The Well Fed Artist vs. The Sage Creative

The Well Fed Artist vs. The Sage Creative

I was having a conversation with a dear friend recently about the age-old “being a sell-out” concept. During the course of this chit chat I “think” I may have stumbled onto something. This thing is not only a new personal philosophy, but also a point of worthwhile consideration for ANY and ALL creatives: how does one make art, not “sell-out”, and remain well-fed physically and emotionally?

Indulge me as I answer this question in as round-about a way as possible. First, allow me to illustrate an evolution that I see all the time with creatives:

Child Creative: “I like to drawing and painting and musics!”

Most artists or musicians I know these days had the childhood dream of “making it”; being a rockstar or becoming a 100k-canvas-selling artist. This is a beautiful thought because it never factors in process or planning. It is a dream, and it is pure.

Adolescent Creative: “I’m gonna be like ______ before they sold-out.”

How many of us have said this?! Exactly a bunch. What an honorable creed. What INTEGRITY! The purity of the child’s mentality begins to couple with process. “I want to create, but I want to create what I want the way I want. However, this is bad for two reasons: 1. Unfortunately, it’s just plain unrealistic. 2. It’s super duper selfish and riddled with ego (me me me me ME!).

Adult-olescent Creative: “I’d totally sell-out if I could.”

Wow. What a pivot eh? But honestly….haven’t we all had this thought? Why the profound shift? If I ponder the previous 2 reasons I trace my shift reason 1.: “the realization of unreality”. The disillusionment of rock-stardom and celebrity artist status began to wriggle in. BUT! I had yet to vanquish my self-centered egotism. I was a bit better off, but the pursuit of money had become prioritized over the pursuit of creation…

PAUSE: I should mention at this point that I, like probably most of us, had had my first handful of paying clients. It’s a powerful ether, money for art. I was indeed swayed.

Adult Creative: “There is no such thing as selling out. A fee in exchange for a product/services is the way the world works.”

Here we take our first real step towards the truth. The child-minded fantasies shed their layers and the mature reality of business begins to seep in. We are creators, and there are people and businesses out there that need what we make. A real sense of “knowing where we’re headed” can take hold at this stage. The feeling that we’re on a fulfilling path that many have successfully traversed becomes real. Now our job is to learn from the mistakes of others and implement proven strategies. We can’t go wrong, right? Well, methinks it’s not that simple…

PAUSE: After some time on this road, I began to feel the creativity slipping away. I had instituted so much process that the pleasure of making had all but completely evaporated. Why? I had reprioritized. The client was god. They held my fate in the balance. I bled and sweat to produce exactly what they wanted. If they didn’t approve of an aspect, I was crushed. I would grind out revision after revision (many times having to reconceptualize the entire work) until they were appeased. I had become a fearful manufacturer not a confident craftsman. I was enslaved under the lash of acceptance and approval.

PAUSE (contd.): So…then the answer must be don’t compromise your vision and stick up for yourself right? Well, yes and no. I know some folks who are steadfast in this way, who say things like “We hear what you’re saying Mr. Client, but we respectfully disagree. Our expertise and experience suggests that our way is indeed the best way for you.” This is by all means admirable, and something I’d recommend experimenting with, but it still doesn’t fully address. It seems to me that this is nothing but the same refusal to sell-out that the Adolescent Creative embodies. Perhaps it’s been bolstered by experience and clout and reputation, but it’s still there…and there’s still ego.

The Sage Creative: “I create to serve.”

This is the ultimate. I am not here...yet. I do not know many who are. This is vision for the sake of the client (as illustrated above), but prioritization of service above all else. Being clear and assertive about your vision being the better strategy is a good start, but ultimately allowing the client to learn their own lessons is not only stress-relieving, but will reinforce trust…and one cannot wholly serve those that distrust them. In turn this approach increases the likelihood of continued service, and more contracts. 

But let’s not lose sight here. The most important component that this mindset allows is the disconnection between the love of one’s creation and the acceptance of it. One can fully love the process and their product, without the toxic influence of acceptance or rejection. I make my thing, I love my thing, they hate my thing, I make a different thing for them that I love, they love this different thing, I make a new thing I love for them next time.

I must fall in love with the process and divorce the result.

The Sage Creative has seen the future, and in the future everybody always wins.

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