Ever wonder what it's like to be a working artist? Jason Polan comes on the MR CORPO podcast to talk about what time he wakes up in the morning (late), how late he works (late), why he won't hire a personal assistant, and how he got his start in the New York art world (by going rogue and hosting his own gallery hours inside another company's retail space). He also tells us how to join the world famous TACO BELL DRAWING CLUB. In the BONUS SECTION, Jason talks about getting rejected hundreds of times from The New Yorker magazine and provides inspiration for everyone to keep trying because eventually, something good will happen. Plus SUPER SECRET BONUS SECTION features an incognito guest who is so important he needed to hide his identity in order to be allowed to share his words of wisdom.
Meet Jason Polan (11/23/2016)
JUSTIN: (singing) Don't try to compare us to another bad little fad. I'm the Mac and I'm bad, give you something that you never had. I'll make you bump, bump, wiggle and shake your rump, cause I'll be kicking the flavor that makes you wanna jump. How high? Real high. Cause I'm just so fly. A young lovable, huggable type of guy. And everything is to the back with a little slack, cause inside out is wiggity, wiggity, wiggity wack.
JUSTIN: Hi everyone, welcome to another episode of the Mr. Corpo podcast. That was Kris Kross, "Jump", brought to you by Mr. Corpo. Today's episode we are gonna talk about how to be an artist, and we have a very special guest, Jason Polan.
JASON: Hello everybody.
JUSTIN: So now that Jason said hello, let me tell you a little bit about him. One, he is a world-famous artist. Two, he collaborates with only the biggest and the best companies in the world. Warby Parker, Nike, Uniqlo, Russ and Daughters. He's recently published a book with Chronicle Books called Every Person in New York City. He recently did a limited edition print in collaboration with Sleepy Jones, which featured 50 ghost -- was it 50, or --
JASON: Uh, close. Like 40.
JUSTIN: Close. There was pregnant ghost, there was tourist ghost, there was referee ghost, was maybe my favorite. Did you have a favorite?
JASON: Yeah. I -- I thought the referee ghost was kind of a Foot Locker ghost.
JUSTIN: That's exactly right.
JASON: At first, yeah.
JUSTIN: Exactly right. I thought that was fantastic. And they give those away for free. And we'll get back to that. But I thought that was just absolutely incredible. And I would describe Jason as the unofficial mayor of SoHo. I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon walking around with him and we couldn't walk half of a city block without someone walking across the street, waving at him, wanting to talk to him, I don't know whether he staged the whole thing and it was every single one of his friends that he had put on every corner, but he knows everybody, and everybody wants to know him. So we're lucky to have you. That was a long introduction, but now everyone knows everything about you.
JASON: Yeah. Thank you for having me, and I'll talk to you guys later.
JUSTIN: What else is there to say? Um, so let's jump right into it. Would you call yourself an artist? Are you an artist?
JASON: Uh, yeah. I think so. I feel a little cautious saying that I guess. Sometimes when people say, what do you do, I'll say I -- I like drawing things. Or, I do projects. Um, cause I don't wanna come off too, like, maybe serious. But yeah, I'm -- I am an artist.
JUSTIN: Yeah, I mean it's interesting when you say, come off too serious. Cause I'm not even sure if it's too serious, or there's such power in the idea and the word of being an artist. It's something that people wish they were, or at one point wanted to be and gave up. And so for you to be able to claim that title, I think, is incredible. So when did you first own that, or when did you start to feel comfortable, feel like, actually I am an artist?
JASON: I -- well I started drawing when I was really little, like, I think, a lot of us. And I um, I got a lot of positive reaction when I was little, which made me feel good. So I wanted to kinda keep doing that. And I don't know when I first thought of myself as an artist. But um, my family and friends have always been so supportive of my art, so it's always been kinda my main focus. But um, like, professionally, I've always sort of thought, that's what I was gonna do. And um, I'm lucky that that is what I do.
JUSTIN: Well I -- it's absolutely fantastic. I mean, how -- how do you kind of get started? You're drawing, you're doing this, I think I came -- first came across your work maybe 10 years ago in the Levi store in Meatpacking District. You had a few drawings in the changing room. How did one thing lead to another? I mean, you're working with Nike now. This is one of the biggest, most powerful brands in the world.
