Thank you to the audience members. Thank you to the people who take time out of their schedule to watch people pretend for two hours. Thank you to the ones who clap at the end of every performance. Without you, our performance is just a rehearsal.
1. Art requires time — there’s a reason it’s called a studio practice. Contrary to popular belief, moving to Bushwick, Brooklyn, this summer does not make you an artist. If in order to do this you have to share a space with five roommates and wait on tables, you will probably not make much art. What worked for me was spending five years building a body of work in a city where it was cheapest for me to live, and that allowed me the precious time and space I needed after grad school.
2. Learn to write well and get into the habit of systematically applying for every grant you can find. If you don’t get it, keep applying. I lived from grant money for four years when I first graduated.
3. Nobody reads artist’s statements. Learn to tell an interesting story about your work that people can relate to on a personal level.
4. Not every project will survive. Purge regularly, destroying is intimately connected to creating. This will save you time.
5. Edit privately. As much as I believe in stumbling, I also think nobody else needs to watch you do it.
6. When people say your work is good do two things. First, don’t believe them. Second, ask them, “Why”? If they can convince you of why they think your work is good, accept the compliment. If they can’t convince you (and most people can’t) dismiss it as superficial and recognize that most bad consensus is made by people simply repeating that they “like” something.
7. Don’t ever feel like you have to give anything up in order to be an artist. I had babies and made art and traveled and still have a million things I’d like to do.
8. You don’t need a lot of friends or curators or patrons or a huge following, just a few that really believe in you.
9. Remind yourself to be gracious to everyone, whether they can help you or not. It will draw people to you over and over again and help build trust in professional relationships.
10. And lastly, when other things in life get tough, when you’re going through family troubles, when you’re heartbroken, when you’re frustrated with money problems, focus on your work. It has saved me through every single difficult thing I have ever had to do, like a scaffolding that goes far beyond any traditional notions of a career.
For myself personally, I rely on that money, and this is a bit of a disaster. I’m at least $300 dollars short of being able to pay my bills this month due to this problem. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time for me, to be honest. I’ve reached out to family and friends already, and I thought it would be worthwhile to reach out to all of you as well.
Because of all of you, I’m able to work on projectslike my current ones. Next weekend, I’ve been asked to appear as a featured speaker at the University of Toronto, during the 4th Biennial meeting of the BABEL Working Group (Digital Humanities and Medieval Studies), to address the importance of accessible academia and social media discussions in these fields. In addition, I’ll be Flâneur at “Blackening the Books: The Abiding ‘Africanist Presence’ in the Pre- and Early Modern English Literary Canon” presented by Cord J. Whitaker. I’m also consulting/granting interviews on recent film casting, diversity and historical accuracy for some mainstream and popular culture news outlets this week.
It is my hope to be able to continue doing the work I love as long as you still care about it.