Don’t Be a Biebs: The Fine Art of Keeping it Together

OK, hear me out.

Despite the subject matter, I’m actually not a Belieber*. However, I have been kept abreast of Justin Bieber’s happenings through my ritualistic reading of Daily Mail. You know, I like to keep up with celebrity smut world news.

Anyway, the boy wonder’s star seems to be falling in recent months, and I started thinking about young talent, surges of fame, and about how to create a sustainable career for oneself.

Like a modern day Goofus & Gallant, I think there is much to be learned from young Bieber’s follies. And because of this, I’ve decided to take a closer look at his sudden rise to fame as it relates to the accelerated timeline of an artist/curator/writer/anyone who is “blowing-up” in order to offer some observations and action items from the peanut gallery.

*(but i must admit,’Boyfriend‘ is kind of catchy)


So, let’s look at each of the stages of Bieber’s career and examine them through the lens of do-gooder Gallant.


You know, Gallant from doctor’s-office-favorite Highlights magazine…

Oh god. Am I getting old?


Stage 1: Leaving the Nest

Long before Justin was trying to bring monkeys through a German airport(we’ll get there), Biebs was just a young kid with a passion for music. He spent his early years happily wailing on the furniture in his London, Canada home pretending it was a drum set and singing his tiny heart out. His doting mother eventually realized her son was shaping up to be quite a phenom, whipped out the camcorder, and began uploading his performances to the then underutilized YouTube.

His videos started reaching thousands, and subsequently hundreds of thousands of views. And so the then 12 year old budding star, encouraged by the viewership began creating more videos and posting more frequently.

Eventually, his talent caught the attention of Usher(yes, U-S-H-E-R-R-A-Y-M-O-N-D) who immediately signed the young performer to his label.



What Would Gallant Do(WWGD)?:

At this stage of things, it’s best to focus on honing your craft and developing your brand.

Unless you are fortunate enough to be discovered painting in your living room, being a successful artist anything requires a certain degree of exertion and extra effort in the form of putting yourself and your work out into the universe.

Even if no one knows you yet, they soon will. So it’s important to start your career off on a professional foot.

Make it easy to find you.

1. Build a coherent website that has your artist statement, bio, images, contact, news(upcoming exhibitions), and CV. Tips on displaying web content for artists here.

2. Create a Facebook artist page with images, process photos, etc. Make it personal so that viewers feel engaged and have the opportunity to follow along with your progress and successes.

3. Twitter is an extremely helpful, valuable and easy way for others to connect with you. Even if you don’t actively use the account, simply create a handle and a bio that lists your website. That way, someone can say “I just got back from @Gallant‘s thesis show, so amazing!” with the “@Gallant” being a link to your Twitter page(that contains your website). Without the link, very few people are going to search the internet to learn who they are raving about. That would require effort.

Network it out.

1. Develop your elevator pitch.

2. Get a simple and well designed business card that reflects your style and carry it with you at all times(mine are stored in a classy holster on my keychain). It should have your name, image of your work, website, and contact information.

3. Seek out mentors. This is probably the most invaluable step of them all. Go to galleries(not just during openings), museums, receptions, artist talks, art enthusiast events, Open Studios, and introduce yourself to everyone. Yes, networking.

And keep it genuine. When meeting or emailing someone for the first time, view it as an educational opportunity to chat with someone new and like-minded in the industry as opposed to an infomercial for yourself. The most rewarding aspect of networking is the potential for genuine relationships to form out of these encounters; recognizing the innate desire to help and support one another.

Aside: There has been a lot of chatter surrounding the phrase “pick your brain” as of late. ie: ‘How to Say No To People Who Want to Pick Your Brain’ 

My thoughts: When I started FLUX., I was fairly new to Boston, and I didn’t know many people. I would(and still do) reach out to individuals in the community who I found interesting with something similar to a “pick your brain note”. It was never a “tell me how you do what you do, I want to be you, I want to take over your life”. It was more akin to a “You seem cool, I like what you do, this is what I do, do you like macchiatos?” note. If the response to my introductions had been “PAY ME.”(as the video suggests) in 2008, I would feel hurt and baffled. What happened to just meeting new people? For the cost of a coffee and 15 minutes of someone’s time, I have met amazing Boston Arts folk and had the pleasure of learning about peoples’ stories and experiences that are different from my own. These pick-your-brain interactions not only enrich your life, but they make you a well-rounded human being and provide you with(in the very least) a new friendly face in the city.

If one-on-one isn’t your thing, check out Opus Affair’s monthly meetups where you will be immersed in cocktails a sea of Boston’s young arts professionals.

Basically, success in the art world seems to befall the extroverts and the ones who put themselves ‘out there’. This can be a tough pill to swallow for introverts, reluctant extroverts, and in my case–introverted extroverts, but it is important to give networking a shot even if it feels outside your comfort zone. After all, it’s just a conversation and your hermit crab shell will still be there should you need to seek refuge.

Also, this isn’t to say “become someone you’re not”, because you should be yourself. In the immortal words of Neil Gaiman, only you get to be you.


