Monday, October 11, 2010

Fight the stereotype

There’s this stereotype that artistic people are “scatterbrained”.  They’re wild and chaotic—like children running around in a zoo—and all this frenetic energy is part of their brilliance.  They create by inspiration, not by planning. 

Only thing is, that’s a myth. It makes for a good story, sure, but it’s not the whole story.

We artists secretly embrace this stereotype when it suits us, don’t we?  We love to create mystique, that we’re tossed by the waves of inspiration and our minds and souls can’t deal with menial tasks.  We say things like:

I’m an artist, I can’t be bothered with contracts”
“I don’t know anything about PR.”
 “I’m not good at grant-writing—my work can’t be neatly summarized”
“I can’t be bothered with contracts.”
“I can’t do my taxes—I’m an artist not a mathematician.

Even artists have to write rent checks.  And we have to balance our budgets, whether for our personal life or artistic visions.  Part of living as an artist is an ability to embrace all the little things in life as well as the existential things, even if they’re not fun.

Over the years I’ve gotten much better at planning and organizing my work.  It’s not fun to write a play and not get it produced.  It’s no longer romantic to not get cast in a play because I’m trying out for the wrong parts.  

I don’t find planning and organizing to be limiting.  I find it empowering.  Setting specific and measurable goals and then attaining them gives me focus.  Not all goals are possible, but it gives me an idea of what I’ve accomplished, or will accomplish, and how I’m doing in my own eyes (instead of playing the game of measuring myself with others, which is a dangerous trap we artists play).

When you find yourself uttering words like, “I’m an artist, I don’t…”, stop and think about it. What if you tried, anyway?  You might find you can write a grant proposal and get financial support for a project.  You might make a goal to work with a specific company and plan some steps to accomplish that.  Once you connect the dots to how your productivity can make you do more or better art, it becomes easier to do those organizational things.  And then it becomes a habit.

The truly successful artists are driven and ambitious.  They have a vision of the world and plan how to make that vision reality. There’s a lot of organization going on, in the process of making art, as well as behind the scenes.  We may not always see it, but it’s there. 

It’s just too bad that’s not as good a story as the scatterbrained artist who can float on talent and brilliance without any real grunt work.

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