On March 6th, my sister-in-law Heather sent me an email about a book called "Living the Artist's Life" by Paul Dorrell. Specifically, she sent me an email telling me that they were giving away FREE copies to bloggers and had just extended the offer to locations outside of the continental United States.
A sentence containing the words "free", "book" and "artist" was impossible for me to pass on and I dashed off an email to them, never suspecting that I might actually be among the first seventy people or so to do so. I simply assume that everyone is like me and, upon hearing the words "free book" will start salivating, twitching and frenetically typing an email request. Apparently not everyone has the same reaction. Weird.
So the publisher sent me a copy which I received on my birthday (excellent timing, folks!). I spent a couple of evenings perusing and digesting and have to say that it was a fascinating read. While it left me with few major revelations and told me very little that I didn't already know or suspect, it performed the all-important function of affirming for me that my take on my life and that of others in this profession is close to the mark.
We do what we do because we simply cannot stop doing it without losing a piece of our beings. In persisting as artists, we struggle with money, relationships, self-esteem, other commitments, money, family & friends, public perception, self-esteem, money and feelings of futility. Did I mention self-esteem and money? Dorrell resolves the great paradox that artists face each day; we persist in a life of frustration because we can't bloody stop. (Sometimes it feels like you're whacking yourself on the head so that, eventually, you'll get it right and be able to hit that perfect spot that won't hurt. In the meanwhile.. ouch.) Our work can obsess us, infuriate us, elate us and deflate us. Sometimes the bad feeling outweigh the good. We run this gamut, sometimes monthly, sometimes daily, and constantly question why the hell we do what we do. Then we go back and do it again. And trust me, it's not for the money.
Dorrell writes frankly and candidly, without pulling punches or hiding the unsightly. It was a profound relief to read this, in the way that having any major suspicion about your life confirmed is a relief. Kind of like being told that you weren't imagining things, that you really do have a disease of some sort. At least you know what it is, that you are (within the realm of your abilities and personality) "normal" and, to some degree, what you can do to keep going. Nothing helps misery like knowing that it will end. Trust me. Women who have given birth know these sorts of things. Dorrell's own life, experiences and trials are presented with a candor that allows the reader to evaluate his or her own life and recognise similarities and merciful differences. Don't disparage the, "I'm so glad that's not me," Syndrome; sometimes you'll take whatever gets you through the night.
The business info in the book was written mostly from an anecdotal perspective; Dorrell presents the system that he and his artists use that has evolved from years of trial and error. It's presented as a take-it-or-leave-it pool of experience, in which he gives examples of what has worked for him and tells why. There's info about how to do up a curriculum vitae, portfolio, artist's statement, biography and other forms of material presentation. He covers how to deal with the press and it was interesting to see how much what he said jived with Craig Welsh's excellent four-part series on How to Pitch to an Entertainment Writer.
Dorrell's reflections on art fairs, juried shows and soliciting a relationship with a gallery are good and solid. What is refreshing is how he is able to alternate between his role as a gallery owner and art consultant and his own personal forays into the world of the creative spirit as a writer. When he discusses portfolios, he is able to pinpoint what will draw the eye and interest of a gallery owner. His role as an art consultant allows him to recognise that not all artists are starting from the same point of departure and some will have more content for such a portfolio than will others.
He touches on just about all aspects of life as an artist, from the miseries to the commissions, promotions and dealing with clients. His own personal examples and the examples of the lives of other artists with whom he works serve to illustrate at once the diversity of experience of artists and the sameness of certain facets of life through which all artists seem to pass.
All told, it was a good book and one that I will read and reread periodically for a refresher on the basics and an affirmation that I'm on the right track. Worth a read, especially if you periodically suffer from misdirection, a fundamental questioning of the path your work is taking (or even its basic validity) or a desire to crack a window into the life of artists everywhere.
As an addendum, Dorrell himself is a writer, and recognises that much of what he says about the psychological aspects of the life of an artist extend into artistry with words.