Songs for the Struggling Artist

January 10, 2011, 11:30 pm
Filed under: art, business, theatre, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I just started reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin on the subway from Washington Heights to DUMBO. (Thanks to Matilda and Phelim for impressing upon me how much I’d appreciate this book!) I’m only a few pages in at this point but I’ve already felt my chest rise (in that way that lets me know the floodgates of tears are about to open) several times. When I got off the A train and started walking, a little sob escaped but I’ve kept it together so far. Let me clarify – this book isn’t sad. It’s not making me want to cry because it’s tragic or terrible or anything in that territory. It’s making me want to cry because it’s giving me some hope for the future.
Godin’s thesis is that the world is changing from a Factory model to an entirely new form and for this new model, we need to be artists. Now, as an artist, I’m afraid I can’t really recommend the life of an artist (at least not right now) but the notion of a world in which my skills are valuable and sought after is something I find tremendously uplifting. Could it be possible that all these years of practice at forging my own path, creating, developing, cultivating my creativity and problem solving might actually lead to something besides poverty and degradation? I’m all for it.
What I’ve already begun to realize from reading the first few pages of this book is that the American Theatre is based on a factory model. It’s been trying very hard to be a factory for Art but the fit is uneasy because the factory is full of artists.
How is it like a factory?
Not only are actors treated like cattle (they’re interchangeable, plentiful and bred for docility. They attempt to look and seem more and more alike to fit a cultural norm) but directors and designers are also passed around and expected to do as instructed (follow the instructions of the institution/producers, the way to make it to the top is to follow directions and do as we’re told.) Plays are treated like products getting sent to to the factory floor – tinkered with and developed, run through focus groups and committees and made to be repeatable instead of unique, indispensable works of art. So the writers that get produced in American Theatre are the good factory workers, the ones who will keep their heads down and make the changes they are told to make by the managers on the factory floor.
Good lord, no wonder I can’t make it in American Theatre! I’m a terrible factory worker. While I’m easy to collaborate with, if you put me in a situation where I’m supposed to be a good cog and just follow directions and do as I’m told, I become a terribly squeaky wheel.
If the business world starts to cultivate artists as this book is suggesting it should, maybe there’s hope for us. While I don’t have a lot of faith in the speed which the Theatre business takes up the innovations outside its bounds (it’s a pretty slow moving creature, I think,) I appreciate the opportunity to see the system as a product of the world our industrializing forefathers created. This means that innovation is possible. This means that maybe another way of making good art could be possible in my lifetime.It gives me hope for the art and it gives me hope for myself.

Mostly, I’m excited about that little bubble of hope that has risen from just these few pages. We’ll see what I get to do with that little bubble of hope.


2 Comments so far
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love. you’ve totally inspired me to read the book too 🙂

Comment by Katrina

Thanks for this, Emily. Keep shipping…

Comment by Seth Godin

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