This time around, she offers this latest guest post, giving a unique and very entertaining perspective on the adventurous (sometimes torturous) artist’s journey. It’s a voyage she encourages you to keep faith in. Enjoy!
The Art of Unreasonably High Expectations
It took me three months to write this essay.
After writing my first essay for Art of Hustle on “starting the work,” I figured the next thing to write about was-duh-“continuing the work,” because I would finally be a successfully working artist.
“How brilliant am I?” I thought. “I’ll bet the essay I write after the essay on continuing the work will be an essay about how to spend all the money I got from my book deal.”
Only that’s not what happened. This is what happened, instead:
I wish I could say it took me three months to write about continuing the work because once my website was public and I had published a piece about the creation of Ugly Comics on Art of Hustle, I was working on so many awesome projects that I just didn’t have the time to sit down and focus on writing it.
It took me three months to write this essay because after I made my Ugly Comics website public and my Ugly Comics gmail didn’t get any submissions, the Ugly Comics Facebook page didn’t automatically receive 2000 “Likes” and no one contacted me to inform me that I was an Internet sensation, I thought—Well, this idea is stupid.
And then I quit.
The Art of Failing
Quitting is pretty much the opposite of continuing. The embarrassing truth was that even though Ugly Comics are about the process of art making, after I made them public they weren’t just about the comics and their intention to make drawing more fun and the artistic process more accessible any more. Because I made them visible, I wanted them to be known.
What began as a little break from all the hours I’d sunk into the project became one week, and then two, of not doing anything at all.
But I still had to write something. It wasn’t until draft three or four million that I realized if I was going to write anything meaningful for Art of Hustle about continuing the work, I had to write about quitting.
Of course, to do so was impossible to accomplish without outing myself as a fake, as yet another person promising that artists can make art without “caring” about who sees it.
“Join my Ugly Comics Revolution! Make art because it moves you! Create and share and screw the outcome!”*
*Oh, and by the way, if you make your artwork public and aren’t recognized and celebrated for it immediately, you should probably quit just like I did.
The “Success” Trap
Once my work was online I caught myself measuring my own definition of success – making the art, committing to the process, believing in the work – against the other definitions of success that exist around artwork in the public sphere. Definitions that have words like “monetized” and “published” and “book contract” in them. Having the work out there in the world, and continuing to do it, suddenly wasn’t enough. I wanted recognition. Without it, I didn’t know how to actually feel successful in the terms that I myself had laid out.
This isn’t an attractive truth. I wrote around what was happening in draft after draft of my “continuing the work” essay, too embarrassed to tell people that, although I am the creator of a series of comics that actively discourage this kind of thinking, I had fallen victim to it anyway. Ugly Comics are about the possibilities that can exist when you don’t care about who will see your work, and here I was obsessing over their ability to make me and my artistic vision more visible in a more mainstream context to an unseen audience of strangers on the Internet.
What Working Artists Know
It is true that, on the one hand, publishing work online offers artists the ability to be our own managers and publishers and promoters. There is the potential that work put into the public domain will indeed take off and become successful more quickly than it might otherwise have been, given that with the publication of work online there is a potential to reach a world-wide audience more quickly than ever before. The possibility of being hyper-visible is, or seems to be, right at our fingertips.
But on the other hand, there is a sort of pressure that I did not at all anticipate for work that’s published online to be discovered and celebrated instantaneously. Because the publication of the work is immediate, the response seems like it should be immediate, as well. The Internet offers a specific form of trickery that can convince novices and the slightly-stupid such as myself that visibility and recognition for one’s work is effortless for the people who have found success for their art online. Effortless meaning “quickly.”
The only thing that happened quickly for me once Ugly Comics were public was how quickly the excitement of publishing myself wore off. When I was faced with the reality that the process I was entering into was one of a lot of work with little-to-no recognition for it, I froze. I stopped drawing Ugly Comics after I made them public because it’s hard, sometimes really hard, to maintain a belief in and commitment to work when it entails hours spent at an extra job that doesn’t bring in any income, or instantly generate new opportunities, or garner widespread acclaim. Working artists know this. Now I do, too.
The Art of Learning the Art of Hustle
The thing is, when I wrote about starting the work I had just started it. I had no way of knowing that after I made the website, after Ugly Comics were public, my relationship to the work would change. It surprised me. There was a piece of me that didn’t think it was possible for me to believe that my comics will only make a difference, will only be meaningful or valuable, when they make me visible.
So I started to draw about it.
I created Ugly Comics because actually being an artist, finding a way to do the work and not obsess over what other people thought of it, felt impossible. I thought that in creating a series of comics that acknowledges the pressures of making art “good” and actively discouraging the desire to please others with my work, I could successfully avoid that pressure myself. I couldn’t.
The art of hustle has its own rhythms, and is a hard, lonely art to master. I had to learn that it’s ok to lose momentum, to lose faith in a project. I had to quit working to figure out that being a working artist means that you write the essay even when it takes you three months, even when you think that the work you are writing about is meaningless or futile. Even when you want to give up. Because being a successful artist, a truly successful artist, means finding your way back to your beautiful, weird, individual idea after bashing it to shreds, doubting it, and tearing it to pieces, taking a deep breath, and starting all over again.
Have you ever felt like quitting? Yes, we all have. It’s normal. Art of Hustle thanks Alanna for baring her soul, and sharing these lessons on struggle and spirit. Please share this post with friends and colleagues that have gone through it or are going through it now. They might appreciate knowing that they’re not alone in having to push through uncertainty. And as always, we’d love to hear your comments below! Thank you.