I have been waiting my whole life for someone to say something, or me to think of something, which will make everything else after that crystal clear. The one thruth. The secret. It has not happened yet. These are the advices, that have nevertheless stayed with me over the years. They might not be Oscar speech material, and I am not sure I actually followed any of them, but looking back they make the most sense.
# From an older (unsuccessful) artist in Kunstfabrik: “The first works you do have to be here (hand gesture somewhere high above his head), as you get more famous they can get worse (hand now lower), when you have made a good name for yourself, your art can also suck." He didn’t say “suck” because Germans don’t use that kind of language, he said: “can also be bad”. This is so true. Damien Hirst is the living example of it, if –unlike me- you think that his art was good to begin with. Problem is, your art will kind of suck at the beginning too. You must be delusional thinking otherwise. It will get better as you get more self-confident, and positively re- enforced by gallerists, collectors and the public and of course with growing experience and shows.
# From a drunken young stranger one night, somewhere in east Berlin. Do not recall how we got to exchanging wisdoms, but he slurred "You have to do what you are good at. Nothing else. Only do what you are good at." This might sound self explanatory, but more on this later.
## A piece of advice from my loving father: "Just start somewhere; and the rest (experience, success, recognition) will follow sooner or later.” It will probably follow way, WAY later- but hey, there are exceptions.
### and my wise sister: “Sometimes being desperate is a good thing.”
#An older (successful) artist: “I like your ass better than I like your work.” Ok, this was not especially helpful, but it is good to know.
So let’s go over it again. Starting out as a young artist, you are expected to show a level of greatness and/or originality, which even if you are lucky to partially achieve in one work, it will be exactly that- luck. Chances are you cannot sustain through a whole portfolio and remember you have to have at least a solo show worth of work before you can seriously invite a gallerist to the studio (meaning 10-12 works that work together). You have to fill this gap with a healthy amount of blind self-absorbed ambition, while you work your (good looking) ass off to actually make good work. The cliché and awkwardly rhyming –“fake it to make it” comes to mind here. You can also decide to capitalize on this one hit for a few years, without actually working hard, as many a rising star has done before you. In this case continue in the chapter "Tricks to remain a One trick Pony" and “How to orchestrate a believable come back” or “Rehab.”> What this unsuccessful artist also teaches us: Your “brand”, your “name” is equally important (if not more) to your work. To americanize: Your work will get you there; your brand will keep you there.
Only do what you are good at. Or this can also be rephrased: only do what other people think you are good at. As your self-esteem is in such threads for you to be reading success manuals, you are probably not in a position to judge what, who and how good you are. Listen to your peers, listen to people’s reactions to your work. Feel the room as they say. Up to a point of course. There is also a school of marketing that strongly believes that the work (especially in the beginning) needs to be immediately identifiable by a 5 year old. Example: “this is the artist, who paints naked women + kittens.” Or “this is the (female) artist who collages her pubic hair on canvas”. The guy with the sperm. The dude with the dots. This might be oldschooI, and I personally could not care less for this kind of logic, but if your answer to what kind of art you do is: “sculpture, art installations with video performances and live experimental vocal representation of the accoustics of youkalele and didgeridoo in duets” you might want to trim it down a bit.
What my fathers advice really says is: it takes time. It does. It takes a humiliating amount of time for your work to mature, for the right chance to come along, for you to be in a position to recognize it, and take it. As I said, there are exceptions, but for those of us who did not peak in highschool, and did not peak in art school either … or in the first five years after art-school … or any minute now. It takes freaking time.
While you are blindly working your way towards Greatness, trying to listen to the market, your peers, the contemporary context, socially active at openings and concentrated in the studio, there might come a moment or two, where you will feel completely and desperately helpless. But sometimes being desperate IS a good thing. Being an unknown and unrelated to any context artist, you are as helpless as it gets, but you are also free. You can do as many mistakes as you want, you can try out as many new techniques as you want, you can set up a show with your friends and set the whole thing on fire at the end, you can go up to a gallerist you like, take out his glasses and step on them. Seriously, there are options now, which will not be available to you further down the line. Of course there is a very thin line between being bold and being abusive or stalker-ish (Klaus WHO?). Preserve it.
And if I were to add my own advice to this incomplete list it would be: Give it up. Give it up once and for all instead of a little every day.The chances in this field are not good to beginn with; if you have not made it so far, there is probably a reason for it. How many crappy one-nights shows can a résumé stand? There are probably other activities in life that can make you more content, maybe even wealthier or well known, if that is what you are looking for. There is a long list of successful gallerists, curators and writers who used to be artists. Take a long and serious moment (hour) to think about giving up art. If you decide to persevere, do not hesitate again. Ever. (Well you might want to reconsider in five years if things have not changed).