Bondage of FREE 2 – A Cultural Shift

First, Kristen Lamb is on a roll, and yes, I refer to her often.  She’s the reason I’m even working on a blog.  Speaking of working, I actually sat down this past weekend and attempted to create some sort of cohesive system for the mess this thing could rapidly become if I have no set course.  In doing so, I discovered a really fun quote from Captain Malcom Reynolds of Serenity.  I would quote it, but seeing it is so much better.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I believe that’s a mighty fine way to think.  After all, writers, graphic artists, cinematographers, YouTubers and the like have a job, but like Mal, we have goods for sale.  Those goods are our creations.  Novels, short stories, poems, scripts, photos, fantasy landscapes, movies, and so much more.  Problem is, it’s tough to make a living in the present cultural context we work, play, and breath in.  Think back to grade school for a moment.  (Artists out there, I know you’ll get this.)

Gray brown berber carpet scuffs under your drab, beat up tennis shoes.  Brand new at the start of summer, you spent the time traversing all manner of terrain in an attempt to find that perfect moment where life and art blended seamlessly.  Now, you wonder if people are judging those shoes just like your teacher is done judging your second week assignment.  Maybe she’ll like it this time.  None of the teachers from the last nine grades did.  Granted, it was supposed to be a research paper, but you spiced it up a bit.  She hands it back, red ink in a few places.  Okay, not bad.  Then the lecture starts.

Words come out her mouth.  You hear them.  You see those odd, smashed bow lips move, her eyes blink as her body shifts to grate a piece of chalk down the board.  You copy the words, but they don’t mean anything.  Your mind is elsewhere.  Your name snaps you out of it.  “What did I just say?”

By some miracle, you manage to parrot back some inane fact about whatever she is trying to teach you.  She nods, and goes back to talking.  Your mind goes back to what you were doing.  The sketch, the doodle, the storyboard, the novella scribbled in the margins of a school notebook.  Within a week, those are confiscated, and you’re called to her office to talk about your potential and how if you’d only try, you’d do so well.  The end of the year comes.  She hands back the sheets of paper containing a piece of your soul, but that piece is gone, as far as you can tell.  You’ve forgotten who the woman with the sword is, the man on the horse behind her.  It’s gone.  All you’ve got are facts you’ll never use again, and the hope that this summer might jog your memory.

I know for me, all that happened was earning an internal sense of just how worthless my art and interests were.  It was a bit like this, adulthood being the light behind the glass doors.

Dark School Hall

It’s a toxic atmosphere, and one perpetuated in grammar school and K-12 education.  Do what everyone else tells you to stay busy.  No time to think or create.  Granted, that’s not every single person’s experience, but I’ve met more fellow writers and artists with that experience than not.  We are taught, quite young, that art has no value outside an art gallery or New York Times Bestseller list.

Currently, though, there is a cultural shift coming.  As much as art mirrors reality, it can also shape the reality it mirrors.  Think of the Impressionists, or the Morality Plays of Ancient Greece – still used in the instruction of Theater Majors at University Level.  Then there are the phrases we use every day. “To be or not to be” when making a choice.  All’s well that ends well.  Be-all and end-all.  We see these phrases as clichés today, but they trace back to one artist.  The Bard.  Shakespeare.

If a single man with a quill and parchment can forever alter the phrases we use daily, why must we submit to a world that tells us being an artist is great, but you have to have a “day job” too?  I say, no more.  It’s time for us to stand up and refuse to supply the demands of venues such as the Huffington Post, who are proud to say they use content from over 13,000 people who don’t get paid for it.

So what can we do?

It’s time to take up arms and refuse to be enslaved by the myth that to be a good artist, one must be starving.  Let’s make starving artist a phase for those who want a career in the arts.  Hobbyists, have fun, and make free art all you like.  Career artists, I’ll spend the next few posts talking about what I consider our weapons of war in this fight.  For now, I list them here.

  • Identity – Know Yourself
  • Brand – Be sure others Know You!
  • Your Tribe – Like-minded fans who want to invest in you so they have more of your content.
  • Define Success – What would it take for you to feel successful as an artist?
  • Business Savvy – How can we use the principles of business to increase our revenue and help ourselves succeed in order to move past the Starving Artist phase?

Now I understand, we could take a page from Chuck at terribleminds and continue shouting from the proverbial rooftops, and that is certainly something that needs to happen, but more, especially for those like me who are still in that starting phase, we need tools.  We need weapons of understanding that will keep us from falling into the trap of enslaving ourselves to Exposure.  Exposure and free stuff are tools to be used with care to increase our brand, not things we should look for instead of paying gigs.  Great servants, after all.  Lousy masters.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  Think I’ve completely lost the plot?  Let me know your thoughts!

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