Hustle, Art, and 14 Year Old Girls

Posted 8/09/2011 by smartblackboy in Labels: , , , , ,

If we want to break the curse of the starving artist we have to start focusing on commerce.

A great nonprofit, Dallas Designing Dreams, whose board I recently joined, does just that.

This past Saturday in the Artist Quarters in South Side on Lamar Dallas Designing Dreams had an Art Show for the young people in their program. Patrons who attended bought their art and their leather products (think handbags, bracelets, belts) all created by the students.

An interesting thing happened, the young people who started the day shy and reticent suddenly became energetic and bubbly. They talked to every stranger walking by, they were telling their story, they were asking the founder, Arthur Porter, when they could come back and make more product. In a word – they were hustling.

For whatever reason – hustle – is a dirty word in the fine arts world. Maybe because it is the opposite of the cerebral processes that drive much contemporary art. Namely, hustle is not a thought experiment. It is not meditative. It isn’t an inside joke. It is physical, repetitive, banal, and utterly necessary.

Hustle can evolve – no one epitomizes this better than hip-hop legend Jay-Z. But why Warren Buffet and Jay-Z can become friends is because they both understand at the end of the day you have to roll up your sleeves and “just do it”.

Last Friday Anthony Boudain on Real Time with Bill Maher made a comment I’ve heard entirely too often – that the average Indian, Chinese, and Mexican kid understands the American dream much better than the American kid. They are the ones who will walk into a restaurant and ask for a dishwashing job. That they will hustle and do whatever it takes, while American kids have an entitlement attitude, that by virtue of being born they are above certain things.

Before we blame Reality TV, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, Skype, and webcams – let’s blame education. Point blank most “really really really good schools” do a terrible job teaching their students how to hustle. They do a great job teaching their students how to think – which is beautiful, worthwhile, and often worth the price of admission. But thoughts and creativity don’t put food on the table.

Hustle does.

And hustle is not a ‘black’ thing or a “minority” thing. White people used to be the best hustlers around. They called it “strong work ethic” – but it was the same thing. Get up early, stay up late, be humble, be smart, take advantage of any edge you have, make connections, network, do your job, be responsible, make money, provide for yourself and your family, 24/7/365.


The saying when life gives you lemons –make lemonade is not the American dream. If life gives you lemons, find someone thirsty and sell lemonade or export your lemons to China because they can’t get enough of them. God has given us creativity – we can create some really great stuff. We have education, we have technique – but we don’t have hustle. We don’t want to get dirty. We think commerce is a pollutant that will make our art less pure – not correct

Getting paid is exciting and fulfilling. Being able to travel where you want, when you want is greatness. Having a decent car and place to live is magnificent. Having health insurance, being able to go to a dentist, get some new eyeglasses – or visit a therapist on a regular basis, all of these things are wonderful. All of these wonders happen because of money. When my artists friends are getting paid they are happier and more well adjusted and pleasant than when they are not getting paid.

Money and creativity go together. An artist is a small business owner. It’s a market – and you have to compete – etc, etc, etc. Get over it.

Okay – I know what you are thinking – “Darryl artist who hustle make bad art. If their art was good, they will get discovered, and make lots of money. I don’t want to make garden gnomes all of my life.” True, we all know some artists who hustle whose art isn’t that great and artists who don’t hustle whose art is amazing. So What? If you think your art is better than the garden gnome artist, find his market and take away all of his clients. Steal everything he has worked his entire life to build. Put that garden gnome creator out of business. Show the people good art, and they will never buy bad art again.

Unfortunately you won’t do that. One, people want what they like – and a lot of people like garden gnomes. Two, you don’t know how to do market research – you don’t know how to create a business plan – you couldn’t steal a chocolate chip cookie even if it was on the window ledge, fresh out of the oven.

And that is the second reason artist starve – they don’t hustle and they don’t know business. Yet both can be taught. A 14 year old girl named Taylor learned the value of hustle this past Saturday- that talking to people, telling your story, hustling leads to cash in your pocket. She had already done the hard work of creating, learning how to sew, cut leather, paint, et al. Yet she found out that just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come. You have to go and grab it.

You have to Hustle, Hustle, Hustle Hard.

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