A Long List of Lies
There are a lot of things we grow up hearing, that turn out to be untrue.
There are a lot of well-meaning people who give us bad advice.
And there are many many more things we assimilate, through media, political discourse, and general cultural engagement, that end up embedded in our psyche, becoming a part of our personal baggage.
The result: We end up- intentionally or unintentionally- believing and telling ourselves BIG FAT LIES.
Lies about who we are, who we should be, and how we should and shouldn't make art.
We will now unpack a few of these insidious fibs:
(Note: This is not by many means, a comprehensive list of such fibs)
1. "You have to be just one kind of artist"
It's good marketing to brand yourself with a succinct, distinct, straightforward message & aesthetic.
Good for marketing. Bad for creativity.
We've talked about this on the blog before, but it bears repeating. Don't let anyone trick you into putting yourself into a box. Maybe we're comfortable with a narrow lane right now, but if it begins to feel stifling, if it begins to smother our creativity, then we should feel free to change lanes.
Our artistic life isn't a marketing campaign. It is a rich and diverse and limitless realm of possibility. The portrait artist can do landscapes, or start a comic strip, or write a book, or try ceramics- if it's what the Muse wants.
And yeah, maybe it's confusing for the marketing team. But this is why we have the nom de plume, friends. You can have more than one Instagram account.
2. "You must suffer for your success."
If you aren't stressed-out, you can't be successful. If your nose isn't smashed into the grindstone, then you're not working hard enough. If you aren't confronting your inner demons every time you make art... then you aren't a real artist.
The image of the artist as a tortured soul, slaving away in a freezing apartment and bringing forth a magnum opus from the swamp of suffering, is one most of us are familiar with. And they exist. And some of them are successful.
But please don't think that the suffering is necessary. We can be happy, well-adjusted individuals and still find success. We can maintain good work-life balance and still make great art. We don't necessarily have to drag out and confront our past traumas and inner demons every time we practice our craft- it is not a requirement for excellent work.
And while we may know this, rationally, it can still be difficult for us to make ourselves believe it. Just because it isn't hard, doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. Just because we're enjoying ourselves, doesn't mean it's a waste of time.
Good work may require time, commitment, attention, consideration, and effort- but the suffering is optional.
My advice? Don't let them sell you something you don't need. Don't be a sucker.
3. "If you aren't being paid you're not legitimate."
Oof. This one's a toughie.This one really gets to the deep-seated insecurities lots of creators have about our artistic identities. It's what sends us straight onto a bad case of Impostor Syndrome.
Unless we are paid artists, then we're just playing around. Unless we are paid in real money, regularly, then we aren't serious. Unless we can make our art fully support us financially, then we aren't real.
We are artists if we say we are. That's all it takes. That's all that is required. No paycheck. No book deal. Being paid for your work doesn't make it more legitimate, or somehow better than work you are not paid to do. Van Gogh never sold a painting. So there.
A writer is hired because she is a writer. When she retires, or quits, or gets fired, or decides to live off-grid in the tropics, she doesn't cease to be a writer.
The painter is put in the gallery because he is a painter. And when his work isn't there anymore, when no one is buying his paintings, he is still a painter.
AND if said painter works a part-time gig at the local coffee shop, in order to pay his bills, he is still a legit painter.
Legitimacy is not measured in dollars.
4."You're work isn't valuable" and "You do not deserve to ask for payment."
Quite the opposite of #3, and yet we're willing to believe it, too.
We live in this bizzarro world where popular culture simultaneously celebrates artists for making great contributions to society... and yet often shames them for asking to be paid for their work.
And, sure, we could get down on ourselves because we aren't performing open-heart surgery, or growing food, or building roads... but there are lots of people who don't have those jobs (ahem, stock broker) and they aren't categorically made to feel like their work isn't valued by society.
Furthermore, if we choose to reject the idea that we must hate our job (see #2) then we may find that we are shamed for asking to be paid. As if, enjoying the work we do somehow makes us less worthy of payment.
Personally, I have a tough time asking for money for things I put time, energy, attention, and my own money into making-even if I've been asked to make it. And a lot of people do.
Why? Because I enjoyed making it? Because a painting may bring joy, but has no utilitarian value? Or because I've been raised in a culture where I was taught that asking for money was shameful and that the work of artists isn't valuable? (ding! ding! ding!)
I don't have a tough time asking for payment after I've put in 5 hours of shoveling mulch-. even if I enjoyed it (And sometimes I do.)
I wouldn't be reluctant to pay my mechanic, even if she thoroughly enjoyed working on my vehicle.
We mustn't buy into the lie. Don't undervalue yourself, or your expertise, or your time.
And don't let people who ask for your art to pay you in hugs or pizza
(unless that was the agreed-upon currency of exchange)
Heavy stuff, amirite?
What lies have you been told about the art world? How have you overcome them?
Daily Mantras? Notes on the bathroom mirror?
I'd love to hear your tips.