The Professional Artist
Somewhere on a small island there is a group of artist that get up around noon everyday. They sit and think... and feel... and... think. Eventually, over several months and years under the influence of drugs, an epiphany hits them and they create their art. And this art comes out perfectly (but no one really understands it, which is a testament to how deep the art is). Somewhere on an island there is a group of artists who use this technique to pay their rent, buy their condos, travel the world and wear the same clothes everyday because they don't need to interact with the real world anyway.
Somewhere these artists exist. Unfortunately I don't know where and have never met them. I'm often hard pressed to understand what an artist really is in the first place. This is elusive to me because once you've decided to make a career in the arts... or make your rent and pay your bills with no other source of income but your creative endeavors... it becomes clear that being an "artist" is more like being a contractor. This becomes extremely clear when that work-for-hire contract comes in the mail and you check the box "service" for your kind of business. Oh yeah, and you have an LLC with a quickbooks account, contracts, expenses and payroll.
This view of what it means to be a working artist is an important illustration that I wish was shown earlier in the education of young filmmakers, musicians, painters, poets, actors... but more importantly I wish it was shown to those artists' parents and friends. There is a level of endless work to be done because when it comes to art, there is no "right answer." There is no moment when collectively we all say "we're done!" You're constantly having this feeling of aiming at a moving target. Of course sometimes people find that target and can count on where it will be at all times. Pick any episode of the "Daily Show" in the past 4 years and you're guaranteed to laugh. Well, unless you go 10 years into the future and then all of a sudden society has changed and the humor isn't as funny anymore. Art evolves faster than any other career, aside from maybe tech.
But there still is a part of us that chose this career instead the other more "straight forward" and easily relatable careers. I picked it because I believed I had a calling to do so. I chose it because I wanted to touch people's lives and raise awareness in an emotional way. I wanted to also push the art form forward into a future ready for a generation to consume on their smartphones, tablets and home theaters. But in many ways when I became a professional artist I began to literally wear my heart on my paycheck. I'm asking people to look inside the way I see the world and how I see myself in that world while waiting for the final "sign off" from the client. And as I'm anxiously awaiting approval, I pray that all of this isn't my worst nightmare: that I'm not stupid, uninteresting, wrong and unskilled. If I get a lukewarm response from my work, "I suck" repeats in my head. Get a firm note on how to change it, "I should pick another career" creeps on the back of my neck. "I love it!" and I'm on cloud nine...for about 15 seconds before doubting everything again.
I believe I am this way because of the moving target. And most of us have two moving targets: the mainstream view of what good creative art is and our internal target of "is that what I set out to do in the first place?" I'm sure this is similar to a politician who finds themselves working for votes above looking for causes. Or a doctor who finds themselves thinking about that gated community instead of the poor family that drove them to enter medicine in the first place. But even typing this, I can't help but judge my own insecurities below the pure dreams and aspirations of a doctor, lawyer, engineer and politician.
Finding validity outside of myself in a career path of the arts is a daunting task. "Self expression for the good of others." Sounds like an oxymoron. A fool's errand. Yet I revolve around a 60-80 hour work week trying to achieve that goal while holding close my personal dreams and aspirations.
I wonder if anyone else is feeling the same rub that I do living as a professional artist.