So you wanna be a starving artist?

I’ve been asked here and there lately about all the different things I do – the sewing (one of these days I’ll get pictures of my personal projects up at least), the performing, the writing…granted I feel like I still have a way to go at any and all of it, but I will admit that I’ve had some outrageously good luck and great experiences in my life.  I can guarantee you, though, that how I thought things would go when I was fifteen or sixteen is not how they go in the real world (if it were I’d be a multi-millionaire mogul and on my forty-fifth broadway show or something by now…) Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t trade my life or set of experiences for anything, but I have to smile when I’m around kids in theatre shows I volunteer at or drop by or talk to tweens and teens who are going into the arts and think it’s going to be easy. It’s also really weird to me when people ask me for advice – Yeah I’ve been working professionally in some capacity or another since I was eighteen, but all I really have to offer is what’s kept me afloat and what I’ve observed through the years. This isn’t a how to guide – a do this not this or maybe this works better than this…I have my own thoughts on what works but I also feel like it’s different for everyone.

So this is an entry full of the things I’d wished I’d known as a teen…although if I hadn’t been as idealistic (and completely stubborn) as I was/am who knows if I would have kept at it? (oh let’s face it, I would have. Ideas and creating stuff is always going to be where it’s at for me.)

Get used to hearing No. You know how frustrating it is when your parents/teachers/friends don’t get you? Multiply that by ten million. And a lot of times it’s going to be pretty blunt and somewhat insulting. That being said, you can’t take it personally. Sometimes your ideas just don’t mesh up with everyone. It doesn’t mean they’re bad ideas – but they deserve a team/outlet that will do them justice.

You’re going to be learning your whole life and career. Things change and you have to keep up and keep ahead where you can. I’m still learning ways to write better, ways to promote myself better, when to push and when to pull. There is never going to be a point in your life or career where everything levels off and “this is it! I’ve made it and now it’s all easy!” This is a lie or a movie plot – life doesn’t work that way. Those who succeed keep at it even when they’re on top. Don’t buy into your own hype because there’s always something you could be doing to make things better for yourself in some way.

As hard as you work at any normal job you’re going to be working a lot harder with anything in the arts. This could be because you must have a day job for income’s sake. It could be because a lot of entertainment jobs have really long hours. It’s entirely worth it, but there are days where you will question your sanity.

Keep working. Keep networking. Keep putting yourself out there. You just absolutely can’t give up if this is something that you really want. It may take different forms than you expect, but if it’s your dream then keep at it. Sometimes perseverance is all that separates success from failure. I am notoriously tenacious and I’m always exploring every opportunity and paying attention to things I might need to know. Truly, you may think I’m just sitting there but I’m absorbing everything I can like a sponge. If I really believe in a project or want something I will bide my time for years – that is no exaggeration. If I can’t get through the front door I’ll try the back door. If I can’t get in that way I’ll try the windows or the cellar door. If those are locked there’s always the chimney and if there’s a fire going I’ll start digging into the foundation. When I believe in something I am committed five thousand percent.

It’s not just about your art. Be savvy. Yes art in all forms is important but let’s face it – to make a living off of being any sort of artist you have to make money doing it.  Learn about business and how to keep yourself organized – trust me you’re gonna need it. Learn promotion techniques. Be open to the full experience of what you’re getting into.

Don’t get too cute. Seriously, don’t try to be the hotshot or outfox people – it will come back on you. Watch what you say. Treat coworkers and readers/viewers/fans/etc like you would real people – because they are real people. You just never know who you’re going to bump into again some day or whose help you’re going to need. I’m fortunate that I’ve kept in touch with people I’ve worked with through the years and they’ve given me amazing advice and support. And I’ve bumped into people I’ve fallen out of touch with on and off as well – you seriously never know when you’re going to see someone again. And I’m not just talking about keeping in touch on Face Book. Be a human – actually make an effort to keep in contact and keep up with them.

Always keep an eye on what’s going on around you. Whether this be business, ideas that you’re trying to keep private, or just how people are reacting to you – be aware. On the positive side – if you aren’t aware then you won’t find people who can help you.

know where your line is. Like everything else you’re going to see a lot in any artistic venture. Know what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do. This could be anything from ‘nah I’d rather do this myself than outsource to someone else’ or ‘well I’d be willing to take my clothes off for this kind of a role but not this other kind..’ It’s also good to start thinking about the kinds of environments you’re willing to be around and what you’re not. What can I say – it’s going to come up at some point so it’s good to start thinking about it now.

Most importantly: Do it because you love it. Don’t go after something because you want to be famous or feel you have something to prove. I’ve finally calmed down about this and I’ve learned to appreciate all success, because success comes in all shapes and sizes. If you’re not enjoying yourself now then when are you going to stop and be proud of yourself? Just because our society tends to glorify celebrity doesn’t mean that’s the only definition of a successful artist. Does that mean you should settle? No! Keep working! But don’t judge yourself based on hard-to-reach ideals. Hell yes I want to keep working and see how far I get – but I also have learned that I am tickled to death about everything I’m doing. I’m having a lot of fun, meeting a lot of great people, finding ways to help others out, and doing some awesome projects that I enjoy with my whole heart. Because at the end of the day expression is what being an artist is all about.

4 thoughts on “So you wanna be a starving artist?

  1. This is great advice, Selah. My “other,” non-writing job involves running classes in my community. There are no guarantees either way. Still, I believe in it. Perseverance is key.

    1. I agree. You just mever know how far you’ll get until you try! There’s nothing wrong with having stars in your eyes as long as you also have your feet on the ground and a great big club in your back pocket 😉 And you’re right – I think the interesting thing is that as I get older I realize that there isn’t really a guarantee on /any/ profession anymore. You just never know.

  2. This. Is. Fantastic. Seriously! Wow, what an amazing post… You’ve got everything in such perspective—and nailed so many key points. It’s too bad that most of us don’t get this level of knowledge without living through it and learning it first hand. But hopefully there are some out there that might read this or hear this from another person & it will save a lot of heartache 😉 Oh the joys of living & learning. Really great work here 🙂

    1. Thank you! Through the years I’ve done a lot of workshops on ‘finding your dreams’ for younger kids and teens and while I think it’s a great message I’m personally more prone to this kind of advice if I’m approached by someone fourteen and up. Even with kids I always emphasize that it takes a lot of hard work but that’s okay because it’s work you love. And I agree – it’s hard that you only figure this stuff out after going through it but hopefully a few people who need to see this will stumble across it.

      And by the way – congrats on your placing in the first campaign challenge! Way to go!

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