He came from another time: a time when letters were painted by hand and set by typesetters. A time of trained and painstaking craftsmen: the sort of person he wanted me to be. And while I scanned in his business card, cut the “IM” from “JIM LAKIS,” and plopped the result above because, well dammit, Jim, I’m a writer not a typographer — I still attempt to follow his methods and maxims.
I have assembled here what I call his Rules for Artists. Having had my life entire to meditate on them, I’ll be the first to admit how outrageously pompous and self-important they may sound. Perhaps it was his commanding, sergeant first-class voice, or that he spoke with authority because he was an authority, however, that gave his words force. Force enough for me to record them here.
Rule 1: An artist must be selfish. If you don’t believe that what you are working on is the most important thing in the entire world, you’re in the wrong business. And if, say, all your houseplants die of thirst in the process, so be it.
Rule 2: An artist is a camera. This one’s a bit of a modern re-statement of Shakespeare’s notion expressed by Hamlet of “holding the mirror up to nature,” with the added feeling of being the observer who is somewhat separated from the observed. It is also handy to repeat to yourself when you find yourself with no one to talk to at school, at parties, at work, at Conventions …
Rule 3: Always keep your brushes clean. Keep your tools in good order, sharpened, organized and ready to use, whether they be sable-hair brushes, pen and paper or tablet device. This one always reminded me a bit of Sherlock Holmes’ theory of the “brain attic,” that limited space in which one must store only the the most necessary things in the handiest fashion to avoid brain clutter. Stay sharp.
After a life of thought, I find these simple guidelines as classic as the letters of Trajan’s Column on which my father based his alphabet, yet as fresh, elegant and modern a solution as the same — a framework to help lift the burden of dreams. Thanks Dad.
in memoriam James Lakis 1931-1998