JASON: You kind of figure out projects you like doing, and hopefully people who enjoy them respond to them, and then they want to see more. I moved to New York in 2004, and one of the first places I started doing project at, which they didn't even ask me to do projects at, was um, a store called Jack Spade, that Andy Spade, um, used to run. And they had a little bulletin board near the front and people could just post anything they wanted on it. So I would post -- I would have an art show every Friday, and I would bring, um, like a pack of gum or something for the people working there, so the show would be catered. And from that, I met a couple people that worked there and they in -- introduced me to Andy, and um, like you said, Sleepy Jones, that's -- that's -- Andy Spade is involved in that. And so I've been doing projects with him since I got here. And -- and I think you meet people that you like, and 05:00 are doing similar things to what you wanna be doing, and you um, and I guess you just kind of keep pushing.
JUSTIN: I love the idea of just creating your own little art gallery on a pin board. One of the questions I have for you as an artist, and maybe I'm coming from a corporate world, you're coming from a very different world, is this idea of how do you manage your time? You know? And I'll just speak for -- for myself, in the -- in the corporate world. It gives me a certain sense of self-worth and the idea that I'm working hard because I get up early in the morning, I get to work, I start sending emails, and I have meetings, and I'm doing all of this. And my time is very controlled. What does it look like for you? How do you think about time and space, and how do you spend your time? I mean, when do you get up, or how do you -- do you have certain dedicated hours? How do you think about it?
JASON: I'm totally the opposite. I wake up later. I probably wake up about 10 AM. Most of my day -- most of the -- during the daytime, when the sun is out, I'm usually just kinda wandering around. So I'm drawing. So I'm not -- I don't really think about it as working, but I am making stuff. And then um, most of the time I'm actually sitting at a computer scanning or just doing work work is later at night. I'll usually start maybe eight or nine pm, and then I'll work until two or three in the morning. So --
JUSTIN: Really? Wow.
JASON: Yeah, so I'll send most of my emails, kinda the opposite of you.
JUSTIN: Interesting, okay. And so everyone wakes up with like a special Jason Polan surprise in their inbox then?
JASON: Hopefully a good one. I really enjoy drawing. And I really enjoy wandering around. And I was just thinking about it. Wandering around SoHo is one of my favorite things. And then I don't dislike the scanning and stuff, but it's so not like what I thought I was signing up for when I was in college thinking, this is gonna be --
JUSTIN: Right, right. What about a personal assistant?
JASON: I do think about that sometimes.
JUSTIN: That a boy. That a boy.
JASON: But I do -- I do -- I think about what their tasks would be, and I like going to the post office and doing a lot of that stuff.
JUSTIN: Oh, I would never let anyone take anything to the post office for me. My favorite thing in the world is putting stamps on things and putting it into the mailbox. I mean --
JASON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JUSTIN: What's the hardest thing that people don't realize that goes into being an artist? Is there something that's like unseen?
JASON: It is work. I think a lot of times when I'm having conversations with people that have more normal jobs, um, they go to an office and they have a certain amount of time that they're spending at their work or job. And I -- and I think they might look at me and think, it's like he's tricking the system a little bit, but I think I'm mostly always working. I'm always thinking about projects or figuring out better ways of doing projects, or specifically thinking about titles. I think about titles of projects a lot.
JUSTIN: Does the title inspire the project? Or is the --
JASON: Often. Yeah.
JASON: Yeah, like, I'll think about --
JUSTIN: Like, this is a clever title. Or this is a --
JASON: Yeah, like, the every piece of art in the Museum of Modern Art book was an idea as a concept before anything else.
JUSTIN: I love it. Well -- well that actually reminds me of, you are a founding member or the founder of the --
JASON: I like to say we're all founding members --
JUSTIN: Okay, of the --
JASON: I'm one of the first members of Taco Bell Drawing Club --
JUSTIN: Taco Beel Drawing Club. Now, tell everyone about the Taco Bell Drawing Club. It was featured in the New York Times, so you know it's legitimate, but as -- as I --
JASON: It was legitimate before that.
JUSTIN: It was legitimate. You don't need them to make it legitimate. But tell everyone about it. Because as I understand, you show up in random Taco Bells anywhere in the world at anytime, and you send out a call, like a bat signal to people, and they can come join you at Taco Bell, and they can just start drawing with you? Like, what happens?
JASON: Yes, yes. That's it. I, um, started -- or, we started Taco Bell Drawing Club right after I moved here, and um -- to New York. So it's over 10 years old. And I was drawing at Taco Bell by myself, and I thought it would be more fun if I invited people to come draw with me. And um, so I kinda put out a call. And that was right when I started to do blogs, hosting things on blogs. So I started a Taco Bell Drawing Club blog, and --
JUSTIN: But, do people show -- do people really show up? Or is it the same, you just have a couple friends and you get together?
JASON: Oh, definitely.
