Sunday, November 23, 2008

Adapt or Face Extinction

The starving artist.

Proverbial character or fitting description? Self-fulfilling prophecy or inaccurately assigned label? Do we live up to it or do we rise above and overcome it? Truth is, even in this economy, much of our success (or failure) is entirely up to us.

In my experience, art has never been universally pushed upon youngsters much in the same way as law or medicine. I don't recall anyone with a palette and paint brush in their hands or an easel and a beret cocked to the side on their head, standing before my first grade classroom on Career Day, preaching the benefits of a job in the arts. Ever.

I do remember, 30+ years later, the bright red plastic fire chief hat I got, though, and wearing it around proudly. Actually, I got a new one each year for like every year through the fourth grade. Another career day, another plastic fire hat. So, what did I want to be? A fireman. A policeman. Honestly, anything they put before me. If I could see it or hear about it from someone successfully making their way in that vocation, I could relate to it. I could aspire to it. And, at the time, I did.

Perhaps, on behalf of a silent initiative to have their children grow up to be "successful" providers and not a bunch of flat broke, artsy, pie in the sky dreamers, this was more calculated than I'd ever imagined. Maybe the conventional wisdom has always been to shy away from these disciplines among others that play to our more caring, emotional sides because the perception (and sometimes reality) is there's little to no money in them.

Maybe since kids, from very early on, learn by repeating behavior, the principals and vice principals figured whomever they wheeled into the classrooms in uniform would effectively influence what we would all grow up to be. We would get benefits and have pensions and be protected by the unspoken honor bestowed upon anyone who's ever worked in the name of upholding society's moral code. Net net: at least, we could earn a buck. Oddly enough, I don't remember teachers from other schools (or even our school) coming into the classroom for Career Day to encourage us little ones to pursue that profession either.

So, assuming this plan was in place and there was a conscious effort to steer us wee ones, incapable of thinking for ourselves, toward a more acceptable, secure profession, did it work? In some cases, it may have. But let me just say, I don't know where my fireman's helmet is and I haven't seen it in years.

Sometimes we choose art. Sometimes art chooses us. Bottom line, we're here and if we are to succeed as artists, much like the evolution of our work, styles, and mediums, so too over time must our philosophies, expectations, and approaches change.

Drop prices? Hold fast? Go commercial? What to do?

I haven't the answers (just yet) but coming together here and finding comfort in the fact that we're all facing many of the same issues isn't a bad place to start. Here's a link to a recent article featuring artists (a few of Henderson's own) who take different stances on it. Who's right? Who's wrong? Again, not to say. Just having the discussion is a step in the right direction. Read on.