Over the past two months or so, the Days of Yore, a new site devoted to interviewing successful artists about the time before their breakthrough, has published eleven interviews aimed at inspiring young creative types to keep striving. Here’s a mix of snippets from the interviews as Monday inspiration to help you push through the work week ahead.
This week, painter Lisa Sanditz talks about being able to support herself in a field where financial success is hardly to be taken for granted. Her advice to young artists is:
I would advise young people to apply to shows. And to have your own shows. Take initiative. There seems to be a lot of different kinds of galleries now. Having people into your apartment space as a gallery, inviting friends, seems to work as a way of building dialogue and getting to know other people. I think very few people who wait around will have things happen for them.
The writer Anne Fadiman, descibes her “salad days” like this:
I’m afraid my salad days consisted, so to speak, of smallish piles of rather wilted lettuce. I lived with a roommate on East 84th St. in New York, in an apartment where the roaches outnumbered the paying tenants by a ratio of several thousand to one. My roommate was an editorial assistant whose daily schedule was enviably structured. She strode briskly from our apartment each morning, dressed for success, long before I’d even risen and put on my working garb of old jeans and a T-shirt. We cooked inexpensive meals from the Joy of Cooking my mother had sent me, often purchasing ingredients from the Hungarian food stores that still predominated in our neighborhood in the mid-70s. I stayed up very late every night, occasionally galvanized to action but mostly staring at my typewriter and failing to write.
The journalist and writer Joe Klein tells us you have to have guts:
But if you’re going to do anything that doesn’t involve nine to five, anything that involves creativity, you have to take risks. Because if you’re going to be good at what you do, you’re going to have to stretch what the traffic will bear.
Theatre director Anne Bogart admonishes us to keep moving:
The image that I have is all about my feet. I imagine looking down at my feet each and every day walking to rehearsal. It is the walking, the getting there, on time, that seems to be the key. Keep moving. Get there on time. This seems to help.
The performer Dave Hill tells us to entertain ourselves first:
I guess it’s a bit of a cliche, but go with your gut and don’t get caught up in what other people think. And entertain yourself first because if you are not a fan of what you’re creating, it will usually end up sucking. I think sometimes people put what they think an audience might like or what another comedian, writer, or musician might do in a particular situation [ahead of] what they are truly into. To me, the result of that is always way less interesting and original than stuff that people come up with just trying to entertain themselves. And no one ever got as big as the Beatles by ripping off the Beatles.
Actress Jan Maxwell claims she had no other choice but to do what she does:
This sounds really hokey, but a part of me believes that I don’t have any other talents whatsoever. It was in The Red Shoes, where they ask the girl: “Why do you dance?” and she says, “Why do you breathe?” It’s just something I had to do – it’s a passion of mine and I had to persevere.
Others, like writer Sam Lipsyte, briefly entertained other careers:
Other things I wanted to be included a pro quarterback, a nameless drifter in the French Foreign Legion, and a European film director. Later I fronted an art rock band. But I was always drawn back to writing, to playing with language, telling stories. I wanted to write because I loved to read, and I wanted to do what the writers of those books had done. I wrote a story when I was fifteen about a middle-aged man having a terrible divorce and recalling his days as high school shot put champion. I actually was a high school shot-putter so I didn’t have to research that part. The rest I had no handle on whatsoever. It was utter crap, but I was hooked.
Musician Carl von Arbin encourages us to say “yes!”
And then you have to say yes, it’s so wonderful to say yes. There is so much no in the world. It’s wonderful to give yourself up, to just throw yourself out there. It can lead you somewhere else, somewhere unexpected.
The writer Robert Cohen tells us he was once the kind of student he now loathes to have in class:
I was one of those back-of-class, sitting there with his arms folded, fuck you kind of guys. The kind of people I really hate as a teacher and yet for some reason sort of attract. [laughs] I had ambitions, I had pretensions, I sort of prided myself back then as being this up-against-the-wall radical experimentalist, railing against any kind of bourgeois realism. And I considered it a point of pride that nobody understood what I was doing, and I would have been crushed if they had. Of course I was crushed anyway. I pursued [writing], I did, but I didn’t get much better. I just kept wanting it, basically.
Comedian Kristen Schaal lists the worst day jobs she had:
I was a character actor at F.A.O. Schwartz; that was the worst one. No one wants to pretend to be happy for an eight-hour shift. It’s mentally unhealthy.
And writer Gary Shteyngart talks darkly about the end of books:
The demise of writers as cultural figures has happened so quickly, I think it is still a shock. It is interesting to look at younger people from generations ahead of mine, because they never counted on that to begin with. But my peers, the people in their late 30’s now, to us literature still mattered when we were in our 20’s. We would discuss the new Martin Amis book with a comrade who was not a writer himself. Recently I was at a dinner with a lot of very young people who just graduated from college and a friend said, “Oh, Gary is a novelist,” and they all looked at me like, what the hell is that? Like in a zoo! And then my friend said, “And he is also a contributing editor to Travel and Leisure,” and they said, “Oooo! Travel and Leisure! That must be awesome, dude!”
It’s been a great summer of interviews so far. And there are many more yet to come.