Black Girl Provoked – 5 HURDLES EVERY ARTIST MUST OVERCOME

kari

It’s Thursday evening, and I’m struggling to beat the indoor climate of this apartment into submission. I’m installing the third ice-cube into my, maybe fourth glass of lemonade today, and hopefully the last. This summer’s heat has left me chronically feisty. I’m back on the topic of creatives.
Let’s discuss the plight of the madman who throws caution to the wind to become an artist because he MUST, in order to breathe. What does art carry which is so important that a select few will at the risk of disappointing everyone who matters commit to its labor, its cause?Related image

The realization that I MUST write was, believe it or not, a recent and a sudden one. It was a calling which settled on me like a second skin, and never left. Just like Atwood,

“[my] transition from not being a writer to being one was instantaneous, like the change from docile bank clerk to fanged monster in ‘B’ movies.”
—Negotiating With the Dead: a Writer on Writing

I’m curious about other people who, like me, have made a covenant with the unknown, after being handed a passion with no guarantee. I might not be experienced enough to write an article with such a self-assured title. Nonetheless, let me undertake to account my observations about the obstacles which many artist face.

F • I • V • E   ♦  C •R • O • S • S • R • O • A • D • S •

1) BROKENESS

20180709_001754Thinking about the independent artist, art for art’s sake is more a folklore than it is practical wisdom. I agree with Da Vinci that art is never finished, it is only abandoned. The finished product might never feel adequate; nonetheless, one cannot stay hungry. To dispatch one’s art into the free market is nothing short of brave. It is to sign off on devastating possibilities. Just like a child, your labor of love might go off to become a sellout success and lose its quaintness, or a fiscal failure, and bear no fruit. Typically,  artists are not salesmen, and will become solicited by middlemen. I have observed one artist become so exhausted by an excruciating project, that he became debilitated upon completion. Predictably this was the point where he metaphorically sold his soul to a third party. Imagine with me, the selling and negotiating power that the independent artist will acquire, once he learns to be enterprising by himself.

Currently, it’s bugging me… “do people want to read what I write, or do I write what people want to read”? And is it immoral to practice the latter?  Many people who consider themselves artists fear the prospect of ‘selling out’. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that unless one is making art for art sake, it might be beneficial to mass produce, to brand, and to to shove it in the way of the public eye. Much as it is heartbreaking to put a price tag on your own work: insulting even, I’m learning that it is okay to demand good compensation for time, travel, and grind. It is an act of self-love to turn down exposure gigs. People who truly enjoy your work will buy it in the manner that they purchase other high value commodities. How will people respect it when they’re paying peanuts?

But what happens when your art begins to feel like a product? When your precious little song  becomes overplayed ad nauseum or when you  find your art hanging at a cheesy joint? You remember that you have money in the bank and carry on.

Image result for plan b2) PLAN  B

To be plagued by the feeling that one’s life isn’t going anywhere, is a special subdivision of hell. Every artist will, at  some point look around and question the speed, even legitimacy of their own undertaking. They will watch their engineer, and accountant friends become relatively comfortable very quickly, and it might feel like time is working against them. To reach for an unconventional career is to sign up for this. There is a lesson in delayed gratification to be learned by force, when you choose this path. I’ve observed a specific anxiety within many artists, especially men. They carry a palpable fear that their inconsistent income might deem them incapable of getting ahead, planning for a family etc. Plan B often becomes selected over Plan A while  plan A is demoted to a hobby.

I would be lying if I said that I haven’t considered doing this as well. But, I’m thinking… what if Plan B could be eliminated entirely upon finding a side-hustle to pursue ALONGSIDE plan A? It is important to mentally decriminalize the act of doing a second job. I’m  especially noticing that the soft skills I’m learning from jobs that I hate, become relevant to my plan A. I would hate to become an ‘aloof artist’- especially one who is restricted to one medium. It’s dumb to become a martyr for art. There is no virtue to a ‘starving artist’. At the same time, my heart could never allow me to drop plan A. The plan is singular, but I’m willing to take on ventures that will prop me to actualize it.

3) MOOD FLUCTUATION

It’s easier to write a financial report when in a bad mood, than is to perform a love song when you’re grief-stricken. Society, often ascribes the performance artist the social role of a ‘court jester’. Performing well is contingent upon emotional expression, right? What happens when you can’t summon the emotion that your audience begs, and paid for?   I can imagine that one bad performance has the potential to be a career-killing move, in ways that non-performers may never experience. I’ve heard that the disparity between a professional and a skilled amateur, is not what one can give on their best day. It is what they can bring during their worst days.

A couple of times I’ve met strangers who’ve recognized me and confronted me about my work. In those moments, it dawns on me that I’m a surrogate. You will never meet the creator of the content you have just consumed. Time has elapsed between creation and publication, and they are a different person. I’m curious, how do performance artists navigate this? I tend to recoil and seclude every time I finish an intense undertaking. Passion breaks my heart to a point where I am exhausted. This is a hurdle to climb. I feel that it is necessary that one embraces the social role that is implicated in the work that one does.

Image result for dejectedLOW SELF-ESTEEM

I’m never comfortable saying “writer” when I’m asked what I do.  This is entirely because it sounds self-applauding. Everybody who is literate, and ‘has a story’ can make marks on a digital surface. So what makes me a writer, capital ‘W’? Many people who pursue  creative careers, feel an equivalent of this. I met a visual artist once who told me that every  time people make comments to the effect of  “my five year old with crayons can do this” he responds with “but has he?”

You are an artist because you make art. Not specifically because you’re exceptional, because that is for your audience to decide. This is debatable. Many people believe that the label ‘artist’ invokes superior skill. I’ve learned that the difference between an artist, and somebody who makes art, is passion and perseverance. Can I quote Margaret Atwood again?

Everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave-digger. The latter takes a good deal more stamina and persistence. It is also, because of the nature of the activity, a deeply symbolic role. As a grave-digger, you are not just a person who excavates. You carry upon your shoulders the weight of other people’s projections, of their fears and fantasies and anxieties and superstitions.”
—Negotiating With the Dead: a Writer on Writing

If you make art, and you take up its daily cross, YOU ARE AN ARTIST.

PERFECTIONISM

This item is on the list because it’s perhaps my biggest limiting factor. I’m plagued by a fear of failure which I know is common among people who call themselves artists. The only antidote to this is to take a leap of faith. Tina Fey inspired me adequately in Bossypants with one statement:

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”
 Bossypants 

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