Over 500 hundred artists applied for Queens Council on the Arts grants this year. Why? Because we were given more dollars from the city for our grants fund. We were able to tell everyone there was more money and more chances of getting a grant this year.
Next year, who knows? We may get the same amount or less, depending on the gods of the city budget.
More grants means more artists doing creative work in the borough for people to enjoy, something that makes communities vibrant and alive. Who doesn’t want that?
Less money means just as many artists will apply, fewer will get funded and there will be less presence of the arts in our neighborhoods. Who decides that is OK?
As artists, the only thing in your control is your commitment to show up every day and do your creative work. That is also a great gift to people whether or not it gets acknowledged with a grant. There are other ways to get your work out there, things you can do to bring people in to your world even if it is one person at a time.
It is a mistake to allow the money people decide what you can or cannot do as an artist. Their reasons have more to do with arcane inside politicking and favor swapping than with you. Create the work and invite a few people over. Start there and see what happens.
I would like to say that I wrote 1,000 words of perfect prose and took care of my corner of the universe with Godlike efficiency. This image comes closer to what actually happened.
It also gives you a better idea of what kinds of skills I value and that having a quirky sense of humor helps, or doesn’t, depending on what you are doing. I like to think that we have a wonderful ability to transfer and transform skills to help us get through life. For example, learning how to play all 32 Beethoven Sonatas at an early age has given me the superhuman ability to sit on hard surfaces for hours. Throw in focus and a dismal social life and voila! a budding pianist is born. This is now the secret to my ability to knock out all kinds of paperwork and projects quickly on a different kind of keyboard.
The jury is still out on how this particular skill translate into my life.
For those of you with busy days and big lists of things to do, squeezing time is nothing new.
It is all because we want to have accomplished something by the end of the day that we resort to things like this. Finding 5 minute pockets of time to scribble some notes, dragging ourselves out of bed before sunrise to get an hour of creative work in before heading out to work, sitting at our desk during lunch to draw something.
This is making the most of our precious time everyday and with it comes an urgency that is often absent when you do find yourself in front of your blank canvas with time on your hands.
Do I have writers block when I know I have 25 minutes on a train? No, I have a list.
Do I have trouble coming up with the right image? No, I keep sketching until something clicks.
At the end of the day, I have created a little more than I had the day before. Over time, this will become something born of squeezed, stolen, seized and savored time.
For those of us with pursuits larger than our scheduled time slots, this is the best and only way to make a creative life.
I am overjoyed that it is not my job to be responsible for creating new stuff. If it was up to me to invent the radio, stretch velveteen or the piano, the world would be a dark and terrible place. All the good stories have already been written. There is nothing new under the sun. According to Mark Twain, Adam was the only man who could say something good knowing nobody had said it before.
Which leaves everyone who has a creative soul a very different purpose. Yes, you are the sum of every response, thought, idea and emotion of your life walking this earth and the art you make is an expression of all of that. But the more noble reintention of your creative work is that of connecting other people, the rest of the world, with those stories that have already been told. How you tell those stories is your creative work, how you arrange, select, restitch and reshape a story as old as time but as true for people today as it was for Adam is your art whether that is a book, a dance or a mural that covers the side of a skyscraper.
There are a lot of people who have created an industry around preparing for disaster. They are the ones who always have extra batteries for their high beam flashlights and emergency kits in their cars. They have all of their papers filed neatly in a waterproof safebox, ready to grab at a moment’s notice. They watch the tides and track hurricane patterns. In the event of a natural catastrophe, they’re pretty OK.
There are less people concerned about preparing for success. As if success, once it happens, is something we don’t need to be concerned about. Every prodigy violinist that burns out, every literary darling who crashes and burns, every CEO who tumbles from the top is proof there should be some kind of preparation for success.
Here’s a few things you’ll need in your kit:
A sense of gratitude
A good friend or two who knew you when you were nobody
A commitment to get 8 hours of sleep every night no matter what