Erik Fabian has always enjoyed performing. As an artist working in performance, installation, and conceptual art, Erik is interested in the interaction between people and how “space and circumstances around that interaction shape your experience.” Erik is a graduate of the Master of FIne Arts program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his experience at grad school greatly changed his work.
While working as an artist, Erik is also the Director of Brand & PR at Moleskine America. Erik tells stories about the Moleskine brand’s values while also inspiring people to create more. We’re definitely inspired – as huge fans of putting pen to paper, we are guilty of carrying our Moleskine notebooks around with us everywhere we go to note down ideas and to-dos.
Though busy, Erik has great tips for managing his time. How does he do it exactly? By identifying two or three big goals for the day, as well as smaller tasks to accomplish. Keep reading to learn more about Erik’s successful career, his creative process, and the simple yet effect things he does when he needs to unwind or reset.
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”
Erik Fabian: Take responsibility for your own happiness, impact, growth, and future. The sooner you take responsibility for yourself the more you can enjoy your youth and make choices that will help you enjoy your adulthood. I would define “responsibility” as being able to explain your choices and being willing to stand behind your actions whatever the outcome.
CJ: You are an artist working in performance, installation, and conceptual art. What sparked your interest in art, and why specifically performance art and installation?
EF: I have always enjoyed performing. I think of it as this very big, philosophical playground and lab. It is a kind of play that gets lost as you get older. During a performance rules of interaction can be rewritten and questions about the world can be explored. I also like that performance can be so physical.
I became particularly interested in how people interact and how the space and circumstances around that interaction shape your experience. That led me to create more installations and events. I currently express this interest mostly through my role at Moleskine in creating events and partnerships with artists/cultural organizations.
CJ: You are a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). What was that experience like and how did you determine where to study?
EF: At the time I wanted to explore performance in a broad sense…that included both the history of theater and the history of visual arts. That choice narrowed my options. You can do more tradition theater work in several places or be the conceptual/performance person in a more visual arts focused program but a mix is rare. When I met the faculty at SAIC I felt it was a pretty good fit and it was a well-regarded school and I was fortunate to get accepted.
I loved being a grad student and having the time and resources to think alongside very talented people. I enjoyed getting a stronger sense of visual art history and how visual artists work. It also gave me a vocabulary to talk about my work and other people’s work. The experience did change my work a great deal. For one thing, I wanting to experience how to make solo work after working collaboratively for a long time and had time to do that. The funny thing is that most visual artists I met had worked solo for so long and were looking for collaboration.
In the end your network is a key professional asset you take from any graduate school experience. I unfortunately didn’t want to live in Chicago permanently and left much of that network behind after the program. If you can, go to school where you want to live.
CJ: Your work explores notions of value and how we value art and the experience of performance. How do you come up with ideas and topics for your work, and what is your creative process?
EF: If I am working alone, I just follow my interests. My interests are usually are obvious based on the kind of reading and media I am consuming. I read a lot. I consume a lot of media. When working with others, it starts with conversations about interests and using formal idea development sessions. I am the kind of person who has way more ideas than time and resources to execute them.
To develop an idea into something for sharing, I set some kind of restraints around a project based on my interests, current resources and go from there. The process helps refine/reduce all my ideas and to fill in the blanks where needed. My process is a combo of doing structured, practical things and just noodling on ideas. For instance on the practical side, I start with making a calendar and working backwards, setting goals that lead to the result I want. On the looser side, I tend to draw lots of simple representation of ideas for aspects of the work.
Often I find I have clear ideas about the space and sequence of events first. I also tend to summarize the project as a kind of poster at some point. Getting on your feet and doing things rather than talking is a powerful way to move things forward when making a performance. When doing other kinds of projects, rapid-prototyping is the same kind of idea with a similar contribution to the process.
CJ: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to be an artist and creatively branch out on their own?
EF: First on the creative side, don’t ever be shy about pursuing your creative life. Everyone has a creative spark – nurture it, practice daily if you can, find what thrills you, hang out with other creative people, consume art that excites you, and enjoy yourself. With that said, I think your question is asking more how to become an “artist” as in not someone who doesn’t just makes stuff but has an audience and ultimately might be a professional.
