Monday, February 11, 2008

Crawling to the Mountaintop

What a revoltin’ development this is.

I am a walkin’, talkin’, singin’ and dancin’, skippin’ and spinnin’, waltzin’ and prancin’ cliché. The quintessential "struggling artist."

I don’t ask for much. A chance to do what I do. I’m not looking for handouts, I’m not looking for something for nothing. Just a way to create without compromising too deeply, and still put food and drink on the table. Oh, and having a table would be nice, too – one that I didn’t build and then not sell.

Wendell Castle, a wise and generous man, a very successful person in the field of studio furniture, once told me a valuable thing. He said, “I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to live in a home that has two large dining rooms. I’ve also been unfortunate enough in my career to own three large dining tables.”

Wendell was (and probably still is) the most widely recognized artist in this little corner of the craft. He came up in a moment when the NEA was actually supporting the arts, galleries in NYC were showing “art furniture,” museums were exhibiting contemporary work, and he was uniquely qualified to make the most of the opportunity. He has all the right traits – a singular vision, a deep and varied palette to work with, immense talent, and most importantly, Wendell is among the best hustlers of our time.

He is one of those artists with the wisdom to reinvent himself every decade or so, and even when his work isn’t groundbreaking or astounding, it is always well conceived, well crafted, and unique, even after 40 years in this field. He is well dressed, well spoken, serious of mind, handsome, talented and a bit mysterious. He knows what his image is, and he understands how to use it as he continues to create it. It affects his work, and his work is affected by it.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this concept of the Hustle. In the coming weeks, months – hell, years maybe – I plan to think, talk and write a great deal about the notion. Many things have brought my head around to it, and I’ve been obsessing in, on, and about it for months now. I’ll be giving a lecture called The Artist as Hustler at the Furniture Society Conference in June, and I’ve been doing a great deal of research and outlining about the concept.

I’m going to play with some of those ideas here, in the meantime. I want to talk about what the hell these things mean – Artist, Hustler, success and failure. An interesting writing opportunity has come my way with regards to all this, I’ll be talking about that as well.

In the meantime, I’m broke again. Still sought after, still talked about as though I’ve accomplished something, I still have commissions waiting, people to lead, and advice to give, and I’m poor as a church mouse. Can’t hardly find a way to build the things people are waiting for, to keep the lights on so I can work after dark, to find a couple extra bucks to pay the cable bill so I can stop stealing an internet connection from the neighbors in my building. So much so that I’m actually out there actively looking for a straight job.

It’s funny – I have this memory that I carry with me. Four years ago one of my pieces was on the cover of the Arts section of the NYTimes. Wait, maybe it was the Home section? Doesn’t matter. It was prominently placed, with a picture of the piece, a picture of me working on the piece looking all intense and fierce, and a very nice review. They even invented the phrase, “Tim Burton-esque” to describe the thing, and they talked about me as a young star in Brooklyn (they called me ‘young!’).

So there I was – a ‘young’ hotshot with his face and his work in the NY-freaking-Times, stopping by the store to buy a couple extra copies on his way home from his studio, after a day of being brilliant, toiling away on his next great masterpiece. And walking down the block, heading towards my apartment, with my achievement neatly tucked under my arm, I distinctly remember ducking and weaving, shucking and jiving, hiding from my landlord. I couldn’t pay the rent I owed him, and I didn’t want to give him the chance to hand me an eviction notice.

It’s so nice to be appreciated.

And here I am again. Ain’t this fun, kids? Isn’t life as an artist glamorous and exciting? Work hard, and follow your dreams, and you can get here, too!

It’s not really all that bad, I guess. If I get evicted, I get evicted. I still love what I do, and I still love to share it with whoever will pay any attention to me. If I have to sleep on my workbench and fight off the rats for a while, hell – I’ve been in worse circumstances. I’m a pretty resilient guy. I’ll probably find a job of some kind, and climb my way out of this hole again, and all the while I’ll never stop talking about how to keep on keepin’ on, to do the work and eat the dust and watch the shapes come to life, as though I’m the finest example of what a little bit of talent and a whole lotta work can get you.

In the meantime, do me a favor, wouldya? Through my loose affiliation/participation with the fine folks at Rudius Media and their messageboard, I’ve noticed that people are beginning to trickle in here, a few more each day. I don’t know how much you’re reading, or if you care, or if you want to hear more.

So talk to me. Leave me comments on the new posts, the old posts, anything at all - and let me know what you think. Tell me what you want to know more about, tell me what you think of the posts, tell me I suck and I should shut up and go away. Let me know you’re there at all – it’s easier to write if I feel like anyone is listening.


Blogger Savage Henry said...

Once, I was broke so I asked for a raise. I told my boss I was a great employee, and I did the work of three men. He told me he couldn't increase my pay, but if I told him the names of the three men, he would fire them.

I'm glad to see you are writing here again.

2:22 AM  
Anonymous Saussamahoya said...

I check this motherfucker every week, on the off-chance that you've put something new up. Sometimes I go back and reread your past entries. I love it all - the talk about music, writing, woodworking - partly because I've been involved with all of those things, but mostly because you're a compelling and likable writer, who seems to have the experience and wisdom of three or four men.

Asking the people what they want to see you write about seems like a risky undertaking. Personally, I just want to see you write more, or post more often. There was talk in your earlier posts about some "angry young man" writings that you had up here and then removed. I'd love to see those, or anything else that you've written or are writing or do write, or even will write.

The fact that I don't post comments about what you write doesn't mean that I'm not listening. It means that I'd rather listen to what you have to say than to say anything myself. And that means that you're saying it well. So, keep doing it, and I'll keep reading it.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I feel odd attempting to give you advice. If I were ever dumb enough to post in the advice thread over at Rudius, you would be wise/smart enough to rip me a new one.

Don't tell us to tell you to "shut up and go away." Keep posting. We're listening.

5:48 AM  
Blogger The said...

Tucker and I used to steal sushi to eat. Literally. We would go to the grocery store, and I would go get the sushi from the little case with the suspicious little chef, and Tucker would go buy a big soda ($1.25--HUGE expense) and then we'd meet in the little tables area and eat sushi like we'd paid for it--slowly, lavishly. It sucked.

Don't stop. Your work is really something.

3:02 AM  

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