Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Creativity And Commerce

There are a lot more professional musicians than you might think there are.  Musicians who make a fine living with nothing more than their instruments, their talents and their wits.  On top of that, there are thousands and thousands of creative professionals across the artistic spectrum who live comfortable lives with houses, cars, vacations, and all the fixings.  There are whole industries filled with people you have never heard of, that create, curate, design, and inform the aesthetics by which our world is based. On top of that, there are whole industries dedicated to teaching and nurturing creative skills, as well as industries that sell the supplies you'll need to begin creating.

Not surprisingly, few artists/craftsmen have chosen to live the "starving..." lifestyle.  Yet, many outsiders think that that's the only way you might make money doing artistic work.  Truthfully, it doesn't suit most people, and it's not very sustainable.  Even when you're not making money, you still need the money.  You require it on a daily basis, even if it's not yours.  Only the naive think that they are operating outside of a consumer's society.  Not a single person reading this can claim they are not consumers; invested in products, wholly reliant on corporations, living most days in service of commerce.  That's all of us in the Western world.  And it's not a bad thing, it just is the thing.

So, given that one must make money, when an artist enters the marketplace looking to "make a living with their art" they have a few choices:

  1. To follow their muse/passion exclusively and hope for the best in the long run.  A succeed-or-fail, no-compromise mentality.  This often means cutting all safety-nets, selling everything that's not nailed down to make ends meet, and jumping headlong the "starving" lifestyle.  The best will come out as the truest artists among us, and the rest (the vast majority) will fall by the wayside, get a day-job and, eventually, give it all up in favor of a more secure lifestyle.
  2. Adopt a "one foot in, one foot out" policy.  These folks will keep the day-job, stay in school, and pursue their art on a part-time basis.  This has a chance of working out, if the talent is there, but it would probably take a lot longer than the 'no-comprimise' style.  It's certainly a game of long-odds and requires a commitment of years, perhaps decades, to yield desirable results.  More often than not, however, there will be too many external pressures over this period of time to maintain a viable artistic side-career.  Eventually, a "serious pursuit" becomes a "hobby" and more lucrative career pursuits are sought out.  
  3. "Anything Goes."  This is where the majority of the creative folks described in the first paragraph live.  These may be people who were in a once-popular band, are jack-of-all-trades journeymen, or niche artisans with carefully marketable skills.  "Anything Goes" people suppose that they need to do a little bit of everything in their craft to carve out a living.  They have to turn themselves into a brand, and sell it wholesale to whoever is buying.  They may have to fall back on a day-job here and there, but aren't likely to stay there for long.  They play with whoever needs them (and is paying), they teach, they invent new sources of income, and are always on the lookout for the next thing, or just another thing to add on.  They may find themselves in the creative slums, or compromising everything they ever held dear; but they're in the game, and they're staying there.

As with all types of success, the first and most important step is picking which path you're going to take.  I have heard this countless times in countless conversations, and it seems to be a universal truth: You can walk any direction you wish, but you need to put 100% of yourself into it or you're going to fail.  The only right answer for achieving success in a creative field is the answer that is stated confidently and followed up with immediate action.  If you want to be renowned, and live as a true artist: start starving and go for it.  If you want to keep one foot out of the game, but still be in it, make sure that one foot is planted firmly and that you don't get distracted.  If you want to do a little bit of everything, make sure you're doing everything you possibly can, and not letting additional opportunities pass you by.   The creative world is a pretty big place, and there are many ways to succeed in it if you're willing to define what you want.