Art can be created in countless different mediums and its impact can range from mild distraction and entertainment to life altering emotional catharsis. We use movies, music, imagery, and movement to lift our spirits, to escape and reprieve, to navigate the overwhelming, to celebrate, to heal. Artists create not only to express our inner feelings and inspirations but also to explore relatable and evocative truths in the hopes of resonating with the world around us.
As artists the urge to create is within us, undeniable and ever present. There are few ambrosias sweeter than seeing your work have a genuine and meaningful impact on people but the fires burn whether or not anyone else ever sees the flames. We will write our stories, draw our images, sing our songs, move our bodies even if we are the only ones to ever bear witness. Our urge to create is relentless and will always find a way.
We all have a bit of the expressive impulse in us, though it can require some ‘liquid courage’ to fully manifest, but for artists it is an irresistible force. It finds a way not only into our ordinary daily lives but pushes us to find more potent and satisfying outlets. From sketching or scribbling in the privacy of our homes to the casts and crews of community theater companies to those Aunts and Uncles who always give the most unique gifts at Christmas time. We have these things inside us which simply need to be expressed.
A great deal of the time this leads to pursuing our art in between and alongside the demands of our day jobs, which can all too frequently then get dismissed as hobbies. Skilled and experienced artists can make the process seem simple, almost playful. It isn’t. And the rather monumental amount of time and effort it takes often surprises most people. We don’t do it for amusement, it is a visceral necessity. If we aren’t able to express and exorcise our creative impulses we actually start to become physically and psychologically ill.
For those of us lucky enough to hone our methods of expression to the point of being able to make a living through them we are most often self-employed, navigating a ‘gig’ style career working from one project or contract to the next. The career of an actor serves as a clear illustration. Once they are finished working on a specific show or production that is it, they are done.
Even if they are fortunate enough to land the Holy Grail gig of a long running big budget TV series or multi-film contract, maybe making enough money to never have to work again, once the series ends so does the job and it is up to them, and their team, to find another one.
Artistic careers don’t have built in benefits or pensions, just whatever money we were able to make this time around. We will create regardless but honing our craft to the level which people appreciate, crave, and consume requires time and dedication during which we also need to support ourselves. Raw talent only gets you so far.
Artistic tastes also vary as greatly as the art itself. People’s preferences and interests are personal, subjective, and fickle. What one person loathes the next person loves and tastes, trends, and perspectives are constantly changing over time. What was extremely successful this time can fail utterly next time.
As a general rule, artists deal with rejection of our work far more than we deal with its praises. Those of us fortunate enough become more consistently successful do so because of the convergence of opportunity with all our time and effort spent honing our craft.
It’s a crazy ride which no sane person would likely undertake. If it weren’t for this burning irresistible force within us, enflamed by the occasional doses of euphoria at having a genuine impact on others, we likely wouldn’t either.
The path of creativity and art can be chaotic filled with consuming passion, tortured longing, cathartic release, ecstatic highs, devastating lows, and an immense amount of uncertainty on virtually every front. But those of us who walk it are able to gain some very potent skills. Skills which are highly useful in everyday normal life and which are somewhat uniquely suited for enabling us to survive times of intense crisis.
We Embrace Strong Emotions
Intense emotions can be very intimidating to encounter. We are reflexively drawn to look when we see them but being directly confronted with them can be overpowering. We can feel the heat of them pressing at us making it difficult to maintain our own footing. When face to face with intense emotion we tend to get swept up in it whether we want to or not and the vast majority of people would rather avoid such encounters if they can.
Those of us with artistic natures are drawn to powerful emotions and not out of simple voyeuristic fascination. We understand their powers of revelation, impact, and catharsis. That sweeping wave of emotion can land us somewhere new, somewhere we might not have been able to reach without the help. Through art, of whatever medium, we target a specific tone or texture of emotion in the hopes of using the wave to sweep people to a potentially new and mind expanding shore. Good art engages us, great art changes us.
This means, as artists, we are not afraid of powerful or intense emotions in others or ourselves. We understand and respect their power but we are also familiar with how to navigate them, how to experience and channel and redirect them. We understand how emotions can impact us all which means we have a greater chance of standing firm in the face of them and of seeing through ham-fisted attempts at manipulation which is why artists tend to be the ones at the front lines of cultural movements. We have the tools not only to expose the lies but to speak from powerful bedrock emotions inspiring others to rise up and embrace change.
We Are Able To Effectively Express Emotions
“You think I don’t have feelings but you’re wrong. I’m an actress. I have all of them!”
Goldie Hawn — First Wives Club 1999
I have always loved that line of Goldie’s from First Wives Club. Not just because it’s clever but because it speaks to the emotional fluency we have as artists. Not only are we familiar and more comfortable with powerful emotions than most but art by very definition is an act of expressing, sharing, and communicating emotion.
Artists not only have the skills to effectively target and express emotions we also understand the vital importance of doing so. We all feel and we all need those feelings to be seen and understood. It doesn’t have to be artful, just honest. We may be capable of the artful forms of expression but understanding that process also enables us to see where people are coming from. Emotions are how we connect so the expression and understanding of them is vital and artists are able to act as trail guides in that wilderness.
We Believe In Our Vision
We are creatures of vision which offers two invaluable gifts. The first is the near unstoppable power of having a clear image of the goal we are aiming for, the way it looks or sounds or feels. This not only enables us to focus all our energies at a specific target and work with the highest possible level of efficiency and determination, it can also make us better leaders. Giving someone directions to a very specific place is much easier, and more effective, than suggesting we want them to go ‘somewhere over there….ish’.