Stage 2: Rise to Fame

After Usher started toting around young Bieber like a prized maltipoo, fame started to come easy. He was connected to a powerful member of the music industry who was able to fund his endeavors in the studio, book shows, and orchestrate a full-on media blitz. Justin probably even started receiving discount admission to Six Flags at this point. That’s when you know you’ve made it.


1. Pretend Usher never discovered you.

2. Keep your head down, work hard, and continue with all aspects of Stage 1(see above).

It’s exciting when your efforts are recognized and people begin to know your name. And while its important to savor these moments and accomplishments, it’s just as important to pat yourself on the back and move forward. I like to keep the word “NEXT” in mind with everything that I do.

“Oh, I just beat level 78 of Candy Crush? Amazing! NEXT.”

3. Don’t let this sudden sense of fame go to your head.  Leverage this new found attention to gain traction(maybe a good time to start think about funding?) for your projects.

4. Be professional. Follow through on commitments.

5. Don’t rest on your laurels. Focus on quality, perceive your talent to be a constant learning process, never get too comfortable, and always push yourself to be better.

6. Stay true to your voice. As a writer, they say it’s best to pretend no one is reading your words because when you are aware of an “audience” it can alter your voice, create a false sense of self, and you begin to unnaturally pander to the ghosts in the machine.

7. Remember names. Write thank you letters.

8. Observe netiquette. No one cares how many Twitter followers you have.

Additional Twitter note: I know it’s easy to get caught up in the fact that someone is ‘following’ you other than your mom, or to dissect the thing you just said that made you lose 5 followers, but keep in mind-you will always have 39,999,999 less than Justin Bieber SO GET BACK TO WORK!

This stage may last hours or decades, but it’s a pivotal era in your career.

The clay is drying.


Stage 3: The Big Time

Justin Bieber soon experienced the type of fame that means you can no longer eat a ham sandwich without a pile of paparazzi hiding in nearby shrubbery. Scrunity of his relationships, interviews, and performances became a daily occurrence that played out across magazine covers and blog headlines. It was no longer about the music. The pressure of celebrity took a toll on him, he didn’t know who he could trust, and so began the downward spiral. A fate that seems to befall many young stars…


Anyway. Back to our young prince…


In the month of March 2013 alone, Bieber managed to:

Attack a member of the paparazzi in London

Tried to bring a live monkey through German customs, where it was subsequently seized.

Get banned from several clubs and hotels for reckless behavior

Let his friends to throw a wild house party at his place. While he was away.

Spit on and threaten his neighbor, and is now facing battery charges

-Show up 2 hours late to his own show.

-Get hospitalized for ‘exhaustion

-Go through airport security shirtless.

-Wear a gas mask while shopping in London..just..because..

-Act so deranged that Peter Mensch, the manager of Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to chime in:

“I’d take Bieber to the woodshed and spank him. His manager is scared sh-tless. I don’t know what Bieber’s problem is. His career is over in three years anyway.”


WWGD? (aka Avoiding Stage 4: The Downfall)

Quick! Grab an EpiPen!

1. Get re-acquainted with Stage 1. We all stumble, falter, and lose our way, but just know it’s OK.

2. Listen to a meditation tape, burn some champa, recenter yourself and focus on your work and the things that make you happy.

3. I know it’s difficult not to, but try not to fixate on money. Remember why you are an artist in the first place. Remember when you were playing drums on the furniture in your home.

4. Leverage your fame and be gallant. Be present in your community and help with local initiatives(ArtSake is a great resource for artist opportunities in Massachusetts). Be a mentor.

5. Say “yes” and be open to opportunities no matter how great or small.

6. Don’t be afraid to do a bit of SPRING CLEANING:

  • Evaluate the people in your life and clear out anyone that is toxic. Be wary of those who crop up after you have “made it”. Keep those people around you that you can trust, who are genuinely supportive, and want to see you succeed. Even if that flush leaves you with just your mom and your cat. You’ll be OK.
  • Protect yourself and your ideas.
  • Stay humble. Maintain a healthy ego(you often have to be your own best cheerleader in the art world) and steer clear of self-absorption, unnecessary hype and megalomania.
  • Don’t get too comfortable on the Internet. One drunk tweet or snide remark can tarnish your career.
  • Just be a good person. Be someone you’d want to work with. Be someone you’d want to work for.
  • Treat everyone with respect. Everyone. From the doorman to the diplomat.
  • Read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

7. Innovate. Endlessly hustle. Expand your visual landscape.

8. Keep on keepin’ on. Perseverance is a crucial component of sustained success in whatever you do. Believe it or not, not everyone in this world is nice. You will get hurt, people won’t like you, people will write mean things about your work, or say things that are untrue, or cut you down to stifle your development.

Everyone loves a good downfall story..

Don’t give up.

Remember your roots, stay true to yourself, be a good person, and I know you will have a long and successful career in the art world (or whichever realm you choose to exist in).

I belieb in you.

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One Response to Don’t Be a Biebs: The Fine Art of Keeping it Together

  1. jenny says:

    hey, this post is about justin and i am big fan of Justin bieber love u justin

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