like you have to work at your art, struggling to find the rhythm in the work, then you are probably overthinking it. Great art comes from a state of flow, which is the opposite of conscious thought. If you cannot find your flow, try meditation, sitting in silence, long solitary walks, or leisurely baths. Stop struggling against your creativity and simply let it flow through you.
“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen. There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of
them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.”
You have everything you need already within you. The potential to create a masterpiece lies inside every one of us if we could first recognize that we have the necessary tools and learn not to fight ourselves.
Good luck in your battles. May victory be yours.
You can find more information on The Art of War here.