An aside? Goddamn I miss California.
So, as finalists, we were invited to pitch our scripts to a panel of movie people. We then had one of those little strokes of luck which drive people crazy about the film industry: it turned out that one of the movie people on the panel was the director of development at a production company housed inside of one of the major studios, and his company has a standing interest in scripts with our basic premise. They see one every year or so, and it's never quite right. So this exec, who is actually a very personable and soft-spoken guy, asked us to pass along the script so that he can evaluate whether we've cracked the riddle of writing this premise correctly.
Let me save you some suspense. The odds are low. I'll take one last gloat and then move on with the story:
That's me in front of one of those little screens they use for publicity pictures. Neat, right? Also, there were cookies.
Then I got back to New York, and next thing I know I get a very nice email from the arts editor at The Huffington Post asking if I'd like to blog for them. "That Huffington Post?" my friend and about-to-be-employed-rapidly-sprucing-up-my-website-web-designer Emanuele asked. "It seems so," I said. Out of the blue. You know I've got plenty of little art schemes going on at any given time. This was not an outcome of any of them. This just happened.
You people - you've been through a lot with me over the past few years. I've tried to put on a happy face through many troubles, but I feel like I've sometimes been prickly as well. I have a lot of enthusiasm for sharing the things I'm thinking about regarding art and life, and I have always appreciated that you were willing to take time out of your own schedules to hash these thoughts over with me - Ed and Fred, Synamore, Jim, Kevin, Claudia, Jane, McG, Andrew, David, and of course the entire population of Oulu, Finland.
To tell you the truth, I'm not much of a blog reader myself, and have never really looked at The Huffington Post. I don't know precisely how big a deal writing for them is. My hunch is it's kind of a big deal. My de-facto trainers at The Huffington Post have informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I am about to have a cultural klieg light trained on me, and that I am required to establish a presence on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. My leg will not stop twitching, I can't sleep, and my stomach is upset, although that's mostly because I had some questionable celebratory sushi. I don't know if this is a big deal, but it probably isn't a small deal. We spoke recently about how I split my personality into Vincent, who makes the work, and Theo, who interfaces with the world. This feels like a turning point in Theo's life. Theo is open to being wrong about it, and looking like a fool later. But here's what he saw when he woke up this morning:
Given all that, I'd like to discuss institutional validation a bit. Let's call this writing gig a significant bit of institutional validation. Let's also continue to postulate that you too are an artist or otherwise creative person, and that our experiences are in many ways parallel.
I decided I wanted to make movies when I was 13. Between the ages of 13 and 30, I worked on that goal more or less continuously. At that point, I had a slow motion train wreck of a breakdown, and came out of it unwilling to bleed another drop for a medium which did not love me back. Don't get me wrong - I'd be glad to succeed in that field. I just won't bleed for it.
I began to draw seriously in 1998, and to paint seriously in 2004.
If you ever look at my artist's CV, you will see that it begins with a group show at a minor gallery in 2008. There was no institutional validation for my painting before 2008. There was never any institutional validation for my films. I turned 13 in 1988. So I went twenty years between dedicating my life to making art, and receiving any institutional validation at all.
I had a lot of support from my family, friends, and wife. They gave me a lot, much more than I deserved, and it still wasn't enough. It categorically couldn't be enough, because they weren't professionals. Twenty years is a long time to go without validation from the institutions of whatever field you're working in.
I have always spent between 30 and 50 hours a week on whatever medium I was working on, and 20-25% of my annual income, even when it meant going hungry. How did I keep going? Well, I'm fortunate, because I have a downright ridiculous amount of faith in myself and my work. This isn't just some kind of perverse strength of character. You should be so lucky as to have my parents for parents next time around.
But faith has its limits when you are staring down the ugly barrel of middle age, and for the past few years, my faith has flagged, here and there. So I'm fortunate also in being unbelievably stubborn and having a massive caffeine addiction. Being a single-minded speed freak is recommended for a career in the arts.
Be that as it may, I am angry, and I will probably never stop being angry, or whatever anger turns into when it grows old. Rudyard Kipling, unsurprisingly, expresses it better than I can, in his brilliant 1890 novel The Light That Failed.
'Stick to your money, Maisie, for there's nothing more ghastly in the world than poverty in London. It's scared me. By Jove, it put the fear into me! And one oughtn't to be afraid of anything.'
Maisie watched the face working in the moonlight.
'You've plenty of pennies now,' she said soothingly.
'I shall never have enough,' he began, with vicious emphasis. Then, laughing, 'I shall always be threepence short in my accounts.'
'I carried a man's bag once from Liverpool Street Station to Blackfriar's Bridge. It was a sixpenny job,—you needn't laugh; indeed it was,—and I wanted the money desperately. He only gave me threepence; and he hadn't even the decency to pay in silver. Whatever money I make, I shall never get that odd threepence out of the world.'
This was not language befitting the man who had preached of the sanctity of work.
No it isn't, but it's true. Vincent has never flickered, never failed - but I am not always in touch with Vincent. Short of institutional validation, one's ability to reach to Vincent can waver. The threepence is institutional validation when one first needs it. I didn't get it, and now I never can.
There is only so long one can go on, alone, convinced that one is right despite the entirety of humanity stating not opposition, but complete indifference. The maximum length that lonely interval can be sustained, I expect, is different for each of us, and I'm not sure if it's a curse or a blessing if you can sustain it your entire life. After all, you might be wrong. You might be a fifty-year-old actor, living on Cahuenga and sending out headshots. I might be wrong too.
So what I'm saying is that it is possible to make good work, even great work, in complete isolation from colleagues and institutions in the field. But it is hard, and it gets harder as time throws the finite duration of life into ever starker relief. It is easier to do good work with the support of one's fellow man. That's petty, but there it is.
I feel fortunate, very, very fortunate, that the tide seems finally to be starting to turn for me. I feel fortunate, not deserving, because as surely as I have been working alone, a thousand other people, as convinced of their rectitude as I, are right now working alone, and struggling similarly to maintain their faith and go on working. I have had my life changed, at least somewhat, by a single decision by a single well-placed individual; but I am marked by my twenty years, and I won't soon forget where I was - where I might still be - and where I could easily return if I'm not there now.