JUSTIN: Like, strangers --
JASON: I -- yeah. Cause I try to do a fairly regular one on Wednesdays in Manhattan. The Union -- or, just west of Union Square Taco Bell. So I'll usually be at that one. But any time you're at Taco Bell, you can draw, and you are then a member, if you want to be, of Taco Bell Drawing Club.
JUSTIN: Really? Okay. Cause I've always wanted to go, but I've been a little bit intimidated. Cause I've seen -- you have some other people that go that are actually pretty good artists.
JASON: We have Emmy Award winners, we have --
JUSTIN: Really? Wow.
JASON: -- really great little kids. We have great moms. All different people are members.
JUSTIN: So if I go, you can add to the list and say, there's like, this great podcaster that comes over...
JASON: There are excellent podcasters that are members, upcoming --
JUSTIN: Upcoming -- up and coming podcasters --
JASON: No, upcoming members --
JUSTIN: Yes, upcoming members. Now, can I get like a t-shirt, or a pin, or is there --
JASON: There's a laminated membership card you get if you come, that I write your name on.
JUSTIN: 10:03 Now, food figures prominently in your art, or your personal life, and -- and those things kind of intermingle. So I thought it would be fun to ask you, how would you rank these four things: hamburgers, pizza, french fries, and tacos?
JASON: I mean, I love them all. I'd probably go cheeseburger number one, pizza number two -- or, no. Pizza and tacos tied for number two. And then fries, three slash four.
JUSTIN: Okay, alright. Well there it is, now we know, Jason's official ranking --
JASON: But that might change, like, this afternoon.
JUSTIN: Depending on the mood. Well, I think food is very much, yeah, dependent on the mood. Alright. Well, now we know. Now, one of the segments that we have on the show, which we just started introducing, is this idea of Ask Mr. Corpo. And we invite listeners to write in their questions, they can a -- they can send me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because people wanna send them anonymously, so we do that, or through the social channels. So we've been getting some different questions during the week. But do you have any questions for Mr. Corpo?
JASON: In your book you talk a lot about working while you're at the office and not working when you're not at the office --
JUSTIN: Yes, yes.
JASON: And so when you're kind of breaking up activities or meetings or things during the day, how do you -- how do you do that?
JUSTIN: I like to get into work around 6:30 in the morning. And I do that because I wanna be calm, I want it to be quiet, I catch up on all my emails, I check what's outstanding, I send it out to the world. And then I'll have a tea and I'll read my favorite website and just feel calm and check my calendar. But basically from eight AM until five PM, I am in meetings every single minute of every single day.
JASON: Oh, weird.
JUSTIN: And there isn't even a lunch break in there. And so what happens is, you're in these meetings, everything's scheduled, and being an efficiency monster, I try and get every 30-minute meeting to end in 20 minutes. Or 25 minutes. And then you'll literally see me walking from the conference room in a speed-walk back to my desk, hitting my keyboard so that it turns back on, and trying to scan my inbox to see, is there any easy emails that I can keep the train rolling, answer the question, and keep my team going. And so I'm constantly doing that, every half-hour, every ten minutes, every hour. And just trying to keep things going and hopefully one of my meetings during the day gets cancelled, so that I can kind of catch up, keep everything going, and then I just try and get out at five. So you know, for me as a boss now, you have no time that is your own. And it's to make decisions for other people, it's to help them with whatever problem is happening, you know, whether someone wants to cry with you that day, or whether someone wants to ask for a raise, or whatever the case may be, that every minute is programmed. And so then I walk out of work and I don't wanna think about or talk about or look at work at all. And one of the things I found was, a long time ago, when blackberries were big, they'd given me a blackberry and I took it home. That little red flashing dot when you got a message would drive me crazy. And I would have it in the corner of a room and you'd look over and you'd see a red, flashing light. And I couldn't help it. I was like, I gotta go look at it. And so then I started hiding the Blackberry so that I couldn't see the red dot. And then eventually I just didn't even bring it home. And I was just like, I will never check it. And you know, Oprah Winfrey says, "You teach people how you wanna be treated." If you never answer an email outside of work, no one will expect you to answer it. So I just gave you a super long answer, but --
JASON: Well, cause I think about that a lot, with emails, cause I will often have an email that I'll kind of sit on for a week and a half, and I'll finally send it, or I'll finally write it and send it, and that process itself will take about 40 seconds. And I'll think, why didn't I do that? This email was driving me crazy.
JUSTIN: Right, right. If there's something that's outstanding or I haven't gotten to, it becomes this block for me.
