Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reach For The Stars! (But Aim For The Closest One)

    I still remember an art club meeting in high school. Yep, I'm taking it back that far. The purpose of the meeting was to decide what design to put on the art club t-shirts, which we'd sell to students to earn money for the art department. Being a snotty artist-wannabe punk rocker who subscribed to the D.I.Y. ethos even then (especially then), I suggested that we hand-paint the shirts ourselves with acrylic. Each shirt would be a one-of-kind piece of art. High School students can be surprisingly receptive to the art of their peers. My stuff back then looked like crap, but the students at the time would have you think I was a genius. And most of them hated me. Imagine if I was cool! With individuals painting in different styles, that meant that we weren't stuck with just one design that may only appeal to certain people. Customers could pick the shirts that spoke to their style or interests. I knew that the paint would hold up to repeat washes, because I'd already painted a lot of shirts and jackets for myself and friends. I also knew that the paint and the blank shirts would be cheaper than paying to have a company screen print them. Our school didn't offer a screen printing class, otherwise I might've suggested we screen shirts ourselves. The savings of my plan could've either meant cheaper shirts that just about everyone could afford, or an increase in profit per shirt. My idea was quickly squashed, however, with club members and the teachers alike declaring it unfeasible. "How are we supposed to paint that many shirts?" Simple. We had almost 20 students in the club and more in art classes sympathetic to the cause. If each kid painted 2 shirts, we'd already have 40-50 right there. Some of us had simpler aesthetics (or just worked faster), and probably could've cranked out 10 shirts each. Plus some of the kids were into making prints from tiles and/or stencils. Honestly, we could've gotten away with just splashing paint and scrawling "ART CLUB" across the front. But, again, I was shot down. Brokenhearted. Well, slightly snottier, anyway.

    So they picked a kinda bland design (I assume, because I don't remember it at all), had a bunch "professionally" made, and sold a few. More important to the story is that they sold themselves short. It wasn't that they were particularly lazy. They just envisioned things to be more complicated and thought them impossible to do in a timely manner. "How do you expect me to paint realistic portraits of the entire student body on multiple shirts in two weeks?" I don't. Make something that you like that's appropriate to the situation. I'm not saying don't challenge yourself. Just make sure your goal is achievable and preferably malleable. When we first started the GAD! Zine, there were folks who didn't think that even the first issue would happen. They imagined a full-color, glossy covered, 40 page magazine with a sale price of five to ten dollars. And not to make a profit, but to cover expenses. The GAD! Zine is photocopied, black ink only, on the standardest easy-to-find white paper. Besides being (hopefully!) appealing aesthetically in an "old school" way, it makes it way easier and cheaper to complete. We don't have a set page count or a definitive deadline. When we think it's done, it's done. We give away the zine for free. Could we sell it? Maybe. And maybe we will one day, but probably not, and certainly not anytime soon. Because we came up with something relatively manageable, we can mostly survive on donations and fundraising projects. It's not that we're allergic to personal profit. In this nation of capitalist freedom, those with the most captial are the most free. But we care more about growing something creative that sticks around. We profit emotionally from that. For that matter, if we accomplish our goal of promoting the art and artists we care about, we create a better circumstance to sell our other endeavors to an audience. But if that doesn't happen, oh well. That's not the point anyway. We've made the world a more interesting, if not better, place. I've kinda gone off on a tangent, but who cares? We make our own rules with this blog too.

    People may tell you that your ideas are not practical. And they may not be. Make them practical, at least practical for you. It's like I tell my kids, I want them to be the best themselves that they can be. And we define ourselves. And we can redefine ourselves at any time. Too many people have lofty ambitions that they give up on when they realize that they were too great instead of simply adjusting. When I was a kid, I'd watch countless cartoon villains almost defeat the heroes, only to barely be undone by missing one angle. Then the next episode they'd try a brand new plan instead of just tweaking the old one. Don't be a villain like Megatron or Cobra Commander. Be the best you that you can be. Be a better villain. Or something.  -Adam Harmless

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