Lesson 1- Being A Successful Artist Is Easy (Lessons Learned From A One-man Band Singing Sensation)
Updated: Jun 12
I’m a very lucky person… or at the very least, a strategic person. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by some incredibly hard-working, talented and knowledgable people. Actually, that’s a bit humble of me to say. So instead, let me say I’ve surrounded myself with people like that. I’ve found it rubs off on me. If one is surrounded by people who like hard work then the chances are they’re working most of the time. The really clued in people combine their play-time with their work-time. For example: if your favourite thing to do is draw, then when you get together with your friends, you have a bit of a drawing session. It’s a win/win. You get some work done and hang out doing something you love.
My friend, Dean Chalkley is like that. He is a damn good portrait photographer. You have all seen his work but you may not know it’s him. Whatever he is doing, he has a camera with him and he never wastes a minute. Here is a classic Dean story: I got a call from him one day saying, “Hey mate, how quickly can you make to Camden?”
“I don’t know, about 25 minutes. Why, what’s up?” I said.
“Well, we have cameras, a stylist, lights. Everything except, Amy Winehouse, who hasn’t shown up. She’s paid for the session. Fancy some shots on her?” I guess they tried to take her picture and she said, no, no, no. (Sorry, I couldn't resist)
I made it there in 20 minutes, dripping with sweat. We spent a few hours taking some shots and I got a disc at the end with about 300 awesome photos to use as I pleased. I always say yes to anything Dean is involved in. Nothing but good has come from my relationship with him. In fact, I met my wife through him.
Now in that situation I know a lot of people of people who would have packed up their gear and enjoyed their day off. But not Dean. He set out to take pictures, that day and that’s what he did. It’s what he always does.
Photo by Dean Chalkley
When I was 17 my band, Gorp tried to get a grant from the Canadian government to make a music video. Our application was unsuccessful but I met film-maker Christopher Mills, whom I mentioned in the prologue.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had Christopher make 5 videos for me simply because he liked the songs and felt deserved a video. He is another one of these guys that makes music videos that all of you have seen but maybe didn’t know he made them. Look him up. You love him.
When he was last in London, we were sitting down having dinner when I reminded him of something that he had said to me when I was a teenager that had a profound impact on my future. He told me what he said (and I still believe) is the secret to being a successful artist: you simply make art. What comes after, whether successful, well-received or otherwise is entirely irrelevant. Artists make art. “If that means you have to avoid the student-loan guys and eat plain white rice three times a day to stay alive, so be it. And if anyone tells you otherwise ask them to see their art. I’ll bet they don’t have any!”
Since then I’ve paid close attention to the do-ers and try to keep them close. Here are some fine examples that I always think of:
Shelagh Freedman. She is a friend of mine who at 17 years old confided in me that she was going to swim right across Lake Ontario (for those who don’t realise the size of the Lake, it’s about the same distance as crossing the English Channel). And then she just went ahead and did it. She trained for a year, got in one end, separated her shoulder a few hours into it, popped it back in and 28 hours later she made it to the other side. She said she was going to do something and did it!^ Come to think of it, we’re talking about artists so let me give another example:
Christopher Harrison and Scott Gravesande were long-time freiends that I knew from High School. I lived with both of them at several times in my life, usually when I was ‘between places’ (basically homeless). The first time I lived with Chris he was always saying he was going to be a film director. To be honest, a lot of people said that back then. Quentin Tarantino had just went from video store clerk to indie director extraordinaire. Chris and I lost track for a couple of years. In that time, he and Scott raised $140,000 and made their first feature film, “Sight”. They just said they were going to do something and then they just did it. I’m not sure how many films they made and even though most of you haven’t seen their films, it is not the point.
I used to wear a second-hand Backstreet Boys t-shirt. I bought it at Value Village (second-hand super store) about 5 years after they were really popular. So many people thought that the t-shirt was so funny but here is the thing: how could all those people find it funny? Just 5 years before that the Backstreet Boys were literally the biggest band in the world and now everyone finds it funny? That, to me is proof that popularity and making money from one’s art doesn’t neccessarilly make one a success. It's completely subjective.
I’ve always remembered Christopher Mill’s advice and I’ve really lived by it. In order to avoid being braggadocious, I won’t list of any of my achievements. Let us just say that I am a highly successful artist. I just carry on making art. Anything else is gravy and no amount of success or lack there of will ever change the work I’ve done.
It is really is that simple.
^- years later I asked Shelagh why she never spoke about her great feat. She said because it was one of the most awful experiences of her life. What a shame. Well, im still impressed