hustling, equal parts talk and walk

Today’s guest post is a report back, originally appearing in the DrePoetic blog in summer 2010, from “Art of Hustle” workshop participant and literary artist, Adrien Salazar.

The decision to make a life out of your art is kind of like being a baby thrown into a pool to learn how to swim. You can go frantic at first, but if you stay calm, soon you find your way in the water. Also it’s not so scary once you find there is a whole community of babies learning how to swim out there.

I am an artist in transition. Within the last year I decided that I am going to commit to what I love. That I need to make art no matter what. Now I am in the middle of the “no matter what” finding my hustle.

This is the attitude I brought into the Art of Hustle workshop by Anthem Salgado, put on by Kearny Street Workshop, San Francisco. This seemed like just the kind of workshop I needed. For me to make a life out of my writing and my art, I can’t haphazardly hope for some strike of luck. I recognize that living as an artist takes organization, a proactive attitude, and a keen sense of deliberate decision-making.

While the entrepreneur in Anthem is fond of Powerpoint slides and handouts, he is by nature a performance artist so he speaks eloquently and engages us with offerings of free books and even, in one case, free money. He covers some technicals like artist statements, press releases, and business basics. To be frank, the tools are easy, like learning a new computer program.

The underlying emphasis of the workshop was soft skills — relationship-building and storytelling. The turning point for me was during a round-table idea feedback exercise. The question I asked the group was “How do I sell myself if I don’t have an extensive resume or experience?” Through the group’s conversation, I culled an answer that shook me — that I needed to have faith in myself and all the experiences I already have.

I realized I needed a stronger understanding of my own story and an ability to explain that story to others. I have felt inexperienced and struggling, whereas to really make this my life, I need to feel prolific and capable. It only took a small nudge and a post-workshop examination of my work to find I’ve done quite a number of things I am proud of. The workshop forced me to re-imagine my reality as that of a hard-working artist. I write, I am published, I work with many arts organizations.

Something subliminal set the tone of the workshop before it even began — the artwork wasn’t key to this workshop, the art work was. This wasn’t a “how to make art” workshop. This was about getting your work out and having the right attitude to succeed. This is what pushed me to shift my perspective. We are all working artists. That I produce work is a foregone conclusion. I am an artist. So what am I going to to do about it now?

The “what now?” for me is a refinement of the story I am sewing, and more of the hard work. A hustler’s ability to make it depends entirely on their ability to talk their talk and walk their walk (as Joey Roth articulately illustrates above). That means promoting yourself and following through with action. I have some discomforts with the language of promotion and marketing, but fundamentally it’s a certain process. It is sharing what I am creating and finding ways for other people to participate in my creation. That is the hustle. So I intend to make sure other people know about my work, and I will proactively seek opportunities to develop my work further.

Anthem’s workshop gave me a new sense of agency to push myself all the way, to believe in myself, and to work to my edge. Being in a space of artists all trying to make it in our respective forms, and all able to support one another, I realize that this life is real. Anthem and others provide me with role models I can follow and ask for support.

To know what I am capable of I will need to give my all. This baby is starting to believe he can keep his head above the water. Soon you’ll spot me circling butterflies in the ocean.