JUSTIN: It becomes this thing where I didn't do it right away, so now there's almost this invisible forcefield keeping me from just taking that quick action -- you said 40 seconds -- and just doing it.
JASON: Uh huh.
JUSTIN: And it floats in my head, and I'm walking down the street, or as I'm going to bed --
JASON: Always on your to do list?
JUSTIN: Yeah, and I'm going to bed and I'm like, oh, I need to get back to that person. And why don't I just do it in that moment so that I can let go? But I've become much more conscientious of that just to allow me to sleep better at night. If I can think of it, I'll try and solve it right in that moment. But yeah, there's this magical moment of, either I reply right away and we're all happy, or it becomes this insurmountable mountain.
JASON : Uh huh.
JUSTIN: Even though it is just click and say, no, I don't wanna be there Wednesday at noon. We're gonna go right into our bonus section. And we like to do a little sing-song with this. Bonus section! Bonus section! 15:00 Bonus section! Come on, Jason! Say something! Bonus section!
JASON: Bonus section. Was that exciting at the end there?
JUSTIN: That was awesome. Alright. We're in the bonus section, everybody. And today we're gonna talk about how to deal with rejection.
JUSTIN: Have you had to deal with rejection in -- in your world, as an artist? Like, what is that like?
JASON: Yeah. All the time. I used to go into The New Yorker to try to sell cartoons and that was several no's a week. There's a cartoon editor named Robert Mankoff and I had heard when I was in college that people would go in on Tuesdays and drop off their cartoons to get checked out for The New Yorker. So when I moved to New York I thought, I am going to do that. So I went to Conde Nast, where The New Yorker was in Times Square at the time, and there's security guards and people stopping idiots like me from doing that kind of thing.
JUSTIN: Right, right, right.
JASON: And um, I finally got in to see the cartoon editor to show him my batch, cause people would bring him batches of about ten cartoons, and then he looked at my cartoons and it was so sad. Cause he was just kind of very blatant in his critique of my un-funniness. And -- but at the end of our three-minute meeting, he said, but you can come back if you want. So I went back with a batch of cartoons and it was just very depressing, cause he would look at my cartoons and then I would get really no response. I would spend hours and hours and he would take 15 seconds to look through all my cartoons. And then after -- or initially, they will call you on a Thursday. So the first couple weeks I was waiting for that call on the Thursday --
JUSTIN: Oh yeah, yeah.
JASON: And of course I didn't get that call. And then six months later, they bought one. They called on a Thursday, and it was very exciting. But it was a lot of rejection.
JUSTIN: So that's a -- I mean, that's hundreds of rejections for one yes.
JASON: I think I have a pile of about 500 of them.
JASON: Which I think I'm pretty lucky. I think there are a lot of people that go for years.
JUSTIN: Right, right.
JASON: So I've had some rejection.
JUSTIN: Alright, those are great insights from Jason on the idea of a thousand rejections to get to that "yes" in the art world. Now, originally I wanted to talk about rejection in the workplace, I wanted to talk about what happens when co-workers disagree, when your boss rejects your idea. But I actually have a new idea. I wanna take this conversation deeper. I wanna go into the super secret bonus section. Super secret bonus section. Super secret bonus section. Super secret bonus section.
Now, our listeners may not know this, but we have a super secret guest who's been sitting in the corner of the studio listening to this podcast, having no idea they would be invited on, but I would like to invite them on now. I will call them by their code name, Jay. Jay, come on up here. Take over Jason's mic, I've got a question to ask you about rejection.
JAY: Hi, everyone.
JUSTIN: Alright, that's Jay. I'm gonna withhold his name and his title and his job for his own security. But Jay's job is to recruit people, and interview people, and you interview -- would you say, hundreds of people a month?
JAY: That's probably a good number.
JUSTIN: So hundreds of people a month, let's say thousands of people a year. I mean, oh my gosh, that's a lot when I think about it. And you're trying to find talent, you're trying to hire people, you're trying to get people interested. But I imagine part of that job is also having to reject people or be rejected by them. Is -- is that a part of your job?
JAY: That is definitely a part of my job, and it's not my favorite part of the job, but it is a part that, you know, you wanna be respectful of people's time. And the energy they put forth during the process. And so, you have to have that sometimes tough conversation.
JUSTIN: Do you call that person? Do you email that person? What's your approach in letting someone know, we're not gonna hire you?
