Over the last several days, I’ve been amazed to see how many hits my recent post, I Have Bills To Pay, But I’m An Artist… has received. It would seem that there are hundreds and thousands of you who are struggling creatives: the search engine term report facility has basically gone into overdrive with all manner of phrases that paraphrase the sentiment. So, not only am I relieved to know I’m in extremely good company where this issue’s concerned, I’m even more alarmed than I was before by how many people out there appear to be finding it difficult to makes ends meet, not least get some sort tangible remuneration (i.e. the sort of stuff that pays the rent) for their creative efforts.
I’m therefore moved to initiate a symposium of sorts to discuss this matter to a greater degree. Which is entirely possible, but might end up being a case of throwing old stones. So in the first instance, I thought a little EP manifesto / constitution / instruction for change list might not go amiss. For starters – because this could end up being a long, long post if we don’t break this down into biteable chunks – let’s go in for a beginner’s guide type thing, and focus on the building blocks of using our creativity applicably in our lives. This is for starters, as I say; but what more can we do to change this pitiful performance of the non-equilibrium that appears to be going on between left and right brainers?
Step One: The Creative Self-Appraisal
1. What exactly do you do? Okay, so we’re talking about super basic stuff here. And where you may well bluster, “I’m a musician / painter / writer / designer / actor / Etc.” at Electric Plum for posing this question, don’t be fooled. Perhaps this question ought to be ‘what can you do’? Creative people – or artists, if you prefer – aren’t often good at just one thing. Chances that you’ll possibly have a few strings to your artistic bow and enjoy them in arguably equal measure are quite high. Take Ronnie Wood, for example; legendary guitarist but also a talented painter. Paul McCartney likes painting too. There are actors who also have a flair for fashion and put that talent to tangible use. Even interiors behemoth, Carol Smillie, has turned her hand to the stage. You get the picture.
So, what is it you can do? List them all. What do you like doing most? List them in order. What, out of your bow strings, do you consider yourself to be best at? Write it down. And then descend in order accordingly. What have you attained the most compliments / recognition for to date? Make a note. Add to this list of soul-searching questions as and how you like.
The point here is that very often, our artistic vocation isn’t necessarily what we strive to do or be. By way of crude example, where we might be highly proficient at the geeetar, and aspire to be a successful musician with the next best thing, our track record designing posters for our gigs or album artwork has heralded much more affirmative feedback than our residency down the local. And where EP doesn’t wish or intend to shatter your big ideas (because they’re equally as valid), what I’m getting at is that you might have a ‘flair’ for something that’s by far more tangible and attainable where making a living is concerned.
So don’t abandoned the paintbrush or guitar or the whatever. But don’t bat off those seemingly subsidiary talents you may well have lurking in all their demanding glory.
2. How good are you? It might seem like a harsh thing to say, but realism – along with ambition – are important when it comes to your art, whatever that might be. I have the sentiment of the X Factor Delusion ringing away in my head here. But be cheered: where the X Factor’s concerned, we’re talking about either highly misplaced individuals or aforementioned bedroom warblers, who’ve possibly had a stab at their local karaoke, but not much more when it comes to audition fails. In other terms, if you’re an aspiring copywriter but have a poor grasp on grammar and spelling, you have work to do, friend. Be honest with yourself about what level you’re at in your creative pursuits (and we’re speaking mastery here; not recognition so much), and do your homework: who else is making a living out of what you’d like to be earning bucks from? What are they doing and how are they doing it?
But the fundaments that EP’s trying to get to here is be realistic about the dartboard you’re aiming at. You may well have a raw talent as an actor, but don’t expect Hollywood tomorrow, if you catch my drift. And this isn’t so much about warning you not to jump the gun: this is more about pitching yourself at a market that doesn’t leave you swamped in the wrong way (that’s disappointed, by the way). It may just be a case of starting out small. It may be a case of experimenting. Or it may well be where you stop. But as long as you’re obtaining business, there’s nothing wrong with this.
