Monday, January 13, 2014

Does It Really Matter Where You Live To Become A Successful Artist?

Happy new year BunBuns! Hope everyone is rejuvenated and focused on making our dreams come true this year, Yee! 

One question has been driving me crazy for the past three years since returning to Atlanta: "Do I really need to be in New York or Los Angeles to make this art thing work?" I keep contemplating whether I should stay in Atlanta, or move back to Los Angeles, or go to Europe, or hang out in my birth city, Beijing (China).  I even thought about going to Mongolia to learn about my Mongolian roots, since I'm part Mongolian.  Most likely, I've probably asked you whether I should stay here or go back to LA. lol Is the grass really greener on the other side?  

Then I thought about what success really meant to me.  Do I consider myself successful if I'm happy?  Would I be considered successful if I became an art mogul?  Or is success measured by a person's contributions to society and level of philanthropy?  Could raising a joyful family be a measure of success? Could really knowing yourself be considered success?  Is success making a full time living as an artist? How do I define success to me?  

To me, success is defined by my level of happiness.  If I'm happy, then I'm successful since that's my ultimate priority.  As long as I can make art and support myself and my family from my craft, I think that's a measure of success. 

But is that enough? Should I want more?  Should I go for those big dreams of being in museum shows all around the world, more collectors eager to buy my work, making a shitload of money, more money than I can ever imagine?  Should I want that?  

Finally I decided that there are two levels of success... Success measured by happiness and having an amazing family, the minimum level of success.  I'd be completely content living this way, forever.  After all, it is a career milestone and an accomplishment to make a full-time living as an artist...But it's too safe. After you reach this milestone, then what?  

 So I decided to go all out for the big dreams.  Life is short; when we hit a milestone it's a celebration of our purpose.  It reminds us why we did it.  I'm not going to lie, I totally want to make loads of money because I want to put it towards philanthropy.  Even thinking about the dream is so fulfilling.  

Looking at what I define as success, I realized it could be done from anywhere. There were some amazing times in LA though.  Meeting Barbara Kruger, John Baldessari, Jerry Saltz, and Orlan were very memorable moments in my life.  It's good to have roles models; people you look up to and respect.  

Meeting Barbara Kruger was cool, I went to a lecture of hers. I was completely immersed in what she had to say.  My mentor wouldn't give me back my drink unless I went up to Mr. Baldessari and introduced myself.  Gotta love your mentors for that.  :) I was hella nervous, I think he got a little freaked out too. lol So finally I said hello, and he was really nice.  He reminds me of Santa Clause, that kind of good energy. 

I met Orlan in Miami during Basel actually, but I would not have been there if it weren't for my LA gallery taking me there.  She came in and saw my work, I want to think she grabbed my hand, and she told me "I will remember you".  Yeeeeeeee!!! Can you believe that?  It was so motivating.  It was one of the best moments of my life.  

I met Mr. Saltz at a lecture, he gave me his email.  I emailed him some images and he totally wrote back! He gave me some amazing ideas and feedback. I feel I really learned something with what he had to say. 

I wouldn't have had those experiences if I weren't in LA.   Were they amazing?  Of course.  Could I have experienced those things traveling there instead of living there? Absolutely.  

Big cities have their low points too.  High rent and expenses in general, crime, it's not all rosy.  Did I find some amazing opportunities? Yes.  Could I have networked when visiting the city and online to get amazing opportunities also?  Yes.   

I look at Atlanta and find a kind of peace.  The kind of peace that only your roots can give you, what it means to be Southern.  Yeah, it's weird. lol There's comfort here; a relaxed pace, and damn good BBQ. 

Doesn't mean I'm not productive.  You can be just as productive being in Atlanta than any other big city.  You just have to get your work out there.  I think Atlanta is a good home base; real estate is affordable.  I can say the quality of life is better down here, I definitely believe that.   

So one day back in 2008, when shit was really hard, one of my mentors came to gently give me encouragement; to get me to be more motivated. I was in a serious pit of depression.  Okay, I whined a little bit.  He was blunt, direct, and made so many points at once when he said " Yun, everybody has their sob stories.  It's ALL about the work.  That's the only thing that matters." 

When I heard that, it put into perspective the scope of my problems.  I was still depressed, but I knew I'd get out of my funk by focusing on the work. Even now when I start whining to myself, I remind myself of what my mentor said.   

If it's all about the work, does it really matter where you make the work? 

1 comment:

gregory walker said...

I have been having these same thoughts regarding whether I need to be living in one of the "big cities" in order to be a part of the art market/scene/community. Rents are high here in Los Angeles and in NY and probably in Chicago. Artists are forced to either move further onto the fringe (Lancaster is the new LA art scene?) or pay exorbitant rents for reduced space. And what is the quality of life that runs parallel to this struggle?----pollution, traffic, stress, separation from natural, unpaved spaces. Don't get me wrong. I love LA and I grew up in southern California. Ten years in Manhattan. Fifteen in Los Angeles. Am I ready to leave LA, again? Can I disavow the art community here? It seems like that is the question. But is there really a center of the art world today? It seems more and more decentralized with each passing year. The edgy attitude of yesteryear seems tired and hammy. It's the 21st century. That romantic bohemian culture seems to have been commodified into downtown loft/condos. There is the sense of something new or pre natal. A place about to be. And maybe that is the new center---the center of expectation that is transient, nomadic, remote.

I'm trying to answer these questions now. What would it take for me to be able to move to a more affordable town, maybe close to nature, maybe in nature? Why are so many artists living in the same places? doesn't that make them more the same? Don't I need to be there in order to be a part of the dialogue? Your mentor brought up a good point. It's all about the work. That's the only thing that matters. My mentor has added that it is also about the ability to keep working. I know many artists who have been working a long long time and they have found a way for it all to work together for their lives. There is a flow to what they do. And they work well and live in some comfort. Not superstars by any gauge. But, again, what is important and what work is being done? These seem to be the big questions for individuals as well as communities.

I'm giving it a year, seeing if I can prepare to leave, looking at my options. I'm not sure. Maybe I'll stay. Not forever. I will leave eventually.