Songs for the Struggling Artist

March 18, 2014, 12:02 am
Filed under: art, business, theatre | Tags: , , ,

In the writing and sharing of my blog, I’ve had some comments go through that cluster around the ideas of “You should be more confident.” “You should believe in yourself.” And “Why are you so insecure?” These sorts of comments tend to make me want to write posts with titles like, “I’m not insecure, I’m angry. There’s a difference.” Or “I believe in myself plenty. It’s the system that I don’t believe in.” or “YOU be more confident. Being confident is not a thing you can DO.” But these would not be productive posts. Most people are well intentioned when they say things like this. They’re generally trying to be supportive (however patronizing it seems) but I can’t help resent the derailing of whatever I’m trying to write about into my personal stuff.

Could I be more confident? Sure. Find me someone who couldn’t. Am I insecure? Sure. Sometimes. Find me an artist who isn’t. Nay, find me a person who isn’t! But the kind of insecurity people tend to talk about calls to my mind an adolescent behavior, a shoe-shifting , “Gosh, am I good enough?” quality. I’m good enough. I’m not gazing at the floor.

The kind of insecurity I am full of is ACTUAL LACK OF SECURITY. That is, financial security and job security. And up until recently, health security. (Until the Affordable Care Act, I hadn’t had health insurance since graduate school. Yay, ObamaCare!)

In fact, the only palpable security I actually possess is personal security. I am very sure of who I am, my art and what I can do. (Most days. It’s shake-able, of course.) And this is something most of the long-term, committed artists that I know share. They know who they are. They’re flexible and happy in their own skins. They’re very clear about what they are trying to accomplish. And many of them are also financially unstable, transient and, for lack of a better word, they lack security.

And we don’t need pep talks or platitudes for that. We need subsidies. We need a change in the culture to allow for actual living wages for artists. We need affordable housing and affordable artistic work spaces.

No amount of confidence is going to fix those systemic problems. No amount of belief. No amount of personal therapy. No amount of Positive Thinking.

I love that Brooklyn Commune labeled a part of their report on the state of the Artist, “It’s not you. It’s the system.” We are all insecure in so much as even the most successful Broadway performers have a series of temporary positions. Even while performing in high profile shows, artists can be underpaid. And look at Oscar Nominated actor, Barkhad Abdi’s situation. No one has job security. We are all of us insecure. However, the remarkable thing about artists as a whole is how stable we can be in that instability, how we can be secure even with extremely insecure situations. There’s a New Economy happening and we can be models for it. As Seth Godin says in Linchpin, we’re all artists now. We’re all insecure.


1 Comment so far
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I agree with you regarding the system. Whenever there is a recession or an economic downturn, it is the arts that suffer most. In the UK, even those funds that had been profitable were cut, without justification in the name of all being in the same boat. There is a direct connection between the amount of funding and the ability of artists to thrive. We don’t live in a world where one can starve and create, at least not for extensive periods of time, and certainly not for a lifetime (or it will end up being a very short one).
I am glad you highlighted these issues and hope that indeed there is a new economy happening to mitigate such problems for future generations of artists, and at least in part for present ones as well.

Comment by vicbriggs

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