When choosing my first artist to interview, Daniel Anderson was the obvious choice as an artist who has built a life out of his creative endeavors, a “successful” artist in my mind. I first met Daniel a couple years ago when we were both living in a warehouse in the SOMA district of San Francisco. He was entrenched in painting his walls using garbage bags to create texture in the paint and building a bench out of an abandoned door. Almost immediately, I found him to be innovative, practical, and a very kind person. Over the years, I spent time with him in his studio and it was clear to me that he had put a great deal of effort into creating a space for art. I remember sitting on his cushions and noticing a basket filled with markers, which he graciously encouraged me to experiment with. On any given day that I would visit him, he would usually be engaged with a new project or experiment of some kind. Often he would be simply painting a symbol of interest in a small pad or giddily playing with new software, talking of his plans with every bit of practicality and the ability to take risks. Something I wish to highlight with Daniel is his constant striving for balance, despite not always acquiring constant equilibrium he seems to always strive for it and make it the foundation of his artistic practice. “It comes down to discipline for me…Sometimes I burn myself out quickly because I’ll get so excited about a project that I won’t stop working on it. That’s the opposite imbalance of procrastinating, but it’s still imbalance.”
In several of our personal discussions on what it means to be an artist, the concept of having a healthy relationship with your art has come up often. All artists have felt at one time the presumption of others or themselves that the artistic life is automatically synonymous with the impoverished and unhappy life. Daniel has often questioned and/or challenged the stereotype of the starving artist by rejecting that ultimate sense of victimhood that comes along with it.
“I feel I succeed as an artist when I do good work that I love and someone else loves it too. But I’m also human and need to survive. Some artists, even when they’re successful as artists, don’t survive or choose not to survive. Why does our art sometimes make us self-destructive? I feel a successful artist somehow must also be a successful human.”
Growing up in an artist family (his mother a silversmith and painter, his father a musician) and interacting with the world as a visualist, Daniel cites abstract expressionism as one of his first artistic loves as a teenager. His influences include Rothko, Pollock, de Kooning, and Diebenkorn. He later gained an interest in movement and performance by spending time with a pyrotechnic circus troupe called Flam Chen and was trained in silk aerial, a form of acrobatic movements performed on hanging fabric. “They introduced me to Butoh, stilting, and ritual as performance. Most importantly, I learned that the body can be an instrument of expression. I also learned this by studying Aikido, which turns the body into a tool for physical interaction.”
Daniel’s interests in movement, performance, interaction, and visuals have been congruously carried through into his current projects.”Right now I’m using the Leap device, which is a spatial hand sensor. I hope to create an interactive instrument that artists and performers can use to create visuals and sound or both. A cross between a theremin and a DJ mixer…I’m also working with video mapping, so I’m starting to think about light as a way of [bringing] sculpture and architecture to life. Right now I have a small tetrahedron that works well for rooms. Eventually I hope to have a whole series of platonic-like solids that I can play like live light sculptures with a series of gestural hand routines.” He recently has constructed a pyramid out of fabric and cardboard where he projects preconceived digital images on the surface and manipulates them using the Leap device. He has already performed live VJ shows in local venues under the nickname Blondknaut and encourages spectators to join in. Daniel’s hope is to encourage communal interaction for this project.
Describing his artistic essence, Daniel notes language as his medium. He seeks to use his ability to express as a mode to influence himself and others on a spiritual, psychological, and metaphysical level. He believes in evolving out of a “current state of awareness” by using the symbolic power of art to evoke conscious changing metamorphosis. “I’m really interested in how symbols form reality. Everything we do seems to be a reflection of our psychology, which seems to be informed by symbols. Everything in the world is or can be a symbol, including art. So When I create a new symbol and digest it, like I do a work of art, I can use it to modify my psychology.”
All artists have their own set of behaviors, rituals, or philosophies that keep them focused and inspired to stay constructive with their projects. Ultimately, creating art is often an individualistic and self-motivating process that is often lengthy and mentally taxing. Thus, artists have to look within themselves for modes of energy. “I drink [a lot] of coffee. I also listen to a lot of music; sometimes I imprint music with stories or images so I can “play back” ideas or scenes. I also try to remind myself that someday I will die; that the planets spin around, seasons change, and everything changes. I personally feel very driven to accomplish because of that. I have a lot of ideas, but I don’t have infinite time. Sometimes thinking about that pulls me through projects and also pick one over the other.”
