You Can Make It

The past several weeks have presented many of us the opportunity for rumination. One of the topics that I have given some thought to recently is artistic success. So when I ran across Florida Congresswoman Val Demings’ quote in the Washington Post, it gave me pause. Representative Deming is quoted by Jonathan Capehart as saying that her mother told her, “You can make it. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can be anything you wanna be and do anything you wanna do.”  That quote led me to think about a number of people in the arts who are pretty sure they followed the rules and worked hard, but feel that they are not yet anywhere close to their dreams. That seemed to warrant examination.

Perhaps they never really defined what they wanted to do or be. To want to be a Broadway actor is a very different thing from just wanting to be a working actor who makes his/her living on the stage, which is a very different thing from wanting to be a working film actor, which is a very different thing from wanting to be an internationally-known movie star. It’s not that it’s better to be one or another of these categories of actor; it’s just that they are different and the paths to getting there are different and have different sets of rules that must be followed. So it may be that a person dreamed of being one of these, but followed the path for another, and thus ended up in a place different from where s/he wanted to be. Something similar happened to Jerry Saltz. In his book, How to Be an Artist, he discusses all the paths he tried before deciding that writing about art was what he really wanted to do.

As long as we’re talking about rules, there’s that whole “playing by the rules” thing. Again, if someone is playing by the wrong set of rules, s/he may not be headed where s/he thinks she is going, but another place entirely. It is up to each individual artist to determine what the rules are for the path s/he has chosen. The rules for becoming an outstanding teaching artist in painting are very different from the rules for becoming an artist whose work is collected by museums and auctioned at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. Before someone can “play by the rules,” s/he must first know what the rules are for where s/he is headed.

As for working hard, that too means different things according to the track one is following. Most serious photographers work hard at learning the craft aspects of their field, and many work hard at developing a high level of artistry in their images. If all a person is interested in is making excellent images, the hard work can be constrained to those areas; however, if one wants to do fashion photography, there are a number of other areas that will require hard work of several kinds in order to position oneself successfully in that particular area of photographic art. Similarly, other kinds of hard work are required by other areas of specialization.

One thing that is not referenced in the Representative Demings’ quotation is a time frame. Some artists do not find success until they have lived a while. And we are talking about a fair number of artists.  Jerry Saltz, in the book mentioned above, for example, talks about the difficulties he had in arriving at his goal of being an art critic finally at the age of 41.

So maybe those who are feeling they are not close to their dreams just aren’t there—yet. Or perhaps they don’t want to work so hard at ancillary things, or don’t want to follow a particular set of rules or find that the dream they started with is not the one they now want. They just need to remember that dreams, like everything else, can always be adjusted.

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Date: Monday, 25. May 2020 0:08
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