I haven't written "Gratitude, part I" yet. I've been meaning to for over a year. I guess I'm not the most grateful guy ever. But a new thought on the subject occurs to me, and I think I'll write it down before I lose interest.
Here goes - we've been together on this blog for a long, long time. If you've been reading from near the beginning, you know I started with no shows, no connections, no publications, and few prospects. I agonized about it a fair amount. You were with me when I first got published in International Artist, and when I had a painting displayed at Saatchi Gallery's restaurant in London - this one, still my most viral painting:
- and when I was approached by The Huffington Post to write for them - a change in my life which nearly made this blog extinct, and may still. All of these were markers on the road to my idea of success in a career as an artist. This is different from succeeding as an artist - we talked about my Vincent and Theo distinction between art and career as well - but I have always been clear with you that I very much wanted a career as an artist.
This has been a long journey, and at this stage of it I have an impression of success on that career front. My work is in three museums, including this one, which brings me no end of satisfaction. I have been invited to guest lecture at institutions I respect. I need to keep a spreadsheet of shows which have invited me to participate, so that I remember to send work out on time. I find myself appearing in print without having expended any particular effort. People treat me as a successful artist. By my own initial metrics, I have succeeded in most respects and have good prospects of succeeding in those ways I haven't yet.
This continually registers as a surprise, because I do not feel particularly successful. I am as prone to envy, anxiety, doubt, and despair as I was before. I rarely feel the asphyxiating panic I did at the beginning, but I am a long way from comfort. This is probably good. Comfort, I think, is a career outcome which begins to interfere with the work. One must stay hungry.
This brings me to the topic of gratitude. I think gratitude has a dimension of responsibility. It begins as a spontaneous emotion or realization, but to have ethical value, it must end in behavior. I conceive of my gratitude as, in part, a debt. It is not only a debt to those who have done well by me. It is also a debt to those I have it in my power to assist. I went through too many years without a helping hand extended to me in the arts. I remember it, and I know that all artists go through it.
So I consider part of the responsibility of my gratitude to be manufacturing opportunities for other artists. I keep track of hundreds of artists. I go out of my way to see the value in work. I am constantly seeking to match artists with situations that would benefit them and which are specifically suited to their work: shows, collectors, curators, press, whatever I can get my hands on. I write reviews as much as I can. There is no shortage of good work to promote.
I know that I fall short. There are more people out there than I have the time and means to help out. This gnaws at me all the time. I think I am writing this to let you know that I have not forgotten you. You must save yourself, and you must be the first advocate for your interests. Still, I am doing my best for you too. If I ever said a single kind thing about your work, I remember it. If I haven't helped you along it was because I haven't found a chance. You are on my mind and on my conscience.
I can only speak for myself, but my impression is that this is a good policy to maintain if you find yourself as fortunate as I have become. It helps keep the sugar from rotting your teeth.