I say don’t become an “artist.” There are too many vague “artists” in the world and the opportunities to express yourself isn’t limited to just traditional mediums like painting or poetry. You need to become something much more specific and powerful than an “artist.” “Artists” rarely have a sufficient audience to sustain a professional career. I know a ton of talented people who are doing odd jobs so they can paint or whatever and maybe get a lucky break. I have heard that most MFA graduates stop making work in six or seven years after graduation which I find sad and it should scare you. Find a niche where your interests, talents, refined craft, and the story you tell about yourself makes you very different than everyone else.
Andy Warhol isn’t an artist – he is a clever guy who took the notion of the commodification of visual goods and made his life into a metaphor for the industrial system. In doing so he created a ton of work that was easy to sell and still sells while also hanging out with kooky folks and living a life where he got to express ideas to an audience who cares.
You can write a similar blurb about any successful “artist” as well as people who express via entrepreneurship, social work, politics, or whatever. What is the blurb you want people to write about you? Write it without using the word “artist.”
On your way to living your blurb here are a couple other things I have noticed. Take your creative impulses and refine them into a craft – people with good technical skills in any traditional medium always have it easier. Identify a creative process that helps you consistently produce work – people who create a lot of work have it easier. Learn to talk about your work with non-“artists” – people will constantly ask you what you do and need a concrete response and these folks are your potential audience. Think about your work as a business and learn how the business of your relevant art market works – the people who are good at business and marketing have longer and bigger careers. Get really good, be really interesting, get good advice, handle your personal finances responsibly, and don’t let the pursuit of this professional stuff squash your creative self.
CJ: You are also the Director of Brand & PR at Moleskine America. What drew you to Moleskine and what does your job entail?
EF: I basically tell stories about the values that underlie the Moleskine brand. These values are the bedrock that supports the kinds of objects and experiences Moleskine designs and shares in the world. I also have a mandate to expand and protect the brand both as it is understood both among Moleskine America staff and in the public. If you take the time to look at Moleskine.com for instance you will see that the company has a ton of stuff going on. I help spread the word about these activities to our fans and try to inspire folks to create more.
I was attracted to the values of Moleskine and liked the design of the notebooks. The role they offered fit my experience as someone who has a background in the arts and expertise in creating events.
CJ: What has been one of the most unexpectedly interesting parts of your career to date?
EF: I have sat in a privileged seat as the head of the brand at Moleskine America. Moleskine is one of the most passionately loved brands in the world and I am constantly impressed by the creative outpouring Moleskine fans put into their notebooks. I have certainly learned a great deal about building a successful brand and how the power of arts/culture contributes to building a brand like Moleskine.
CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?
EF: There are different periods that focus on planning, budgeting, and execution of projects over the year. Most days I start by setting my to-dos and reviewing my calendar. I then jump into emails unless I have a pressing document to write. My days are dotted with meetings both with staff and external folks. Most of the work at an organization of any size is focused on alignment and focusing of everyone’s effort.
CJ: What are your time management tips? How do you stay organized and efficient?
EF: I identify two or three big goals for the day and maybe two to four small tasks I want to get done. This helps me focus. I try to keep my unread email basically at zero. I keep a digital calendar up to date for meetings and create dedicated project calendars for anything important. I take notes in a Moleskine notebook of course and find being able to write/draw ideas and notes helps me be efficient because it roots the information in my brain more powerfully than typing.
CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?
EF: Finding time to be as physically active is always a challenge. I am always experimenting with how to be efficient at getting some movement into my week.
CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?
EF: Walking when the weather is warm is great. I like to get out of the city and camp when I have time. I like to cook and go to restaurants. I also read a lot and consume a lot of media. I have been a long time meditator and have found a rigorous seated practice hard to maintain in NYC, but I takes aspects of that practice that I apply throughout my day.
CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
EF: Don’t wait for anyone else to take action. Go forward and people who are interested in your path will show up alongside you.