Every artist's "how I made it" talk, ever



Art is luxury, but so is artistry itself. The price of devoting huge portions of your time to creating art is the value of the opportunity cost of that time.

If you want to spend 40 hours a week creating, you need to be able to pay for those 40 hours - and until you’re one of the top artists in the world and can produce art which commands a pricetag big enough to cover that, you’re going to have to find funding for those 40 hours somewhere else.

For every successful creator, there are many, many thousands of artists of equal talent, desire, and persistance who never suceed. Most settle for devoting less time to their art, turning it into a sort of leisure activity done in their spare time. Some blur the line between their art and their craft - for example, history is full of world class painters earning their daily bread by painting signs and performing other menial, unartistic endeavors.

But ultimately, creativity is a luxury activity - something you can only engage in once your other, more pressing needs are met.


You can also decide that sleep is “not that important” :smile:

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Except that these talks are about anything but how they actually made anything.
Instead of “how I made it” talks, they should perhaps be called “why some people liked it” talks.

Any kind of success depends upon what your goals are. If you are a boring person who “just happens” (yukyuk) to have the same goals as billions of other people, then your chances of doing comparatively well are naturally miniscule. If you align yourself with goals that pretty much nobody else shares, then you are likely to be quite successful. So there’s an easy choice - would you rather set a goal and achieve it by yourself, or play the same silly game as countless others to make your life easier for other primates to relate to?

This sounds to me like complete nonsense.

History not only demonstrates that there are very, very, very, staggeringly few original ideas, but also that incredibly often when people have new ideas or set goals no one else shares, they get ignored or overlooked or just fail to catch on.

You can have the best idea in the world, but if the conditions aren’t right for society at large to recognize and adopt that idea, it doesn’t matter. This applies to everything - technology, culture, philosophy, whatever. If people are either unable or unwilling to embrace your revolutionary idea, it isn’t a revolutionary idea.

The key to success isn’t “being special”, or “thinking outside the box”. Plenty of unoriginal hacks succeed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and countless innovative thinkers fail utterly. Popularity has almost zero correlation with actual worth or value. And nothing unpopular ever succeeds.


Why would you assume that there would be a historical record of one person’s unpopular achievements? This sounds like pure populism to me. What does personal attention, recognition, or acceptance have to do with anything? It’s only a “failure” to catch on if there is any reason for others to do anything similar in the first place, and there is no objective reason to assume any.

Doesn’t matter to whom? If it helps some society then it is because I am doing original work, just like anyone can. If it was already being done by others, there might not be any reason to make a redundant pursuit of it.

Succeed at what? Like I said before, success depends upon what your goals are. Your last paragraph here seems like it could be condensed into saying “popularity equals success”, but I define this as a lack of goals and individuation. People are often basically programmed to assume that it really matters what people think of them, or if others share their ideas - so it is easy to assume that this is true. But what actual evidence there is for this has limited applicability.

As someone said, having one follower is what makes a person a leader instead of a lone crackpot.


Sounds like a problem either way!

Or, as Robert Anton Wilson put it: “A disciple is an asshole looking for a human being to attach itself to.”


Luck + persistence = basically every success story ever, not just artists.

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It’s worth noting that here’s no necessary correlation, either positive or negative, between originality and quality.

Also, anyone familiar with trying to actually make a living from art of any form can tell you that when it comes to actually making ends meat “originality” generally takes a fairly distant back seat to “same but different” or, failing that, “more of the same”.

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I think it needs to be pointed out that the title of the performance used the word “creative” and not “artist”. This makes a huge difference considering the target of the lampooning are TED Talks, where the “creative” giving the talk is, more times than not, someone from the tech world, and not someone who we would traditionally think of as an artist.

Why Cory opted to change this one word is a mystery, but it does make a big difference, as many of the comments in this thread illustrate.

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My parents have two friends who are very successful artists. When i was a kid, and our friends were in their 20’s, it was hard to imagine that either would ever make true successes of themselves - one was doing a weird LSD underground comic and the other was an uninspiring painter, then an uninspiring potter, and I don’t remember his line drawings being anything special either.

They both continued for many years to work full time as artists, developing their talents, finding their mediums, their audiences, and making connections as artists that served them. For years they barely eeked out a living but seeming to be okay with not having a lot of stuff as long as their lives were filled with art and the time to do other things they enjoyed.

Both of them eventually found their particular niche and audience. The painter/potter/drawer clearly found his medium when he began working glass - even his early work was extraordinarily beautiful. The comic artist switched to drawing about the gay scene and eventually drew a glossy graphic novel. A graphic novel wasn’t even a thing that could be successful at the time he started in the field.

So, having seen people who “hit the lottery”, There was no luck involved but simply a comfort with living without a lot of things, patience to learn the skills of being an artist and also of marketing their work, and enough skills to earn a basic living as full time artists while they figured it out.

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In the realm of extreme dedication there was Joyce Carol Oates, who decided to be a writer as a precocious teen who loved novels. Rather than becoming a hermit in some graduate writers program doing the millionth thesis on Jame Joyce, as an undergraduate she started slamming out out novel after novel on her manual typewriter and then burning them. And that’s how she became the greatest female author of our era.

On the one hand, it’s been said that the successful creative person is possessed by an idea of great intensity, but it must also be said that it has to resonate with other people. But you can’t just be the millionth person selling beaded jewelry on Etsy. Sometimes people are motivated by jealousy or spite, but it’s also healthy to have a keen eye on the competition. The difference between competitiveness and neurosis is often unclear, and in the end it’s back to the theme of good luck and a fortunate outcome that creates a reputation for shrewd judgment rather than madness.

This is the mathematician artist talk. The artist artist talk is “Me Me Me. Overcame luck and conditions. Brilliant!”

What if my goal was to put a half pound of gorilla feces up my nose? I could be highly successful, without ever being popular.

Although I guess these days you never know what’s going to be the next craze.

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We’re not talking technical success in the sense of completion of an aim, but “success” in the broader sense.

If you’re the only person who cares about your nasal fecal transplant, you haven’t found “success” in a broader sense - even if you did manage to “succeed” in not accidentally sticking it in your eye.

Right, but I’m saying I don’t see any definition of ‘“success” in the broader sense’ that isn’t basically a synonym for popularity or an inevitable consequence of popularity. Is there more or less to success?

I personally only care about my own personal subjective measures of success (this annoys my children no end) and popularity’s not on my list. I think that’s what @popobawa4u was driving at earlier.


I love this. People always neglect the importance of luck in success. I particularly like this since it’s the long form of something I’ve said for many years about many successful entrepreneurs that I’ve encountered: “S/He won the lottery, and concluded that s/he is particularly good at playing the lottery.” Sure, there was (usually) a certain amount of skill, but that isn’t what distinguished them from many others. What distinguished them was luck.


You just explained Jackass


I’ve often thought that you can learn more from failures than from really successful people. Because a successful person… he doesn’t know what pitfalls they missed (or didn’t have to worry about because of some kind of privilege), how much luck played a role, all he can see is that he made it.

A failure often knows EXACTLY where they went wrong, and while their advice might not get you all the way there, it might help you see the obstacles coming while there’s still time to avoid it.

Of course, maybe I just think that because I feel like a huge failure and wish more people would talk to me and ask advice.

(Though of course the best of both worlds would be those people who failed several times before correcting their errors and making it.)