The second is the understanding that not everyone else will share our vision. There are near countless ways to look at the same object or scenario. This not only means our vision is not the only possible one but there will almost certainly be times when we need to explain our vision to someone who doesn’t see it, which can be one of the most difficult things to attempt. The deeper our passion about something the more it becomes a part of us and any resistance to the idea can feel like a knife cutting at our organs.
Artists all know the frenzy, we recognize the frothing zeal. We admire its engrossing enthusiasm, we empathize with its consuming passion, and we understand how difficult it can be to make others understand it. Fortunately, that is rarely necessary. In most cases we don’t need other people to understand our vision, only how clearly we see it and to have trust in our capabilities to deliver what we are proposing. They don’t have to believe as we do they just need to believe in us and the ability to engender that is an invaluable skill.
We Roll With The Circumstances
The show must go on. And somehow it always does. Our underlying irresistible impulse to create inspires the ability to find a way, and then another one and another one and if necessary another one. We do end up encountering rejection a great deal but when those churning internal forces are confronted with an obstacle we are driven to simply search out another way to reach our destination.
The process of creating art takes a great deal of time and often ends up somewhere different than we initially imagined, sometimes very different. Changes of location, cast, medium, funding, timeline, there are an infinite number of factors which can impact the creative process all of which are vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of life. The entire system of understudies, standbys, and alternates is an attempt to prepare for exactly those kinds of unexpected obstacles.
The internal need to create can be an endless source of fuel to push forward and we know the path ahead almost never plays out as predicted. We are used to adapting our methods and to not knowing what the next three or six or ten months are going to look like, a special asset in times like these. Our passions are certain the result will be worth the journey so we adapt, we problem-solve like no one else, we and persevere.
If Not Now, Later
Ask any artist what kinds of project ideas they have in their mental vault and you will want to have a comfy chair and access to water and supplies. The creative impulse relentlessly pushes forward but it also relentless churns and simmers and cooks up a constant stream of ideas and inspirations. Even the most extreme episode of Hoarders has nothing on the mental vault of the typical artist. We are forever squirreling ideas away for later many of which may not see the light of day for months or years to come.
This is not to say the minds of all artists are highly organized repositories of pending projects meticulously filed away, earmarked, and prioritized. For some of us the process is entirely subconscious, some of us keep journals and hope chests. Whatever our method the creative brain is constantly sparking new ideas. Sometimes they stay in the forefront instantly becoming developed and engaged, others get tucked away until the time and feeling is right.
The resulting skill? A fundamental patience, because we understand not every idea we ever have can come to life immediately. Passionate visions we will find a way but not every vision will automatically inspire passion. Spontaneous exponential creation would certainly be lovely but artistic creation is worth the time and work, and in truth is all the better for it.
Yes, It Takes Money To Make Art
Art is an ephemeral emotional thing which is near impossible to quantify or define. By all rights it should transcend such mundane and procedural concerns as money…but it doesn’t. Supplies, materials, locations, manpower, staging, promotion, even simple living requirements during the time needed for the creative process, it takes money to make art.
This makes art somewhat uniquely vulnerable as the benefits gained from art rarely show up immediately on a cash sheet. Attendance can be used as a metric, and often is, but art which is created with the soul objective of ‘butts in seats’ rarely has much impact beyond simply that and the bloom tends to fall rather quickly from the rose.
Artists who are able to make a career out of their art learn the necessary skills of financing their work. At times this means scouting and campaigning for support but it also means being able to assess our goals practically in order to suss out potential costs, the ability to budget our time and resources accordingly, and the understanding that while the art is ephemeral the process of creating it is not.
There Are Universal Truths Which Connect Us All
The process of creating art can occasionally seem a very introspective or even egocentric endeavor. And in truth it often is. Certain mediums and stages of development definitely involve the cooperation and input of others but there is always a large portion of the creative birthing which happens between the artist’s ears. Writers are probably the paramount example of this as even the finished product remains a purely internal phenomenon.
The irony is the deeply internal and singular process of creating art aims at evoking and then expressing a deep and genuine truth in ways it can be expressed, experienced, and shared. We may have to go deep into our personal caves to find and develop it but we do so in order to bring forth something which will resonate with the truths and experiences in all of us.
Even the most macabre and drastic art always exists with an underlying sense of hope. No matter how shocking or provocative the main objective of art is to connect us to one another. Artists understand there are universal truths of essence, emotion, and experience which unite us all and it is through being brought face to face with them we can achieve true connection and change.
We artists do what we do out of a compulsive need to create. What we express is certainly something from inside ourselves but what drives the furnace of creativity is the feeling of it resonating with the world and people around us. We feel it echoing back at us but slightly discordant as though some aspect of it isn’t being fully seen or recognized. If only someone were able to shout that missing piece just a little bit louder the chord might harmonize.
As consumers of art we are engaged, entertained, and sometimes deeply moved by it. While truly appreciative of art, through a money-focused cultural lens we also tend to view its creation as a form of play. The process of creating art is anything but. It can be joyous and playful but it is incredibly difficult and demanding work requiring sometimes herculean amounts of time and effort. The final results become crucial tools we all use to navigate, understand, and cope with our lives, especially during traumatic times. The skills developed through the process of creating them become important support tools for the artists themselves.
Art can hold up a mirror to the world which seems to understand its very soul because the skills necessary for creating it enable the artists to do the same. Now if only there were some way to illustrate that more effectively on a cash sheet…