Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Artist’s Temperament

Are We Crazy? 

But that’s no excuse.

We’ve all heard the phrase “The Artist’s Temperament", and we know what it means: A fringe group of self-absorbed, opinionated, dysfunctional sociopaths with bad personal habits and a non-existent work ethic, who belong within the confines of an art museum because it’s safer than allowing them to roam the streets unattended.

It matters to us all when the public perceives this "Artist Temperament" as an accurate description of an entire class of dedicated, productive, and often very agreeable people. This negative perception has the potential to threaten our personal and professional credibility in every encounter, and can greatly impact our ability to make a living.

The caricature is too prevalent not to have some root in reality. I believe the perception comes from several sources - among them the (generally false) belief that creativity and sociopathy are somehow related. The fact that creative folks approach problems and solutions differently from other professionals likely adds to our reputation as well. 

Let's face it. We're odd.

Frequently, too, we artists may become too invested in our own oeuvre, our philosophy, or simply our own opinion (We certainly believe deeply in our calling, our abilities and our processes, and we are generous in sharing our views), and may at times justify a reputation for being pushy or stubborn. (My wife, observing her husband, is a leading proponent of this school of thought.)

But more than anything, I'm afraid that our collective 'temperament' may be blamed on the few who embrace the arts not so much as an avenue for expression, as an acceptable way to call unearned attention to themselves. Too often we encounter the creative spirit who is his or her own greatest Work in Progress, who sadly offers little else in the way of product or idea to support an outlandish persona.

The problem is compounded by the fact that those hard-working artists who are too busy to be holding court in coffee houses and music rooms spend most of their time, well,  working, out of the public eye - that same eye that gets blackened by the antics of our showier, less productive brethren.

We have seen the Enemy, and He is Us. The only way out is to work diligently, individually, conscientiously and professionally in all our interactions to allay the fears and negative expectations that people have, rightly or wrongly, when it comes to dealing with artists in general. 

Advocate without antagonizing. Smile, don't skewer. Learn to compromise. And if you find yourself in the bar or the coffee shop, don't be afraid to buy a round now and then. Grease the wheels. learn and practice the little things that will make you a good ambassador for Artists in general.

Whether we like it or not, we're always marketing ourselves, our work, and our profession. To that end, I would add a third step to my standard formula for becoming a successful artist:

1. Do Good Work.

2. Tell Everybody.

3. Be Nice.

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