Jan
16

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Each day, we make decisions based on conventional wisdom: what makes a good parent, where to spend money, why education is important, how to view politics, which activities lead to happiness and success.  We are unduly influenced by sound bites that dominate the news headlines, and seek simple short-term solutions to complex predicaments. The problem with this, of course, is that conventional wisdom is often wrong.  At the least, there’s a hidden side to just about everything.

That’s the argument presented in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, which I just finished reading.  Though not one of the top 10 books I would recommend to musicians, it does present an interesting perspective and valuable lessons.  In it, the authors systematically challenge the conventional wisdom behind a number of topics, as only economists could do.  They explain why real estate agents often don’t work to get their clients the best home price; prove that teachers often cheat; clarify why drug dealers live with their moms; and confirm that a rose by any other name would indeed smell just as sweet (he compares a convicted felon named “Winner” with his brother “Loser,” a celebrated police officer). 

By having a more nuanced understanding of the principles at work around us, we can make savvy and informed decisions, rather than adhering to often misleading conventions of the day. 

So what are the assumptions we cling to as artists?  Where do they come from, and what do they truly mean?  Consider the hidden side of statements below:

  • Conditions are harder for artists than ever before
  • The arts industry is dying
  • Practice makes perfect
  • Nobody cares about quality art today
  • All serious artists go to grad school
  • Artist = starving artist
  • Making money through the arts requires compromising your artistic integrity
  • Artists can’t have families
  • There are just three career options for artists: making it big through a traditional opportunity (i.e. the orchestra), teaching, and Starbucks
  • Better get management, so you can focus all efforts on the art
  • A talented artist who pursues a non-arts career path is a failure
  • You can’t possibly make a living through the arts—better get a “real” job
  • It’s so true that what often brings us down is that we’re ‘supposed’ to follow a certain path, or we’re ‘supposed’ to do one thing or another.

    I truly wish artists would believe that the traditional path is not the only way out there. Or that HUGE success is the not only type of success to have. Moderate success is pretty ok too! If we could accept that, there would be many more artists making a just fine living….

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