Daniel garners strength from being versatile and creates from as many facets as possible. However, he also knows the value of specializing. He describes his artistic background as a trained painter, but working professionally as a software developer. His main focus as of now is making art through technology but makes it clear that he’s not just an “artsy technologist.” “I have a job that marginally informs what I do artistically; I think of the job as resources I can siphon off into what I really want to do until siphoning it is no longer necessary, because the art got big enough.”
This speaks to an often shared experience among most artists. As an artist, can I or do I want to make money off of what I do? Does my art support me or do I have to support it? The answers to these questions are not always straight forward and can vary according to experience and lifestyle. Many artists frown at the idea of “selling out”, as if wanting to make money off of your work or working for a corporation is a cardinal sin. While there is a misconception that an artist can only be one if they make a profit, it seems imperative that a dedicated artist must find resources to support a lifestyle of art. In Daniel’s case, art isn’t just something that he does; it is a part of his identity as well. Understanding business and supporting a lifestyle in a way that works for them is imperative for professional artists. While Daniel does gleam much of his artistic sense from the spiritual and metaphysical, he also in accordance to his strive for balance looks to the needs of survival. He has a simple yet informative approach to how artists are “successful” and how they could make money off of what they do. “Start a business. Learn how to work the system. All systems are games anyway; instead of being its slave, make it your master. Start early and do something natural to you, then keep doing it and never let up. Eventually it’ll become a skill that follows you everywhere; you’ll become known for it, and you can start getting work from it…Be persistent, polite, and patient.”
The “failure” or “success” of an artist is subjective to the eyes of the beholder but as far as making a profit, the results can fluctuate from one to the other in very close succession. Owning art is often considered a luxury and not the first thing that most people think of buying especially in the wake of our recessive economy. The art world is also very competitive with many artists and very few buyers. “It seems art can be a commodity or an experience: art-driven festivals versus art objects that can be purchased.” says Anderson.
Creativity, risk taking, and innovation are irrevocably important to the artist but when it comes to making a business out of it, like any other venture, it is important to weigh your options and create alternatives.”When you start getting success, don’t let up. Because failure can come any day. Be careful about making your passion your business. Try doing something you’re passionate enough about to make a business out of it, but won’t get hung up [over] if it goes dry.”
Many artists have to consider the benefits of traditional training versus self-teaching. Both perspectives have their own set of benefits both personally and professionally. Artists tend to make choices based on the benefits of a degree, what financial resources are available, and lifestyle. Daniel cites both as being important to his artistic education but tends to lean more towards the self-taught school of learning. He spent two years at Maryland Institute College of Art but did not obtain his degree.
“I didn’t think the degree offered a gain worth the price tag…today it applies to me little professionally, but it applies everyday personally and artistically. Most education I think is like this, especially when degrees and certificates cost more in loans than they’re worth in jobs. It’s a bubble and it’ll burst under the pressure of technologies that distribute information everywhere. But that’s for the majority of things.” He is concerned about the cutting and devaluing of arts and music in public education for the purpose of boosting science, math, and engineering. In many societal spaces, the arts are not valued as a useful skill set because it is not an obvious ability that can be packaged and labeled, but Daniel is of the opinion that art programs should be an intricate part of community and the individual. “To me, that’s like cutting out the soul of a program. Art can be a tool for healing at the individual and community level, but seems avoided because it’s considered edgy, dangerous, or simply too unpalatable to work with.”
However, Daniel does not discourage or regret formal education and encourages artists to go if they feel it is right for them. Institutional learning can create a community that allows an artist to grow personally. “Art school is useful and if you feel you should go you probably should…those two years broke me out of my mold and allowed me to explore…sometimes there’s no replacement for a life drawing class.” Considering himself a “self-taught artist with some training”, he believes that a dedicated artist reinvents themselves several times, thus self-teaching is inevitable and encourages others to gleam as much information as they can from whatever resources are available as long as they are supplementing one another.
“Learn to draw and learn to code. Train the eye and train the mind. If you can do both, you can build what you can imagine. I’m self-taught in most of what I do and believe that anyone with the will to do it can learn these things on their own. Learn how to reinvent yourself and learn how you can learn. Then never stop.”
Daniel’s portfolio and blog can be seen at www.knaut.net