I was having a conversation with an old friend the other day, talking about how if I never had to buy anything ever again, I’d be OK with that. Besides the occasional new shirt or pair of boots to replace the old ones, it seems I already have all the *stuff* I need.
Funny how one spends the first half of one’s life trying to acquire stuff, then once you reach the stage of life where you can buy pretty much anything you want, you find you no longer wanted it anyway.
When my grandfather died aged 80, besides the family farm and household stuff, you could have easily have fitted all his personal possessions into a single trunk. His pipe, his knife, his violin, a few shirts, shoes, trousers and and coats, a few papers and family mementoes, and little else.
I always suspected Grandpa knew something I didn’t.
[More thoughts from my new book etc.]
PLUS CA CHANGE, PLUS C’EST LA MEME CHOSE
“The more things change, the more they say the same.”
Back when I worked in the advertising business, I spent about a third of the time working on the drawings, and about two thirds of the time working the day job.
Then after many years in the trenches, I managed to quit advertising and ended up being a full-time cartoonist.
Basically, I still spend about a third of the time on the drawings, and the other two thirds taking care of business i.e. working the day job.
So what does this prove?
Basically, that “The Sex & Cash Theory” is alive and well, that the *tense duality* of managing art and commerce is still going strong.
Yes, a lot has changed. But I’m still the same person, with the same flaws, using the same brain, doing my best to hustle.
And that will never change.
The big difference now is, I no longer expect it to.
Plus ca change…
[More thoughts from my new book etc.]
TIME IS ALWAYS THE ENEMY
When you’re just starting out, the big issue is finding enough time to make your art, while still holding down the day job (bartending, waiting tables, working 9-5 in an office etc).
But when you finally great established and start selling your work, then you have a different problem: you still have bills to pay, yet your work still takes *forever* to make.
Your landlord doesn’t care how long it takes. Neither does the bank. Neither does the IRS. Neither does the client who wants it all done by Tuesday.
And the more successful you get, the more people there are, lining up to make demands on you. And because you don’t know how long this good fortune is going to last, it’s hard to say “no” to people.
The trick is to pace yourself, or course. Gunning it at 110% looks sexy at first, but after a few years this will literally start to kill you. This is why so many rock bands crash and burn after only a couple of albums. The full-on, rock star lifestyle just isn’t that healthy or sustainable.
If only artists had more time (to make rent, to finish the project, to do other non-art things, to recharge their batteries etc), our lives would be perfect. Alas.
The big issue of being an artist isn’t the money, it’s time.
This reality will never go away, this will always find a way to bite you in the backside, regardless of how well you succeed, regardless of how badly you fail. Just be ready for it.
In 2004, I wrote a blog post about how artists and creative types should hang on to their day job:
The post was titled, “The Sex & Cash Theory”:
THE SEX & CASH THEORY: “The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”
The blog post ended up being read by literally millions of people (six million, the last time anyone counted); it ended up being a chapter in my 2009 bestseller, “Ignore Everybody”.
Looking back, it’s probably the passage in the book that people mention the most, when they send me fan mail. I guess it really hit a nerve.
Here’s the rest of it it. It’s thankfully not very long:
A good example is Phil, a NY photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the indie magazines- it pays nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then he’ll go off and shoot some catalogues for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.
Another example is somebody like Martin Amis. He writes “serious” novels, but he has to supplement his income by writing the occasional newspaper article for the London papers (novel royalties are bloody pathetic- even bestsellers like Amis aren’t immune).
Or actors. One year John Travolta will be in an ultra-hip flick like Pulp Fiction (“Sex”), the next he’ll be in some dumb spy thriller (“Cash”).
Or painters. You spend one month painting blue pictures because that’s the color the celebrity collectors are buying this season (“Cash”), you spend the next month painting red pictures because secretly you despise the color blue and love the color red (“Sex”).
Or geeks. You spend your weekdays writing code for a faceless corporation (“Cash”), then you spend your evening and weekends writing anarchic, weird computer games to amuse your techie friends with (“Sex”).
It’s balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining one’s creative sovereignty. My M.O. is my cartooning (“Sex”), coupled with my day job (“Cash”).
I’m thinking about the young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and hip magazines…. who dreams of one day of not having her life divided so harshly.
Well, over time the ‘harshly’ bit might go away, but not the ‘divided’.
“This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”
As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I don’t know why this happens. It’s the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way- who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy day job and moving straight on over to best-selling author… Well, they never make it.
Anyway, it’s called “The Sex & Cash Theory”. Keep it under your pillow.
Considering it’s almost 15 years old, the post hasn’t dated too badly. Martin Amis and John Travolta may have greyed a little, but the points made are still perfectly valid. The “tense duality” between art and commerce still remains and, like I said, it will never be transcended.
Looking back on three decades in the Creative game (Cartooning, fine art, advertising, film, TV, book authoring, marketing, publishing, corporate consulting… you name it, I’ve done it), it seems to me that managing The Sex & Cash Theory is the hardest part of the game.
The external stuff- making the work, finding collaborators, raising the production funds, learning how to market oneself, finding customers, learning about running the business- that’s all pretty easy in comparison.
Embracing The Sex & Cash Theory, managing the “tense duality” is the real killer…