Songs for the Struggling Artist


Graduating into an Artist’s Life
April 26, 2015, 9:52 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, education | Tags: , ,

I have a Feldenkrais client who is about to graduate from an arts program and he was struggling with the anxiety of what will happen next. Talking with him about it reminded me of my own college graduation anxiety and even though it’s really not my job as a Feldenkrais Practitioner to give Arts advice, I found myself assuring him that it would be all right.

And it will be all right – though probably not in the way that anyone expects. Graduating into a world in which you’re choosing to be an artist is different than graduating into a job, or moving to a city, or just getting to know yourself for a while. The thing I didn’t understand at that age was how fluid my life was about to become. Because I had gone from school to school to school, each choice made a monumental impact on my life’s trajectory. And each choice neatly led to the next.

I had no sense of the randomness of the artists’ life before me. I thought I’d get that acting job and it would lead to the next acting job and it would lead to the next acting job and so on until I was on Broadway or on TV or in The Movies! And while I got that acting job, I did not get the NEXT acting job right away and it was a little bit of a shock that one thing did not lead to another as it had in education.

This is terrifying on one hand but also tremendously freeing. Each choice becomes slightly less heavy this way. You make one choice, it may or not work out. . .6 weeks later, you’ll be making another choice. There is no RIGHT choice. There’s always just a series of choices. And, sure, these choices add up to a life – but probably not in a predictable way.

In a way, you’ll always be graduating – which I can understand doesn’t sound appealing given the drama that comes with that event. And I suppose it shouldn’t. This life ain’t easy. An artists’ life is really like one graduation after another. One new beginning, another ending. Learning how to deal with that constant change is the most useful skill an artist can have.

Maybe it’s not comforting to think of the next phase of your life this way – but for me, it might have helped. It might have given some lightness to something that seemed very heavy. You don’t have to know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life or even what you’re going to do right after you graduate. You could not know and then know and not know again and all of that is perfectly normal. You can also choose an artist’s life and then leave it. Most of the people I started out with have done that. You just don’t know from where you’re standing.

All you can do is do the next thing in front of you with all that you have and be ready to leap when the next opportunity comes around.

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Going into the Arts is like Playing the Lottery
April 21, 2015, 10:19 pm
Filed under: art, comedy, Creative Process, music, puppets, theatre, writing | Tags: , ,

The odds are maybe not quite as bad. Maybe. But the chances for an actual sustainable life in the Arts in this country are very slim. When we begin, we’re all convinced we will be the one to beat the odds but only a lucky few will actually manage it. When you play the lottery, you can incrementally improve the odds of winning by buying more tickets. It stands to reason that the more tickets you’re able to afford, the more opportunity you have to win.

This is how privilege works in the arts, in a sense. Being white, for example, gives you some extra metaphorical lottery tickets. Being male will do the same. If you’re both those things, you’ll get an additional handful of tickets. And if you have some economic privilege – i.e. you can afford to do internships or not pay rent while you do a residency or whatever – that’s an even bigger handful of tickets.

But it’s still not guarantee of winning. This is why it’s hard to see one’s own privilege. It’s hard to feel like you’re winning when you’re losing most of the time. Winners of the Arts Career Lottery will tell you that all it takes to win is to work really hard at your craft and be the best you can be at what you do. The winners are experiencing something known as survivorship bias (to read more about this see: You Are Not So Smart.) Someone with Survivorship Bias attributes anything that they experienced as the reason for their success, that is, they worked hard, so it must be hard work that makes success!

But for every person who won the sustainable career Arts Career Lottery by working hard, there are probably hundreds upon hundreds who worked just as hard, are just as good and yet didn’t win. And there are also the ones who didn’t work very hard and just got lucky. You can do everything right and fail. You can have a fistful of tickets and still not win the lottery. You can have a fistful of privilege and still not win the arts lottery.

And like the actual lottery, sometimes a little win in the Arts will keep you playing. In the lottery, you play enough, you will win $25 or $50 and those small gains can encourage you to stay in the game, giving you hope that you could win. This happens in the arts, where a small bit of progress feels like a signal that you could win. You got that audition. You got that grant. You won that jury prize. So you keep playing. For better or for worse.

Should you play the Arts Lottery? Entirely up to you. The odds are terrible and you can lose a lot of money as well as piece of mind. I can really only recommend it for those who feel that they have no choice – that a life in the arts is the only available path. If that’s you: Welcome to the Lottery. Your odds are pretty slim but if you’re like me, you keep playing, simply because you cannot help it. Just be prepared for the moment when some asshole who’s never bought a ticket before, who’s barely trained and has not paid any dues suddenly hits the jackpot. I’ve seen it happen many times and it does not stop sucking.

But if you can let go of the idea that there might be order or justice or merit in the way the arts magic gets distributed, you might be able to enjoy the game.

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Want to buy me an extra ticket in the Arts Career lottery?

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