(noun, etymology Dutch from ‘boedel’: estate, possession, inheritance, stock.). 1. Crowd, pack, lot, as in ‘the whole boodle.’ 2. a. Counterfeit money b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, particularly when used in bribery for political purposes. 3. Slang for money in general.

When To Hold ‘Em and When To Fold ‘Em

Posted on: Aug. 17, 2010  |  By: Ronnie Kahn  |  Category: Advice, General

Advice for Aspiring Artists

In June of 1929, American artist Charles Burchfield made a profound decision.  He had been earning a living doing wallpaper designs, but the work was making him ill.  Physically ill.  It would not have been so rigorous if it was just the designing he had to do, but his company also had him working with the production, inventory, and other arrangements around customer orders.  He was faced with a decision that many of us face today, whether to keep working at a job that made him unhappy, or to pursue the work that he truly loved—painting of outdoor scenes, especially in water colors.

With the support of his wife and a friend who had been helping him sell his paintings, he decided to take the leap and paint.  Although he had already put everything into motion earlier in the year, the actual decision to move ahead was not made until October, which turned out to be the eve of the Great Depression.  Looking back, it seems a tough decision to give up a paying job when others are depending on you.

Charles Burchfield went on to not only make enough of a living to keep painting, but his paintings are now in some of the finest museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum.

Fast forward to today.  If Chuck made that fateful decision now, would he still have been so successful?  Although we will never know, we can say that he would have had a tough time breaking through and capturing the attention of art collectors and the art world.  His competition would not only be plenty of other artists trying to do whatever they can to be noticed, but breaking through the social media barrier and all that it entails.

Many artists ask my advice when faced with the same dilemma as Burchfield.  Sarah came to speak to me about whether she could give up a fairly lucrative job in the media relations industry to make one last try in acting.  I have spoken to a number of individuals in my financial work that were, had been, or tried to be painters, actors, or musicians.  A few came across as not really driven to be creative or to make art, but driven more by some type of identity relationship with being well-known.  In Sarah’s case there might have been some desire to be famous, but mainly she just wanted to unleash her creative side while being paid to do so.  An artist or musician can at least paint or play for themselves, but an actor needs an audience.

As someone who talks to them about career, I have to tread a fine line between when to keep pursuing a dream where it is so difficult to be successful and when to read the writing on the wall and go back to their day jobs.  The day job may be seen negatively, more as a roadblock to those dreams.  At any rate, I become a messenger of what they may see as defeat by recognizing when that line of futility has been crossed.

What most of us don’t see is just how statistically difficult it is to capture the public’s attention and what you have to do to get noticed.  It changes all the time, and with the explosion of Internet exposure, everyone sees the media spotlight with the potential for something to take off like a rocket.  The fact is that there are deserving, intensely creative folks that can never break through the attention barrier, while others just have a little stardust sprinkled on them and happen to be in the right place at the right time.  It is more about how the connections came about than the content of the message.

Charles Burchfield produced over seventy volumes of notebooks.  They are a form of a diary of an artist, and they give us a view into what was happening at the time of each painting.  It is easy to see just how connected Burchfield was to his work while he was painting, and not just his reflection back upon it.  If I am speaking to someone about the issues of career and creativity, it is this type of experience that is what we really call living life.  We just do it and leave it to think about later, or for others to analyze.  Those who do think or analyze have a tendency to put all types of biases on their reflection and take advantage of looking back on the past to spin what happened.  Really though, that day-to-day doing and being is the core of what each of us should be acting on.  If you can get paid for it, all the better.

The flip side is a pattern we have where we just can’t seem to end something unproductive.  We keeping thinking we are closing a door to some “what if” scenario.  We just don’t see that most of this behavior is either a pattern that we have become so used to that it is part of us or that somehow something will fall into place to be our break to grabbing attention.  In our sense-driven world, many of us are tied to the external rewards of materialism and money, beauty and attractiveness, and status and power.  These types of values become more like an addiction where we want more and more while feeling less and less.  We are constantly bombarded by the television image and advertising’s promise to give us our desire and close the gap between ideal and actual.  If you buy into our materialistic cultural story, art will never provide a sense of well-being as it will be more about self, ego, and approval of others.

Many artists’ need to create comes from an internal drive that explores the symbolic nature of our cultural story.  We can never really know what doors will open to something that will take us on a journey or which ones are just dead-ends.  Popular culture tells us to keep in mind that the closing of one door may mean the opening of another.  I would refine that to say that the closing of one door opens the way for new social connections that might have not existed before.

It is all about connection.  If you are connecting in powerful ways by tapping into your creative side while feeling a sense of well-being, and you are not just doing so for your own self-serving slant on the world, it may be worth trudging on even with modest financial reward.  On the contrary, if you are missing out on possible new types of connections and paths, then it is time to call it quits.

One Comment

  • From my own experience as a NYC artist, I have followed my vision to create my work and that has dictated the rest of my life. This strong belief keeps me creating and exhibiting my work that is pioneering in nature. I haven’t cared as much or thought I could care about selling it. I have had a lifetime of the freedom to make art. Most valuable is being involved collaborating with other creative people in other disciplines and being in dialog with other artists. The most difficult aspect for me is the one I am now ready for – the support finally coming from art world establishment and that most likely will mean some financial success.

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