Even great artists sell out. Sometimes it happens post fame and fortune. Other times, as in the case of architect Frank Gehry, you sell your soul in the beginning of your career, on what you hope is your way up.
It’s better to sell out early, if only because time is merciful and you can blame so much on youth and learning curves. You have time to recover and re-invent. It’s exceedingly harder to redeem yourself once you’ve let your hit song be used for a burger commercial, or you’ve turned your personal touch into a factory franchise. So for all of you grinding gears in a day job while your heart is spinning bigger dreams, consider this:
One of Frank Gehry’s first buildings, was a shopping mall, The Santa Monica Place. It was rigidly geometric and pale pink. He played it safe for investors and went LA-style. He hated it.
Meanwhile, as a more direct and personal creative outlet, Gehry went full out “Gehry” on building his own home. Sloping roofs, curvaceous windows, jutting peaks. Wacky and wildly organic.
The night of the grand opening of the Santa Monica Place, the president of the real estate company that had hired Frank was at Gehry’s home for a dinner party.
Real estate Exec: What the hell is this?, he said to Frank, looking around Gehry’s house, awestruck.
Frank: Well, I was experimenting, you know, playing with it.
Exec: Well you must like it if it’s your house. You do like this, right?
Frank: Yeah. I’m happy with how it turned out.
Exec: So then…the building that you just did for us…the shopping mall…you can’t possibly like that.
Frank: You’re right, I don’t.
Exec: Then why’d you do it?
Frank: Because I need to make a living.
Exec: Well stop it. Don’t do that kind of work anymore.
Frank: Yeah, you’re right.
They shook hands that night and decided to quit everything they were working on (they were employing forty people at the time.)
“It was like jumping off a cliff,” Gehry says. “It was an amazing feeling. I was so happy from then on.”
Devotion can be that easy.
The moment you say yes is the beginning. It’s not when you give your notice or when your novel is off the press. It’s when you say yes to the desire.
“Maybe” clogs up the dream machine.
Do you want a career that amazes even you? Then say yes. Do you want a love life brimming with adoration and the sweet stuff? Then say yes. If you start to tell me why it’s not possible or how bad you want it but you don’t know how to get it – then you don’t want it bad enough. Maybe isn’t going to cut it.
And if someone great calls you out on your own greatness, consider it a sacred moment. Those opportunities are precious. To have your ‘yes’ witnessed is magic-making.
Even after his big yes moment, there were failures for Frank. He was supposedly cash-strapped more than once. He bid on projects he never got. He had to can staff. He questioned is own judgment.
But he never did another building that he didn’t absolutely love creating.
Sketches of Frank Gehry by Sydney Pollack is one of my favourite documentaries. (The late) Pollack features in it and the interaction between the master director and master architect is inspiring and charming.