Sunday, 19. May 2013 23:52
Because I wanted to know, I went back to the student who wanted to live an artistic life and asked what the phrase “live an artistic life” meant to him. After a bit of thought, he said that it meant that he wanted to support himself by doing his art.
A colleague to whom I related this brief story said, “That’s a rather romantic view, don’t you think? He should learn to swing a hammer.” She went on to say that the most talented person she knows has difficulty supporting himself with his art (He is an actor.) and has had to pick up a hammer from time to time in order to eat. Her suggestion was that, due to its “romantic” nature, the goal is somehow less achievable. Perhaps it would be better if the student were to have a “practical” backup plan.
This is an idea that I hear often. Parents often want their children in the arts to have a “Plan B,” something to “fall back on.” Of course, with today’s employment situation, training in any discipline carries no guarantee of employment, so the arts are probably as stable as anything else and can be excellent training for a number of fields.
But because the above-mentioned actor, who is very talented, is so intent upon practicing his art, he has picked up hammers, and screw-guns, and pipeline wrenches, and bar towels, and any number of other tools that would allow him to have live-on money when acting opportunity was not available. He will do almost anything in order to continue pursuing his art.
Wanting to live by artistic means may be a romantic goal, but it is, nonetheless, a goal, and often a very powerful one. The actor mentioned above once said that his life was about acting and for him there could be no Plan B. I have also heard other acting coaches tell students that if they ever considered another occupation after they discovered acting, then they should go do that because it will be kinder to them than acting, and the fact that they considered something else indicates that they do not have the single-mindedness that is required to succeed in the theatre.
So too may the student. In subsequent conversations, he has indicated that while supporting himself with his art is his goal, he is willing to do whatever is necessary to continue to do his art. His art is important to him; it is, I think, what gives his life meaning. For him, just as with the actor, art is not simply a choice; it is a necessity. So it is with many of us to a greater or lesser extent.
If this is who you are, it ceases to be a question of whether you can support yourself by doing art, but rather how you can support yourself in order to do art. You may be one of the ones who is fortunate enough to figure out how to make the kind of art you want to do pay for itself and your food, but whether you will actually do art is never a question.
And if you want to succeed in any phase of art, no matter how you define it or describe it, you don’t want a Plan B; it will only be a distraction. Debbie Millman advises much the same thing in her essay and speech, quoted on “Brain Pickings,” which deals with the idea of choosing between that which is realistic and feasible and that which seems unattainable: “Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time.” Forget Plan B.