We had the good fortune of connecting with Ben Silberstein and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ben, can you tell us about an impactful book you’ve read and why you liked it or what impact it had on you?
My favorite book is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. There are quite a few reasons why I like it so much: the writing is powerful and thoughtful, the development of the characters and their collective interactions is engaging, and there are takeaways that helped shape the way I think. The one takeaway in particular that I still think about on a daily basis. In East of Eden, a couple of characters discuss a passage of Genesis from a purely philosophical perspective. In the American translation, there is a phrase ‘Thou shalt rule over sin,’ but in the original Hebrew translation, that phrase is ‘Thou mayest rule over sin,’ or “timshel.” The distinction seems small, but it is enormous. The original passage gives mankind the choice to obey the rules, while the American adaptation orders mankind to obey the rules. The power of “timshel” is in its meaning. At the end of the day, it is about free will, or having a level of control over one’s life. Timshel can apply to decisions of any magnitude. One can decide to follow one’s conscience or not; one can decide whether to abide by certain rules and regulations or not; one can, technically, in the midst of a bad situation, choose to focus on having the best possible attitude. Ultimately, one word (and its interpretation) highlights a concept that is at the heart of human existence. I’ve read and re-read East of Eden again and again because each time it inspires me. It reminds me that at the end of the day, within my own life, there are choices and decisions that boil down to me and no one else. I have agency in my life. I can choose to think or act one way or another, and the product of those choices will define what my life is. Quitting my corporate job in 2016 to pursue art full-time was one of those choices and I felt empowered to make it in part because of East of Eden. It can be hard to consistently make time for reading, but I would very strongly recommend this book to anyone who is willing and interested. Its impact is almost infinite.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
At the end of the day, I am just a person and I express my thoughts and feelings. My style is my own and I accept the limits I have. I’m never going to copy someone else’s style because, for better or for worse, I have my way of doing things, so I stand behind whatever I do. I just communicate what I genuinely feel. What I am proudest of is that there are people who really love my work and love what I do, which is beyond humbling to me. A lot of the time, I don’t even really know why people like what I did. That’s not always true, but regardless, it really is an amazing feeling to know that my work resonates with people who I’ve never met. It makes me excited to think that the messages I’m trying to deliver are hitting some people squarely, regardless of how many or how few. I got where I am today by frankly making a series of risky and perhaps reckless decisions. I had a corporate job and I just got so fed up with the work culture and all of the politicking that I decided to quit. I wanted to follow my heart and I knew art was a passion for me, so I thought ‘if you don’t try it now, you never will,’ and I gave it a shot. Things worked out surprisingly well. 2017 was a big year, because it was the first time I was really putting myself out into the world and getting feedback. However, it has been anything but easy since then. There have been a series of challenges that I honestly have not been able to figure out. One of the challenges has been the business side of things, which I like a lot less than the creative side. There are a lot of companies and groups out there whose sole purpose is to exploit the fact that artists need exposure to make money. I participated in a couple of shows and exhibitions that required me to pay hundreds of dollars up front without the promise of getting even a dime back in sales. And I left those shows with empty pockets and a feeling of hopelessness. The first time I got to show my work without having to pay to do so was probably the highlight of my art journey. It felt real and it felt like my work meant something to people, but that experience has unfortunately been more of the exception than the rule. The lessons I have learned since starting in the art world are not very uplifting. What I would say to any aspiring artists trying to make their way in the world is: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. I would tell them not to do any work for free. Get half up front, otherwise it’s easy to get scammed. Try to collaborate with and find genuine people who help you to grow, and find people who are happy to see you succeed. The support system is probably the most important part of the equation. But I feel like even though I’ve learned a lot, I have barely scratched the surface. I, myself, have a ton to learn. What I want the world to know about me and my brand is that I am proudly self-taught and my work is 100% authentic. People who are familiar with the art I’ve made have told me that my style is recognizable and different than other peoples’ work. I have never been accepted by art schools that I’ve applied to, and frankly at this point, I am proud to still be my own person with my own voice. I don’t owe anyone credit for my ability. It’s simply my natural, unfiltered voice. Nothing about this journey has been easy, and there are huge peaks and valleys. I’m kind of in a valley right now, but I’m never going to stop making art and I hope that one day that pays off.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
LA is such a crazy place and there is absolutely nothing like it anywhere else. The one thing that every friend or family member’s visit has in common is that a lot of eating takes place. The food here is unbelievable. I think it’s the best food in the whole country, but it gets slept on (mostly by the East Coast, which seems to unilaterally hate LA). There are too many good spots to eat. My favorite taco place is Guisado’s, which originated in Boyle Heights but has locations all over the city. There is one in Elysian Park, and I go there before heading to a Dodgers game. There are a few restaurants in Downtown LA that I really love, too: 10E single-handedly made me fall in love with Middle Eastern cuisine and Drago Centro has incredible Italian food. In Santa Monica, where I currently live, I love Benny’s Tacos, Huckleberry (a breakfast-y kind of place), Sidecar Donuts, and Mendocino Farms (which also has other locations). There are countless other places, too. As far as places to go, I really enjoy the proximity of LA to the desert, and I try to make a trip out to Palm Springs or Joshua Tree once a year. It’s like being on Mars. Within LA, I like going into the hills and canyons. Laurel Canyon is one of the coolest places I’ve seen on earth, and there are good hikes around that area, like Franklin Canyon. Griffith Park is awesome, whether at the Observatory or not. UCB has hilarious, cheap comedy shows and some of the funniest people in the world perform there. In Downtown LA, The Last Bookstore is a must-visit, as is Grand Central Market. The Getty Museum is incredible, as is the Petersen Automotive Museum, LACMA, etc. There are some really cool venues and galleries, like Exchange LA, where I have been lucky to participate in a couple of shows. I’m not a huge beach guy, but there are obviously a number of options here, as well. There is an infinite amount of stuff to do here in LA. It can honestly be overwhelming trying to decide what to do when someone is in town.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am extremely lucky to have the support system I have, and without it I wouldn’t be who I am today. There are too many people to thank. I prefer not to name names, but the people I’m mentioning will know I’m talking to them. It’s impossible for me to comprehend the impact my parents and sisters have had on me. I also have to give credit to my friends. A lot of the people who are dear to me live in different places, but the love and encouragement still goes both ways. I have a local support system here in LA who have been there through my entire art journey and are very special to me. And I definitely couldn’t have done any of this without my girlfriend and my cat. I am nothing without the people (and the animal) who are in my life. I can only try to let them know how important they are to me.