27 Jul 2011

A CRUEL MISTRESS

Canvas Artwork
Do you really want to get into art as a profession? I'm not talking about teaching art or critiquing it, I'm talking about creating it. Working as an artist in Kenya is an eventful career to pursue. It has a lot of interesting testimonies from failures and disheartened people but it also has its share of success stories.
My personal experience as a comic book illustrator isn't a success story unfortunately. Not even by a long shot. I wouldn't even call it a career attempting to take off but rather a perpetual train-wreck. I have been lied to, hoaxed, conned, robbed, swindled, flimflammed, bamboozled, ripped-off, tricked, sold-short, stolen from and exploited. Did I mention taken advantage of? And not in the fun way.
We don't have the same opportunities that they have in the west and worse still, young people are not respected in the Kenyan corporate world. Everyone is out to short-change you because you are young and don't have obligations. By obligations I mean a family to feed, rent to pay or a car to fuel. They assume a little pocket change is reward enough for your young talent.
Becoming a professional artist almost feels like a calling sometimes. You have to be ready for a lot of downs before you experience any ups. Freelancers here, like in any other profession, have to work very hard and experience tonnes of disappointment before they can be recognised. Sometimes the recognition never even comes.
My advice is to get into art for the love of the work and not for the money. Animated films in Hollywood wake up to amazing pay-days when Shrek, Toy Story and the other big films hit screens but when do they get to spend their money? When you pick new work before the last project premiers, you are sending a different message. The form is its own reward and the size of your wallet becomes a secondary perk. Art is a reward on its own and not principally a money making scheme. Some of the most famous renaissance artists in history died penniless but their work lives on. Pursuit of money always diminishes the quality of the work because it clouds your focus.
Painter
To borrow from another artistic medium, Jim Cameron (Director of Titanic, Terminator and Avatar) is an obsessive perfectionist. His pursuit of perfection is evident in the quality of his movies but his biggest disappointment comes when he doesn't win the Oscar for Best Picture. His films gross over a billion dollars but his day is ruined when he doesn't win that particular Oscar.  It was reported that he gave up his pay during filming of Titanic after production suffered massive hitches. He did this because he had to finish the film. I don't think I need to point out how the film did at the Box Office. When you begin pursuing perfection as your ultimate goal in service of the art form, the secondary benefits are huge! By secondary, I mean money and recognition.
Someone, I forget who, said something interesting on twitter. You cannot compare James Cameron or Chris Nolan to Michael Bay. Chris and Jim make movies; Michael Bay makes money. When you analyse the work of both, there is an interesting contrast. Michael Bay receives massive pre-premier hype and excitement and post-premier butchering. Jim and Chris have it the other way; they are butchered until the movies premier then its all admiration. You also have to pick a side with art when success comes but in the beginning, you cannot be Michael Bay because nobody knows you yet. Pursuit of perfection is the only option.
Career Artist
Art can be a cruel mistress and you have to be prepared for her. The deadlines are crazy, the critics are harsh and the work can begin to tell on you if you're not organised. If you think message boards are fun, try visit those that analyse your work. They aren't for the faint of heart and the job begins to look and feel thankless. Patrons will drive you to the edge then push you to jump and you must learn to land on your feet while on the job.
Before you throw everything away for art, be prepared for what's to come.
Personally I'm enjoying my journey and can't wait to see what the future holds.

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