I think it’s terribly easy to be selfish in the arts. Because it is so personal. Your voice, your body, your passion, your creations, are what make the art happen. And because it is personal, we strive to be the best- in every audition, creation and performance. Which requires tireless hours of training, rehearsal and work (on oursevles, mainly) to get there. But I don’t think it’s any different than others getting Master’s Degrees or PhDs. Or taking Continuing Education courses to get that next promotion, or keep their certifications current. It’s just a different path.
Despite our heavy emphasis on individuality in America, we are still very wary of anything non-traditional, especially when it comes to education and economy. I think that lends to the “selfish” stereotype of the artist. Yet, we idolize entrepreneurs and self-made millionaires, who are out there doing their own thing. Perhaps it is because they have such tangible rewards for their individual path. Art operates in the intangible.
Seth Godin writes in Linchpin “Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn't matter. The intent does.”
Art is a gift. The generosity of the artist is what makes it so. And, like giving a birthday present, you have a certain personal interest in the response. You want the person to like their gift. To find it useful, or beautiful, or meaningful. And if you are able to give a good gift, that reflects well on you. You are in tune with the other’s needs and/or desires.
However, despite all the time we spend selecting the gift, or creating it, we ultimately have to give it. It eventually becomes not our gift, but another’s possession.
A true artist is out there to give it away. No, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be paid. We should. And fairly. I’m simply stating that when we give it away, we no longer control the response. We let the audience experience what they may, and learn what they may. Our personal experience becomes a shared experience. Art is meant to be encountered by others.
I do believe life in the arts is a balance. You have to take it personally, to give it your best. To stay hungry and relevant. But, it is also lived at the service of the story and the audience. Otherwise, it has no point.
So, I think both bosses are right. But I also think that you shouldn’t have one without the other.