We had the good fortune of connecting with James Christopher Knight and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James, what habits do you feel helped you succeed?
I believe two habits were most useful in helping me create a successful career in art. They are simple, but together, they are powerful. They’re like John and Paul. Individually both are amazing, but together they’re The Beatles. Habit number one: Show up and do the thing you intend to do over and over again. It seems obvious, maybe too obvious, but it’s a basic principle that needs to be habituated. It’s not a sexy habit, but looking back over my life, where I wasn’t successful, I see that I was half-assing my efforts. I wasn’t showing up. Where I was successful, I showed up repeatedly, most notably when it was difficult. Where there was discomfort, I learned the most significant lessons. When I experienced the harshest (but honest) criticisms, I made the most profound changes in my work or process. Like jumping in a cold pool, sometimes you need not think, jump in and start swimming. Habit number two: Accept what is. I believe it’s essential to learn how to accept or allow our emotions and thoughts. I have found that my resistance to challenges isn’t really to the obstacles themselves, but to the feelings and thoughts I have about the challenges. Therefore, my ability to accept/allow (at least, tolerate) discomfort is the key to moving past the resistance that will appear on my path to success. Through the art of allowance, I can transform resistance into fuel for my pursuit. Each time this happens, the resistance gets weaker, and I get stronger. The partnership of these two habits works like this – As I continue to show up and do the thing I intend to do (making and selling photographic art, in my case), there will be challenges. As I face these challenges, I’m careful to stay present, allow the thoughts and feelings arising, and march forward (continue to show up) despite them. For example, when pursuing customers and galleries, like an actor auditioning, I may get rejected hundreds of times. If I close down to the thoughts and feelings of rejection, I may not continue. Suppose I meditate on and stay present with these thoughts/feelings. In that case, their power will diminish, making it easier to continue to pursue customers and galleries despite how much rejection I get. Early in my career, I walked up and down La Brea Boulvadard one day with two art pieces, visiting every gallery within 15 blocks. I think I saw 21 galleries that day. I was rejected flat-out by nearly all of them. I got one, “maybe, but come back with the owner is here.” I followed up with the owner a week later. He, too, rejected my work. However, I met a guy on the sidewalk while waiting for the meeting who loved my samples. He and his wife eventually bought two pieces from me for $8,000, the most I had ever received for my art! I’ve realized I can’t predict where the open doors will show themselves, but eventually, I’ll find one if I keep showing up. For me, this is how these two habits work together – Show up, accept whatever is present, and march onward, showing up again and again. Voila, this is the partnership of habits I call The Beatles.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
“When solid form dissipates, we are left with essence. This is what I’m after: the expression and feeling derived from the essence of my subject.” My reason for creating art: Creating art is an experience that can be very therapeutic and insightful for the artist. The process and medium are modes for self-discovery. When a viewer experiences the creation, they too can have an experience of self-discovery. The artist and viewer enter into a communication beyond words, transcending our physical world, bringing them closer to a more profound truth where they merge. This communication is my goal when creating art. I believe that consciousness is the one thing that can heal all ailments. With greater awareness of ourselves and our minds, we become more compassionate, more capable, more connected, and most importantly, more allowing. Allowance is the key to connection. It is my aim, through my work, to assist in creating more awareness, more self-reflection and to promote feelings associated with beauty, love, and joy. Art has a way of communicating truth without words. When it works, it communicates in a way that creates an ecstatic moment of revelation in our consciousness that can transform us. What we see is what we are. I often suggest that viewers meditate with this in mind the next time they are confronting art. I invite them to go inside themselves, pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that arise inside them while in the artwork’s presence, and allow whatever is present. Even if the art is disturbing, there is an excellent opportunity for insight and personal evolution. My process: I’m attempting to accentuate my subject’s essence by dissolving and deconstructing the physical form in my recent work. My landscapes become abstract inner-scapes, which are reflections of how I feel in their presence. Abstractions can move the viewer out of the thinking mind that needs to categorize what it sees and, instead, feel the art. I experiment with focus, blur, and motion in an attempt to achieve this. When done right, there is more feeling and less thinking. I want the message of my work communicated through emotion rather than intellect.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Ah, there are so many things to do! I’d break it down into three sections. Each of the areas could easily take a couple days. Hollywood – I’d hike Runyon Canyon, visit Griffith Park and the planetarium, followed by lunch at Birds on Franklin, visit LACMA, have dinner at Estrella on Sunset, and finish with comedy at The Comedy Store. Santa Monica/Venice/MDR – I’d definitely go sailing out of MDR – Up the coast to Malibu and back. I’d spend an afternoon strolling around 3rd St in Santa Monica, the SM pier, walk Main Street, and finish on Abbot Kinney in Venice. I’d walk or bike on the bike path from North Santa Monica to Washington Blvd in Venice/MDR. I’d have breakfast at Mercedes on Washington Blvd in Venice, then surfing at the Venice pier. I’d go out for drinks one night at The Misfit in Santa Monica. The Coast – I know this is a departure from LA, but it’s a worthwhile venture that diversifies the week. I’d take a drive up the coast on HWY 1, stopping in Malibu, eating at any of the classic coastal restaurants – Dukes, Neptunes Net, etc. I’d stop in Santa Barbara to walk State Street, get coffee at Caje Coffee Roasters, and lunch at Brophys at the pier. I’d continue north to the Santa Ynez Valley in time for wine tasting at Carhartt in Los Olivos. I’d spend the night in Solvang, have breakfast at Mad & Vin, hike Lovers Loop trail, and follow-up with lunch and beer at Fig Mountain Brewery. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are too many to mention by name, but my family and wife, Laura, come first on this list. My family supported me in the early years, always believing that my lofty fantasies were, at the very least, somewhat possible. My wife so patiently and kindly listens to all of my whacky ideas without judgment. She’s remarkably intuitive and helps create organizational containers for my work. Many of the concepts in my work are born out of our long late-night conversations about life, art, and philosophy. Lastly, and specifically, my photography mentor, Ken Merfeld, one of the deep artists I have the fortune to work with, continues to share his vast insights about creating art with a camera.
James Christopher Knight