JAY: Well, there's different levels of like, in the process. So if they've just come in and had like a quick conversation with a hiring manager, and we're not that far along, maybe is -- an email's okay. Just to say, hey, right now is not the right timing, or we're gonna get another direction. But if they have come in, they've done a project, their interview with a panel, they spent several hours with us, then I definitely wanna give them a call. Because I believe that you know, I've been on the other side, and -- and I've gotten the email or not gotten an email and just waited and like, wondered. And that's the worst. So, I think people really respect, you know, a phone call direct. Here's the feedback. These are the reason why. You know, I definitely want to stay in touch, cause maybe it's not this role, maybe it's not a role, maybe it's all about timing, so like, let's -- let's keep in touch and like, I will keep you posted if anything else comes about. But you know, here is why we're not moving forward. And for better or worse, 90 percent of the time, people are really respectful that you gave them the time and the -- and like, you were direct with them. And especially in the creative spaces, I think they want the feedback even more.
JUSTIN: 20:00 Now, what do you do -- you call the number, no one's answering, and it goes to voicemail. Now what? Do you hang up? Do you leave a voicemail? Cause if I got a voicemail and it said, "Hey, this is Jay, from the company, give me a call," like, that doesn't sound good. Or, how do you -- do you control your voice, or do you not leave a voicemail? What's the rule on that?
JAY: I usually try to set up a time to talk so that there is no missed connection. So like, I will shoot them an email or a text and say hey, you know, what's your schedule like this afternoon? Or, when are you free? When can we talk? That way, that they're ready, I'm ready, we have --
JUSTIN: Right, right.
JAY: -- landed on an exact time to talk, so there isn't that. If it was that case, I would leave a voicemail and say, "Hey, as we discussed, I'm just giving you a call."
JUSTIN: You're interviewing people. Sometimes people say no to you.
JAY: It goes both ways. And it -- you know? And again, I'm -- I appreciate directness, and like open, honest conversation, like, I'll be transparent if they're transparent with me, and that -- that goes a long way.
JAY: And if someone then, you know, writes me an email after we've gone through a long process, and you know, we've had 'em out, we've done all these things and we are excited about them, and they write me an email and say, "I'm not gonna do this," I'm kind of somewhat hurt cause it's like, hey, you know, let's talk about this on the phone, I less -- you know, I understand and I appreciate it, but like, you know, we've come this far, let's --let's talk it out. So both -- goes both ways.
JUSTIN: Yeah. I mean, I -- when I'm listening to you it really makes me feel like this idea of honesty is the best policy. And this idea of over-communicating and making sure you're sharing. And this is -- at the end of the day, it's sure, you're interviewing, you're trying for a job, but you're also just like a human to a human, and let's just treat each other um, with respect and -- and let them know what's really going on. So --
JUSTIN: Alright, well, Jay, thanks for uh, the super surprise, super secret bonus section. We'll move out of the rejection zone and we will move on with the show. Thanks for joining us. Now slowly step away from the mic, and let the professional Jason back up here. Jason, thank you for coming on the podcast today. Um, I'd like to give you a moment just to share where can people find you?
JASON: I -- I -- most of my stuff is on Instagram, cause I love Instagram, and I'm just at a project with Nike, just at a project with Uniqlo, so maybe take a look at those things.
JUSTIN: Okay, yeah I saw that that Nike just opened a flagship down in SoHo and had you do some stuff?
JASON: Yeah, Spring and Broadway, yeah.
JUSTIN: What did you do with them?
JASON: Um, these -- they have Air Force Ones that you can have custom made. So you can pick different graphics to put on them. So you can put a -- a pizza slice that I drew, or a pretzel, or a hot dog, or all different things onto Air Force Ones.
JUSTIN: That's awesome.
JUSTIN: I love that. Alright. So check out Instagram. Your handle is Jason Polan, right?
JASON: Yep. The country without the D. That's it.
JUSTIN: Okay, thanks for -- thanks for making that clear. Um, now of course, before we go, I wanna thank our sponsors, Forlorn Hope Wines. Just go to forlornhopewines.com, get your discount with Mr. Corpo, 15 percent off, and then also, I just wanna give a special nod to the Neuehouse (?), uh, we are fortunate enough to record at their flagship location in midtown Manhattan. And Neuehouse is a private work space. I call it the Rolls Royce of shared working spaces where creatives, entrepreneurs, artists, all different people come together, do their work, get to hang out, go to cocktail hours, and they actually curate incredible cultural content here, and do a lot of talks and interesting things like that. So check it out when you get a chance, and we're thankful for their space. And that's it for the episode today. Thanks.
Oh, Rob is looking at me, because I did not thank my producer, Rob. Rob, thank you for producing today.
JASON: Thanks, Rob.