Songs for the Struggling Artist

Anatomy of a Quitting
September 7, 2011, 9:12 pm
Filed under: art, education, theatre | Tags: , , , ,

I wrote this the day I decided to quit a job this summer. Here’s what happened:

I am sitting in a room surrounded by artists. There are musicians and visual artists and dancers and theatre artists like me. We’re sitting here because it is July. It is summertime and we don’t get much teaching work in the summertime so when they offered us $79 an hour to sit in this room, we said okay. We are watching and listening to two paunchy middle-aged men in business shirts and pants that don’t quite seem to fit them. They are giving a Power Point presentation to us. They are reading what is on the screen from the photocopies of the same text on their papers. Beside them is a really fancy poster on an easel. It looks expensive. This project now has a fancy new logo and they’ve put it everywhere. These guys are reading us details about what’s going to happen this year with this very exciting arts education initiative and I’m realizing that at least one of them used to be an artist of some kind but he traded in his career in the arts for a salary and an office and fancy job title. He’s the Head of Arts, you see. He’s in charge. But as I’m watching him, I can see that he doesn’t give a damn about this stuff he’s saying. He has to say it; He’s received a $5 million grant to implement this plan but the kid in him who chose to go into art all those years ago is sitting sadly in a corner as he stands in front of a room full of artists, telling us how great it is to be there. I don’t believe anyone is happy to be here today. We’re in a dingy, poorly lit, uncomfortable classroom staring at the packet of rules and plans and itineraries in the folders they gave us. The air feels depressed and resigned.
Yet another middle aged man has stood up now (I happen to know he regularly makes $150,000 consultant fees in Arts & Education) and he’s telling us that we’ve all made an agreement to be honest, and to – – – I don’t know – a bunch of other words that are nice to say but don’t actually mean anything. He’s telling us to be honest in the work we’re about to undertake and now he’s asking us to think about our core values as artists. With my moment to think, I realize that I’m sitting here in this room, watching artists get turned into tools or sheep or some other listening entity with no will, power or authority of our own and honestly, since he’s asked me – nothing in this room has anything to do with my values.
I can see what he’s doing. He’s attempting to integrate my artist self into this bureaucratic expedition, maybe to harness it and put it to work in education. But it’s too late, my artist is out of the gate. He’s brought the rebellious, rule breaking artist into the room now (these are the core values I’ve just written down for his exercise) and because I’m suddenly seeing with her eyes, there is no way I can stay here, where everyone has tamed their artist selves to sit quietly in a room full of bullshit, or to craft bullshit into carefully constructed units of learning or measurement, to a place where there is no joy in creating, or in art. There is just obligation and systemization and they’re holding a room full of artists hostage here, because the world won’t pay us enough to live, not for our art, no. No, they’ll only pay us to tame it, chew it up and regurgitate it for the system, for this fancy new grant. They’re holding us for ransom here but I’m making my escape, even if I have to run through poverty to get it.


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