Artists frequently develop rigid ideas about what they should and can do with their artistic lives.Â Too often, these priorities are based on â€œnormalâ€ familiar paradigms, rather than burning desires inspired by creative imaginations. Such limited viewpoints oftenÂ prohibit us from realizing meaningful and productive activities, even though we fool ourselves into believing the opposite.
Are you anÂ artist able to contribute and thrive under any circumstances? Are you aware of your full potential?Â Below are two questions designed to challenge your convictions and broaden your persective.Â But before reading on, write down the following:Â
- The top two types ofÂ artistic work you hope to pursue (to earn income)
- Your primaryÂ artistic skill (i.e. playing viola, composing, painting, dancing)
If it were impossible to build a career through your top twoÂ employment preferences, what would you do?
Many artists consider only a couple career options for themselves.Â For example, Iâ€™ve spoken with hundreds of musicians who hope to land an orchestra gig. “If that doesnâ€™t work out, Iâ€™ll teach college,â€ they explain.Â And beyond thatâ€¦wellâ€¦they have no idea.Â ThereÂ are no other viable paths imaginable.
Now, for people whoÂ want these jobs more than anything, I sincerely hope their aspirationsÂ come to fruition. However, both aforementioned fields are extremely competitive, with far more qualified applicants than positions.Â What if, for some reason, things donâ€™t work out?Â What options will you have?Â Are there other meaningful ways to create a career through music?Â Or what ifÂ the â€œdream jobâ€Â turns outÂ to beÂ a nightmare, at leastÂ for you?Â What then?
One feature that impresses me about entrepreneurs is their flexibility.Â IfÂ a project fails, they try something else.Â There are countless stories of seasoned entrepreneurs who lose everything after having it all. But an impressive new empire isÂ erected in their next act. Regardless of environment, these individuals somehow find ways to triumph. Life success (as opposed toÂ a singular enterprise) is the ultimateÂ goal. And theyâ€™ll do whatever it takes to get there. Yet another reason for artists to think like entrepreneurs.
If you were no longer able to utilize your primaryÂ artistic skill, what roles would you play as an artist?
I was actually faced with this scenario when participating in a residency called Asian Pacific Performance Exchange (APPEX) in 2006.Â This program hosted 18 musicians and dancers from the United States and Asia for a month and a half, providing an inter-disciplinary and inter-cultural environment.Â Â During the first week, I had no access to my instrument (piano).Â Forced to consider whatÂ to contribute without the luxury of hiding behind my â€˜axe,â€™ it was a terrifying but liberating experience.Â Was I a singer?Â A percussionist?Â An actor? A prop? A project coordinator?Â A leader? One colleague later joked he was glad to know me first as a dancer!!!! (Though Iâ€™ve always considered myselfÂ a horrible and awkward mover, my first â€˜artisticâ€™ engagement was indeed boogieing at a 4th of July block party.) ThisÂ experience resulted in tremendous personal growth as I re-imagined my artistic worth.
There are artists who have been confronted with thisÂ predicament on more serious levels.Â For example, the jazz musician David Baker was an up-and-coming trombone star when his lip was irreparably injured in a car accident.Â Not one to give up on his artistic inclinations, he learned cello, and built a career as a composer, string player,Â teacher, and author. Even without his original primary musical skill, he flourished.
Who are you as a creativeÂ artist beyond your main thing?Â Â What are you capable of accomplishing? Imagine how many options would open up by embracing your full capacity.
Hereâ€™s another variation for musicians:
If you found yourself in a room with accomplished performers from across the globe, none of whom read music, what role would you play?Â Â
SomeÂ classically trained playersâ€”products of perhaps the only musical tradition on Earth that doesnâ€™t prioritize improvisationâ€”would be stuck. Don’t let that be you. Are you an artistÂ who adds an important voice to anyÂ conversation?
These questions are unexpected and challenging.Â TheyÂ might require serious soul-searching.Â But by identifying creative answers, you mayÂ illuminate a world ofÂ new andÂ wonderful opportunity.Â
Go ahead. Open Pandoraâ€™s Box.Â Imagine your full promise as an artist.Â Sometimes the best way to do this is by eliminating your greatest aspirations and skills (and therefore crutches) from the discussion.Â At least for a moment.