Hidden Artists' Survival Kit

On being overly critical 

Walking down the street in Montmartre last week, I found a painting left on the street, leaning against a wall up for grabs. It was a pretty big canvas, something like 120 x 90 cm, and had a  woman’s face on it that looked a bit like Lana del Rey with a cigarette between her lips and a wolf howling at the moon with some streets of Montmartre in the background. 

I felt an instant connection and knew I wanted it hanging in my studio.  Amazed that someone could throw this away, I took it. 

It made me think of an article I had read about the Swiss sculptor, Alberto Giacometti,who would work late into the night and, when dawn would peek through the horizon, he would throw everything in the garbage, angry and unsatisfied, before going to bed Some of his best works today ended up in the garbage and were salvaged by his brother.  

So the question is: “Are we really objective about our own work?" In many cases, I would say probably not. 

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking Fast and Slow, says that everything is less important than what we think while we are thinking about it. A little imperfection, something potentially invisible to anyone else, may take up extraordinary space in our minds  when we focus all of our attention on it. Don’t get me wrong; a hint of healthy perfectionism is good for anyone, but too much is counterproductive and can sometimes even be self destructive. 

Life is much easier when we fend off excessive self criticism with simple self discipline. When you are getting sucked into the endless perfectionism loop and rage starts to boil inside of you, find the strength to stop and do something else. Empty your head, replenish your energy, and come back later in a different state of mind.If you still think what you did sucks, there is no urgency. You can still throw it away tomorrow. 

Many artists often have nearly boundless compassion for  the world around them, but nearly none for themselves. Everyone, even the best, suck sometimes, and that’s just fine. The problems start when you freak out or go crazy and want to punish yourself. Throwing away, deleting, or burning your work. Loathing yourself. You being unhappy because your reality doesn’t match your mental image of the result and the greatness you want to achieve. You making yourself  miserable in hopes that it will somehow miraculously change everything. All of these reactions are manifestations of your ego talking. It’s your ego getting high on your suffering.   

But it’s quite childish, isn’t it? Cool off. Be kind to yourself. Things are what they are. Even bad work is a record of the path you’re on.  It’s like an old notebook found in the attic revealing the hidden details of the person you were at that moment.  

Being kind and forgiving with yourself is more important than any piece of art you could ever make.   

Remember: if your compassion doesn’t include you, it’s not complete.

Unknown does not necessarily mean untalented 

Often people question their talent. They think if they haven't gotten recognition yet, it’s proof that they lack talent. 

I recently discovered writer Lucia Berlin and instantly fell under her spell. The intensity and palpability of her work makes me feel like I could jump into the story and start talking with the protagonists. 

She died in 2004 virtually unknown to the general public, yet now she has become a literary sensation and is acclaimed as one of the 20th century’s best American writers.  

Don't wait for others to tell you what you’re worth. People don't know; you do. Keep doing what you do for as long as you enjoy it. Trends and opinions change often and fast, and you can’t get it right if you keep chasing that. You have better chances to produce something good if you do what you personally like and enjoy.


Lucia Berlin is finally a best selling author - Vanity Fair

Siddhartha - a must read for artists 

I discovered Siddhartha by Herman Hesse in the winter of 2018. I was alone on a long drive and had been singing out loud trying to come up with some new tunes. As a reward for finding a few good ones, I decided to treat myself to an audiobook on Spotify. After flipping between a few unappealing books, I stumbled onto this simple, poetic and deeply inspiring story. I drove listening to this beautiful novel, hypnotized by the crazy dance of snowflakes illuminated by the headlights.  

Like Siddhartha, artists are on a solitary mission. Every single one is walking a path no one else can walk. 

Like Siddhartha, artists have a lot to gain from letting go of the ego. Good stuff comes from the feeling of unity, inner peace and blissfulness. Every time I open this book, I feel blissful and inspired. And the cherry on top? There is always beautiful language to discover and fire up my neurons.  

Siddhartha is a must read for any artist.