EVOLUTION OF AN ARTIST
I began this project in the mid-1990's when I was still working as a research assistant in marine biology and going to school at night for scientific illustration. The text has not changed much, but the format has evolved along with my own developments. The first incarnation of the piece was called "How to Become a Famous Artist" (I was fully aware at the time that this was not a subject upon which I posessed any expertise whatsoever...it's just that the ideas came to me all in one fell swoop, and I felt a sense of urgency to write them down). The resulting "book" was laser printed on standard white 8.5" x 11" paper and bound on a sewing machine.
Before very long, I realized that "famous" wasn't at an accurate word for what I was striving for...so I changed the title to"How to Become a Successful Artist". Eventually, even "successful" seemed too ambiguous. So I changed the title once more to "Evolution of an Artist"...to evolve seemed like an appropriately open-ended ambition.
To make ODDS, the lottery ticket piece, I would purchase several $1 tickets with the SAME number, rubber-stamp them on the back, then mail the copies to fellow artists who had inspired me - this way, if the number came up, I'd have to split the jackpot with Laurie Anderson, Allen Ginsberg, or whomever I had sent the identical ticket to....and perhaps achieve some notoriety in the process. Back then, I had imagined that gaining renown would be a necessary part of forming a broad, rich potential substrate for ideas. Since that time, my thinking on this has changed.
The internet, for example, has become a viable medium through which to broadcast ideas in ways that are anonymous or in which attribution can be more subtle, without requiring the creator to maintain a presence as a focal point of the work. The creative commons – the notion that ideas can be willingly shared, elaborated upon, and appropriated as long as they are not used for commercial advantage – has gained widespread acceptance, especially among those who have come of age during the internet era.
Shortly after creating the cocktail napkin piece (A Vital Discipline), I realized that it was little more than a wordy paraphrase of Allen Ginsberg’s directive (which I'd heard him state during a reading in 1991): WHEN THE MUSE CALLS, ANSWER. I decided to send a copy of it to him immediately as an expression of my gratitude for his inspiration and to explain that I’d accidentally appropriated his idea. A year later, I was grateful to receive a reply in the form of a photocopied letter. In it he apologized for having become too weak and busy to answer mail personally. He said he needed “to find time to relax and do nothing but cultivate the muse.” His closing words were "immortality comes later". But the purpose of my note was to let him know that, for him, immortality was happening now – that I was one of thousands within whom his inspiration was very much alive. I sent back a postcard with a message of thanks, urging him not to fear death because he would live on as a muse – he would become the muse that others would cultivate forever. He died soon after.