By Brandon Long, Creative Director
As the Creative Director at the Community Arts Center in Danville, Kentucky – I’ve dealt with a lot of artists over the years. Each and every one of those artists is singlehandedly, and quite paradoxically, the Greatest Artist in the World. Not just in my community, but everywhere I go – every artist I’ve met is the greatest.
How are these artists the greatest in the world? Why have you not read about them in art history books or seen their work in museums? It is because they have internalized their greatness. As artists, you (me too!) must determine that you are the most incredible artist the world has ever seen. There’s the old saying, “He’s a legend in his own mind,” which should ring true for everyone who dares proclaim themselves an Artist. You really do have to believe you are the greatest to do it right.
As a kid, I played little league basketball and baseball, and looking back I can only smile at my delusions of grandeur. I, and every other player on the court or field, knew- just knew- we’d hit the big leagues and become professionals. The confidence that young athletes display is truly astounding. Most of them even have their parents convinced that they’ll be sitting courtside at the NBA playoffs in 2035, wildly cheering on their lil’ champ. But, in sports, as with a lot of things in the real world, the numbers don’t lie.
At the end of the season, it’s obvious who the real stars are as the points are tallied and the statistics are figured. Honestly, if you can’t outplay the other eight-year-olds in your own cul-de-sac, how are you going to go toe to toe with LeBron James? But that doesn’t stop these kids (and their parents) from believing that they are destined for greatness.
In the world of the arts, we have even more reasons to believe in ourselves. We don’t have scores. We don’t have statistics. I suppose you could get technical and try to tally hours spent vs. money earned in your art career (DO NOT do that, it’ll crush you), but no one really keeps score in that way. In the world of the artist, we can create with an unprecedented level of hope. We have Jackson Pollock, who spattered and dripped his way to millions, but we also have Van Gogh, who made almost a thousand paintings and only sold one during his life. The story of art has an incredible history of losers that have become winners.
If you truly want to live up to your self-perpetuated title of the Greatest Artist in the World, you have to be living up to the definition of artist. Who is an artist? One who makes art. If you want to be winning, you have to be in the game. Muhammad Ali, who championed (and lived) the phrase, “I am the greatest,” certainly kept it in the present tense. I don’t recall him saying, “I WAS the greatest,” or, “I USED TO BE the greatest.” As an artist, you can’t decide that you are the greatest based on your past performance and then never create again. You have to keep it current, and keep evolving without looking in the rearview at what you used to be.
There are times when we need to be the greatest, and times where we need to assess our greatness. When creating (visual artists) or performing (performing artists), THAT is the time to tap into your greatness. No one can do what you are doing better than you. When in the studio or on stage, you need to be an unstoppable force of positivity. You need to be immune to mistakes. If you are confident and believe in yourself, those mistakes can often become great assets. There are some great quotes from musicians about being “in the zone,” and making the best of a mistake. From Miles Davis, we have, “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that make it right or wrong.” Even Beethoven said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.”
Does having this level of positivity mean that you never make a dud or a flop? Of course not. No one is above making a bad work of art or perhaps an artwork that just doesn’t work. Every artist has their own silent critic within them, but it is imperative to shut out any criticisms (even your own) until the work is complete. If the work isn’t up to the standards of something the greatest artist in the world (YOU) would make, then you can throw it out, start over, or just move on to the next work. Remember: You are the greatest. You don’t have time for disappointment. Just keep moving.
But… How can every artist be the greatest? In the world outside the mind of an artist, there truly isn’t enough room for all that greatness. Some artists hang their art in the Louvre while others hang in the loo (that’s British for bathroom). Not every artist can be the greatest in terms of appreciation from others, but that certainly can’t (and shouldn’t) stop them from believing so.
When things don’t go your way – when you don’t get selected for an exhibition, you don’t get that freelance gig, or maybe your client isn’t satisfied, don’t get down on yourself. It’s easy to think right away that you’re “just not good enough” or that “you’re never gonna make it,” or any other of a host of self-defeating statements, but in reality, there are a lot of factors at play. Maybe the timing’s not right, maybe they were looking for a different style, or (my favorite) maybe they’re just not ready for me.
Remember: You Are the Greatest!