Whatever your politics, I think everyone is feeling a little uncertain right now. People are worried about their health insurance, or the security of their job, or their money in the market if it tanks.


And while I’ve had some panicky thoughts myself, it was overpowered by the incredibly lucky feeling that I don’t fear those particular issues in my life. I already pay an exorbitant amount for health insurance, and it sucks, but I have the money, and I’m able to pay for it, and I am so thankful for that.

I also can’t get fired from my job. Over the last 5 years I have built skills that give me great comfort in my abilities to make money. The more I learn, the more opportunities I see. And I find comfort in that.

I share this with you because that is freedom that I want for all of my fellow small business owners. Being your own boss, in and of itself, is not freeing. It can actually be the very shackles that keep you down when you can’t, or don’t know how to, find clients. Or when you can find clients, but you can’t seem to charge enough to get out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

It’s been a historic, emotional week and I feel compelled to share with you my greater vision in all this “Badass Branding” preaching that I do. My big idea. My “WHY.”

First, I don’t know why but I’ve never inherently trusted that I could rely on the government for anything. I don’t trust that there will be social security when I’m older, and I don’t trust that I’ll be able to get health insurance. I’ve never had a salary with benefits or paid vacation, so that’s never even been on my radar. In fact, relying on the government has always scared me, because it meant being reliant on something that I had no control over.

To combat this fear I made it my mission to become self reliant. Part of that was learning how to make money, and part of that was staying aware of how little I need to be happy and survive.

At Wesleyan, I spent many a smoky night discussing utopian governments and societies, a favorite pass time amongst my friends. Maybe if I’d been a Government major I would have designed one around the Government, but I was an Economics major. My utopia assumed that people are selfish and act first in their own self-interests, and I used that to imagine a world where everyone prospered under those assumptions. 

If everyone had the opportunity to create their own value in the world, and through pure economic self interest created value from nothing, and then spent that money supporting other people that were doing the same thing, the world would prosper. If you could create enough profit in your own business to have excess money left over, you would buy everything from other independent producers, and stay away from Walmart, because it furthered the prosperity that you yourself benefited from. 

Now before you think I’ve gone libertarian know that because I’m pragmatic and know this isn’t possible, I support a government that helps the poor, and provides assistance, and I would be willing to pay even higher taxes if it meant ensuring that every child in this country got an education even close to the one I did. I think education alone would solve many of our country’s greatest problems.

But to you, my fellow entrepreneurs: I think you, like me, that self reliance and the comfort that comes with it. I think you love independence. And because I know so many of you that want that, but don’t quite know how to get there, I get up every morning excited to get to work.

Because I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about turning expertise into profit. It’s makes me feel safe and secure knowing that even if I lost everything overnight, I could start making money to support myself the next day. 

You can’t take knowledge away from someone. 

So regardless of your industry, if you are selling a service, and selling your expertise, I can show you how to sell it much more easily, and at a much higher price, which may give you a sense of security. 

You have to be committed to becoming the superstar expert in your field, though, because these strategies won’t go that far if you can’t back up your claims! 

But when I say “Badass” I tend to attract the kind of people who know they are badasses. Badasses are motivated by what they do and the value they create.

That’s why I feel so lucky that I don’t have to be scared about my insurance, or my job, or the economy. Even in an economic downturn, when people are less likely to invest in their businesses, I’m still not scared. That means there will be less demand, but there is never NO demand. And when you have a badass brand, you are the one that wins those jobs.

That’s what I want for you, entrepreneur. That security that your own know-how is stronger than whatever political turmoil may happen because you hold 100% of your economic future in your hands. That’s why I spread the gospel of Badass Branding.

(End of rant.)

Is there a difference between "true" art and commercial art?

To me they are more the same than different. Milton Glasser takes as much joy in seeing his design for a commercial clock mass-produced as I do making a one-of-a-kind piece of sculpture. The more I thought about this admittedly loaded question the more I feel it should be recast through the lens of the nature of artistic collaboration.

I currently have on view in NYC an exhibition entitled THE TALKING CURE. “The Talking Cure," takes its name from Sigmund Freud’s original description of psychoanalysis. The exhibition consists of twelve mixed material sculptures, each accompanied by an interactive audio track created by a literary collaborator. I asked twelve writers- poets, novelists, screenwriters, and playwrights- to each chose a sculpture to which they relate most intimately. Each wrote his or her imagined monologue in the sculpture's mind. Actors then transformed the written work into audio recordings. When the viewer points a Smartphone, Blackberry or I-Phone reading device at the QR tag accompanying each sculpture, it triggers audio to hear the inner voice of the artwork. There is also a recording station at the gallery, at which anyone can record his or her own monologue for one of my sculptures, and I will make a sculpture from the monologue. From image, to words, to words to image, it brings it all full circle.

For me the core of this project is about “letting go,” on several levels. When I asked the twelve writers to imagine a monologue for of my sculptures, my own story, motivation and artistic universe yielded to theirs. The writers in turn had to let go of their written work when the actors were given the monologues to interpret for recording. Like the process of psychotherapy, which is in theory about letting go, we each had to both create and then let that creation go out into world. I was delighted and amazed by the works that my literary collaborators produced. A few of the writers had a little more trouble letting go of their words and more than one actor was uneasy with their “reading” of the text. It’s been a fascinating experience in creation and psychology.

Fine art can be thought of as the art of highly individual expression placed before a broader public. It is meant to express the soul of the artist, and it hopes to reach the hearts and minds of an audience, sometimes a highly select one. Commercial art could be defined as art- or production work- made for the masses, attempting to excite or interest the individual. At the core of both activities is a willing collaboration between artist and audience, often with a host of intermediaries in between- from gallery or manufacture, to distributor, marketer, ad agency or art critic, each a part of the artistic food chain. My latest work- an exhibition of fine art on which I collaborated with myriad writers, actors, and technology partners- explores- indeed toys with- the notion of collaboration, the disappearing distinction between audience and artist, and the blurred line between fine art and group production.

It‘s this act of “letting go” that is the critical element in any creative act, whether fine art or commercial. It’s the one thing that makes or breaks any work of art, be it made for a client or to express ones purest inner feelings. It’s that actor who lets it rip in a performance, the writer who is unafraid to be emotionally naked on the page, the graphic designer who goes outside of the box to solve a creative problem and yes, the visual artist who able and willing to share the world inside their head with the rest of us.

- Artist Melissa Stern www.melissa-stern.com

The exhibition is up until Dec. 22- Smart Clothes Gallery 154 Stanton St ( corner of Suffolk, one block below Houston) Wed- Sun, 12- 6:30 or by appointment. 212.627.3276 smartclothesgallery.com