Have you ever seen the BBC documentary series, What Do Artists Do All Day? Each episode follows an established visual artist around for a few days and we are given insight into their creative process. It’s wonderful - I love those behind the scenes moments! To watch a visual artist, a musician, an actor, a dancer, or a writer in the midst of their process is amazing, inspiring and captivating. It’s incredible to watch them do what they do. The process is rarely easy - when it appears that way, it’s years of practice that has prepared them to work with the excellence they do now. I’m so grateful for artists, how they see the world and how they persevere to bring us their perspective through their artistic discipline.
How poignant that this process is not often viewed as work. Artists are frequently confronted with all sorts of stereotypes. When asked what I do for work I often get a cocked eyebrow and clarifying questions, “No. I mean, what do you do for money?” "What do you do all day?" The legitimacy of an artist and the work they do are constantly challenged.
Isn’t it peculiar how we are prone to jump to conclusions about what we do not know? Take social media for example: we see perfectly curated family pictures of someone’s life and we assume that their life is easy, that they’ve got it all together. Yet, we neglect to tell our rational selves that they’re probably not posting all the mess and struggle. Even when someone has a life trajectory that is similar to ours we still assume that they’ve got things more figured out than us. Is that how it is with artists? Because we’re only seeing the highlights we figure that their lives are filled with wine, paint and contemplation? Are we filling in the blanks with assumptions and stereotypes?
And the creative side is only one part of an artist’s work equation. We have easily recognized the administrative side of many occupations so why not with artists? As an artist I am the CEO of a creative business. I also manage all administrative, operational, financial and creative aspects of this business. I must balance the daily demands with creative output. I aim to follow my creative calling but also am faced with the reality of bills that need to be paid - and have to find a way to navigate this challenge. And I must resist the urge to overwork to try and prove my worth in a world that challenges the validity of my profession.
In the introductory post of The Cost of Artistry I spoke about having to advocate for the value of artistry and how the Arts are often viewed as a luxury. It pains me to feel like these conversations are necessary - to be put in positions where I have to talk about artistry as a legitimate, worthy career choice. But these conversations must continue until we see artists fully integrated into culture, where artists are commissioned and paid on a regular basis, where artists do not need to supplement their income with other work, where organizations do not approach artists with “opportunities for exposure” but with offers that make it worth the artist’s time and talent, where art inquiries are given with adequate time allowance and event budgets have artists at the top of their priorities. I look forward to that day.
Through these posts I will continue to remind us that change really does start with each one of us. We "prove" the value of the Arts by ensuring that we are indeed valuing the Arts in our own lives through our actions. Our talk must match our walk - and that is a work in progress for all of us. Next week I will share a story about a time when I realized that I wasn’t walking my talk, how it ended up teaching me a powerful lesson and encouraged me to make a change.
I have been sitting on a series of posts that I began in 2014 about life as an artist: The Cost of Artistry. They never made it past the draft stage yet there they sit... and I still find myself often thinking about their contents. As I continue to engage in the same topics of conversation and wrestle with the same issues I know that it's time to finally share my perspective. It is my hope to offer a little insight into the sometimes mysterious and often misunderstood life of an artist. My perspective continues to grow and develop in how to best cultivate an arts culture that is thriving and valued - I suspect sharing these thoughts and stories will continue that process for me and perhaps for you too.
I have been involved in the arts my whole life. Music was my first love and it felt like a natural progression to study music and education in University. Classes on theory, composition and orchestration were combined with hours in the practice room, preparing pieces for masterclasses and juries. The education side taught us classroom management, lesson planning and curriculum development. All of this was expected. As were the lessons on how to advocate for our jobs when the inevitable budget cuts impacted Arts education. The Arts are often deemed a luxury - something that is entertained when everything else is taken care of.
As University students we studied scientific research so we could prove the positive impact the Arts has on child development. We felt the pressure to perform and have our students perform at high levels so that we could prove that our programs had merit and worth. We experienced the familiar ache when watching movies like Mr. Holland's Opus or Music of the Heart that addressed the widespread reality of funding cuts for Arts education. We had experienced it as children in arts programs and we were picking up the baton to fight on in our adulthood. It saddens (and frustrates) me that 20 years later these struggles continue. I suppose that's a big reason why I never published these posts. I want it to be rainbows and butterflies. I want it to be easy. But we're still having to prove the worth and value of the Arts and it's wearying.
If you're reading this I likely do not need to convince you of the value of the Arts. We know that the Arts helps us to view life with a depth that isn't possible by any other means. Through music, painting, dance, poetry, sculpture and countless other artistic expressions, we have the vehicles in which to examine life. These are not luxuries - they are necessities. This is not a competition between science and visual art or arithmetic and music, it all has its place. However, the richness and fullness that the Arts brings has been overlooked and undervalued. It is an essential element in our lives, one that many of us acknowledge yet the same struggles remain.
As I begin a new chapter in my own life I still feel the need to continue advocating for the value of the Arts but I no longer feel the same need to prove their value. The Arts have value and worth whether or not it is seen and upheld. But for those of us who know and have experienced the impact and necessity of the Arts in our own lives, it is up to us to support artists and ensure that they have the means to continue to create. That is the place from which I share. Even as a professional artist I am still being challenged on how to best support artists and I hope that sharing my experiences helps us all to find more ways to ensure the health of the Arts in our communities.