3. What’s your motive / motivation? It’s important to be completely honest with yourself with this. And while I don’t wish to labour the point vis-a-vis the X Factor Delusion gubbins, if you’re only in it for a whimsical, glitzy name in lights thing (however that might translate – Nobel / Pulitzer Prize / actual Hollywood fame) but don’t genuinely have some kind of basic talent or flair to speak of, then you’ll probably be chasing that rainbow all your life. Aspiring to be famous is perfectly alright providing you have some kind of stronghold in your chosen art and if you’re willing to put in the work along the way.
However, if for instance you seek to better the lives of people’s health through your creativity (because you have awesome ideas for succinct ad campaigns for the NHS Quit Smoking / exercise more initiatives), then your path forward is likely to be entirely more tangible and sensical. Ask yourself questions like these: Do I really love exercising my talents? Do I do it for me or for other people? Do I more often than not think of myself in terms of / identify with my creativity? If I were speaking to me as a potential commissioner, what would I like to hear me say? Do I enjoy entertaining / enriching / educating / inspiring / facilitating, Etc. other people? And so on. In short, be brutal with yourself and define your motives and anchor your initial baby steps so that they’re pointing pragmatically in the direction marked ‘straight on ’til morning’.
4. Exactly what are you doing? Let me bring myself into this for a moment if you will. When people ask me what I do, my immediate reaction is to tell them I’m a writer. Which I am, but not in the way I’m imagining me to be in my head when I say this. I imagine myself as a fully fledged author, a writer of fiction that would ideally be listed somewhere in some prestigious recommended read countdown, preferably of no more than ten books. And so when people ask me what I write (which they always do if you you’re a writer), I always find myself apologising for the fact I write largely about music (which always requires further elucidation) and women’s health (which if they’re a boy questioner, generally gets the subject changed entirely).
But there’s always a burgeoning question which is more often than not never brought up by me, but by my conversational partner: “What about books, then?” Well, yeah… “Have you written any books?” To glory hump on the publication of a book for which I wrote some stuff for isn’t quite the answer they’re looking for: they want to know simply yes or no in relation to my own shit. And I always say yes, even though I’ve never had any of my own work published in such a capacity. A bunch of questions later and in between, we get to the crux of it: quite simply, I’m not actually doing what I claim to do, which is to write fictional novels. I explain it away with external excuses usually, which when broken down, are no reason not to be doing the thing I profess to do. Therefore, it’s all well and good visualising yourself as a winner in whatever way you wish, but unless you’re actually making headway with your chosen creativity, you ain’t got shit to build on. Therefore, make like Ronseal and do what it says on the tin, even if you’re not nearly out there yet.
5. Are you really getting yourself out there? As in, how ‘out of the bedroom’ are you with your creativity / art? You could be Picasso reincarnate, or indeed the next Hendrix, but if you’re keeping yourself to yourself, what do you expect? This might seem like a no brainer point to make, but there are some who resent the fact they’ve never been discovered and aren’t making some sort of a living out of their art – yet have never ‘sent off’ a demo CD / organised a gig / allowed anyone else to read their manuscripts / barely let their canvases breach the thresholds of their secret studios / Etc. The basic point here is if you’re timid, or even possessive, about your art, no one else is ever going to know about it. If this is you, get a wriggle on and show folks your shizzle.
A sort of footnote here is prepare yourself for criticism. Where art’s concerned, there will always be people who simply don’t dig it. Some people can be pretty acerbic about their criticism. Some can be constructive. But as a creative, you’re probably pretty sensitive too (face it, we all are, however self-aware we like to think we are) because it is personal. Unless a person’s face doesn’t light up with joy or the words they impart aren’t plated in gold, we think we’ve failed. Well, we haven’t. We’re merely in the process of aligning ourselves (which actually, we’re always doing however critically acclaimed we are) and very often, we neglect to recognise that one person out of ten really loves what we do. We just have a weird tendency to focus on the nine who don’t.
Stop that. Hone in on the positive and where criticism is constructive (if it’s shitty, that’s all it is: jealousy’s a huge contender in the world of creativity), drop the ego and take note. Considering other people’s reactions is a massive key to to our trajectory of success.
To be continued…