#AnotherWay to Find Success as an Artist



When artists are in development, they’re usually in a hurry to “arrive.”  Those not in development are quick to clarify they’ve already “passed that stage.”  Because why suffer the strains of development if not for the promise of some degree of success?

Before embracing my inner artist, I too pursued success in the Arts as a producer and manager.  I always wanted there to be a universal truth, a shared understanding that humans can subscribe to that would guarantee success.

And I’ve searched long and far for it.  I searched through case studies of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, unlikely success stories like Def Jam Records, famed failures like Enron, and the corrupt prosperity of companies such as Valeant Pharmaceudicals and HSBC Bank.

I searched at the negotiating table with venue owners, industry titans, and trend-setters; during private pitches to the highest ranks at Madison Square Garden, Fender Guitars, and private investors.  And of course, I’ve listened to my fellow artists going through the trenches, some of whom came through, some who didn’t.

I rode the high horse of running an international theatre festival in the heart of NYC, enjoying the power and attention that came from artists around the world, hungry to get their work seen in the theatre capital of the world.  

I also fell to the lowest depths of failure…over and over again.  And even though everyone in business will tout the value of failure, nothing prepares you for it, or, in my experience, can sincerely help you through it.  Even if there are lots of vultures eager to sell you a cure.

That’s when I started discovering what truly made me an artist.  This journey to “success” is hardest for our creatives, who start on a much lower playing field than the business-minded.  Artists are coming to the table with a biased view on the Arts, taught to them by society at large (which I discuss in my first blog).

In my book I equate artist development to that of Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey.'  Put into linear terms (because the story in application is not linear), the journey ends with a return to “normalcy,” armed with a newfound paradigm.  This transformation can only occur from confronting the “shadow” self, or fighting one’s own demons.

As such, what I found instead of that universal truth I longed for, is that there are no definitive, one-stop-shop answers.  It’s a personal journey that looks different for everyone.  It’s the Hero’s Journey.

In today’s #280characters, fail-fast, technology driven marketplace, having no quick fix is a tough pill to swallow.  Especially when we’re bombarded with lessons learned, cautionary tales, and personal advice, many of which hold kernels of wisdom.  And yet, for all those promises, how many are, in fact, left behind?  

The journey has to start with a standard definition of Art.  According to Digital artist Scott Ligon, “Art helps you see that larger picture.”  I define “art” in two parts: Who is an artist, but someone seeking,

  1. the expression of the self
  2. in response to his/her/their environment.

Then there’s that great debate within the Arts: “Is talent inborn, or can it be taught?”  I’d like to suggest that talent is innate, just to borrow from Plato’s philosophy that wisdom is innate in all of us, we need only dust it off and be willing to tap in.   

To dust off the talent within, I would propose that we all answer the “Call” to take the Hero’s Journey.  It’s a venture to find our most authentic selves.  Authenticity is the elusive “talent” we seek to express through our art.  Those words might even be interchangeable.

Authenticity is usually what’s lacking in the trouble areas of our culture (i.e. exploitation, corruption, greed).  A three-year Cultural Value Project lead by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council culminated in the “Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture Report", published in 2016:

“The report sheds new light on neglected areas where research shows arts and culture make a difference, such as prompting personal reflectiveness and empathy, enabling engaged citizens and thriving communities, and the imagination and creativity that underpins innovation.“  www.ahrc.ac.uk

So Art is important.  Artists are important.  Which means it’s important to embrace, mentor, and develop them.  It is indeed a hero who chooses the artistic path.  Do you have what it takes to reveal your authentic self in an expression of art?  Because it’s not easy.

It feels more comfortable inside the paradigm that the majority dictates for us (that Art must be relegated to the outskirts of proper society).  But comfort, happiness, and even failure are all….impermanent.  THAT is the universal truth I’ve been searching for.

The work we do each day, development itself, never ends.  That is why I call it The Sustainability Cycle (Exploration, Inclusion, Evolution).  If we master this, we learn we are in a constant flux because there will always be a need to change and adapt.

The harder we cling to ideals about our future, etc., the more elusive it becomes.  We need to stay open to change so that we can evolve with the times. Which is easier when you accept Time is Relative.

People hate this answer.  Many would rather use money, sex, and negotiation to achieve success rather than endure a grueling process of tackling fears, facing the self, and getting their hands dirty for...infinitum.

“What’s the point?” I hear artists say, “Life is short and I’m getting old.”   

The point is sustainability and peace of mind.  The point is to not end up the way of Robin Williams, Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Avicii, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain...

We’re a fast paced society who likes to skip to the point as quickly as possible.  Afterall, every book, even mine, has to have an ending.  But the “end” is a moving target because it evolves.  

People may not remember the stories of celebrity suicides.  But the tragedies will continue until we learn to support authentic artists.  How do we do that?  Become an authentic artist.  Explore. Stay open and Inclusive.  And Evolve, Evolve, Evolve.  Then do it again.   

Every time I think I have it figured out, I find myself back at the beginning.  But that is precisely how you maintain success!  Throw out those “arrival” schedules.  Start looking within and ride the waves.  The Sustainability Cycle is forever.  Our future depends it.

Emileena's upcoming book is ANOTHER WAY, The Tao of Artist Development.  To learn more about her work, please visit www.theshowgoesonproductions.com.

Original Artwork by Dave Law, freelance visual artist and illustrator.  For more, please visit www.davelawart.com.

If you are an artist looking for development, consider Emileena's E-Velop program

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