Happy new year all!
I’ve just been talking to a friend who got an MFA a year or so ago, and she has been struggling to recover the passion she felt as an artist that led her to go to grad school in the first place. She says, “It is actually the intrinsic impulse to create and the deeply felt passion that I feel the institution really robbed me of. It is so much harder to find now than it was before. But hey – I got an adjunct teaching job where I’ll hardly be paid a damn thing, so I guess the credential was worth it. (worried/sad emoticon)”
This is something you hear all the time from folks who turn their passion into a profession. That transition is difficult to navigate for many of us while for others selling is as natural as breathing. The thing that worries me is that the folks who have a hard time recapturing that expressive joy are held to somehow be doing it wrong. As if the natural state of an artist is to be commercially viable. If you are not making money at it you are some sort of loser. How can that be?
Well, my hat is off to the folks who shimmy and jive their way through sales as if its their birthright. I’m not so worried about them. For others, however, it takes real persuasion to get right with their entrepreneurial roles….. Like my friend, it is possible to wake up one day and see the easy passion for creative expression recede over the horizon, only to find it replaced with the pressures of market and our own critical eye that values certain standards over the intrinsic legitimacy of our passion.
Once upon a time passion was enough. That was all we required to make what we make. But once our eyes are opened to the larger context of what we are doing and where we are doing it, that passion is no longer sufficient. Rarely, at least. What we make isn’t simply chasing our ideas down but a measuring against good and bad. And even our own versions of good and bad can kill passion. Even our own good can throttle the joy we have in making it…..
In a sense, its a bait and switch. We’ve been told that becoming more professionally involved with our passion will only deepen our relationship to it, but the reality is often that we have traded our passion for a profession. The veil has been removed at the cost of our innocence. As David NcRaney says in his essay on the overjustification effect:
The Misconception: There is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love.
The Truth: Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.
I’m not saying you can’t get it back, but you have to behave as if innocence belongs. You have to make things that have no external purpose. You have to throw yourself at the process and be alright with the results, no matter what. You have to be open to making mistakes, but rather than calling them out, learn what they have to teach. As another friend John Bauman recently said, “My best stuff is the evolution of accidents that exceeded what I thought I was making at the time.” Its alright not to know what you are doing. Its important to sometimes just be doing it.
If you are an artist looking for a new years resolution perhaps you can dream more dreams that are untethered to extrinsic motivations. Perhaps you can resolve to claim back part of that innocence that so many of us have lost in the shuffle of ‘growing up’ and growing out of our passions.
That’s all I’ve got to start the new year!
Make beauty real!