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Blog // Artistry
September 2, 2009

On Being An Artist

I’m not an artist. I can recall having “been” certain things – I was a banker, I was an academic. These days I call myself a musician and a writer, but it’s a tenuous claim if you go by output, by impact on the world. I was thinking about this while reading Hazel Dooney’s excellent […]

I’m not an artist.

I can recall having “been” certain things – I was a banker, I was an academic. These days I call myself a musician and a writer, but it’s a tenuous claim if you go by output, by impact on the world.

I was thinking about this while reading Hazel Dooney’s excellent piece, The Business Of Being Myself. She writes about the importance of the practical and “business” aspects of managing your creative work, not just for maximises your finances and standing, but, more importantly for controlling your creative destiny.

“There was (and maybe still is) a part of me that didn’t really believe that I’d ‘make it’ as an artist. So, for a long time, even when my work began to sell well, I paid scant attention to the lessons other tried to teach me about how to get a handle on the growing number of things that had to be done in a working day.

I ignored the simple utility of making daily ‘to do’ and call lists and sharing a weekly schedule with everyone who worked for or with me. I resented the hours I had to spend overseeing my improving finances – which led to more than one tense conversation with the tax department and several hair-tearing reprimands from my accountant – or reviewing contracts and business correspondence.

I’m more realistic now. I recognise that if I’m to be truly independent and self-determining as an artist, I have to adapt the intelligence, imagination and discipline that are elemental to my art to taking care of the business my art has created.

If I don’t, then my art – and my life – will end up, once again, being controlled and exploited by others.”

The more I think about my tasks as a musician (like this morning, evaluating software, modifying a microphone, practicing chords, planning a recording session), the more I realise that a large set of skills beyond just “creative” ones are being used. I’m not about to start overelaborating things by pretending to be a musical entrepreneur, but there are a lot of skills from previous vocations that can and should bleed more easily into the musical craft.

There’s a lot there to ponder…

Responses
Toni 12 years ago

A friend of mine used to run his own photography business, and at a time when I was considering also going full time he pointed out that taking pictures was just a tiny bit of what was required. Likewise I’ve found (well, knew already) that running a diagnostics company involves relatively little bench work and is mostly the same kind of business affairs that any other regulated business demands.

While we were away I read Eric Clapton’s autobiography. An interesting observation was that he and many other musicians were ‘encoraged’ to make themselves incapable of controlling their own lives in order that others might take control from them. When he finally cleaned up and wanted to take personal responsibility for business decisions it became impossible to continue with his original management.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Toni, you’ve made two excellent points. All the musicians I know who make a living from being “creative” are a business, whether we break that down into running a shop, being a consultant, being a “fixer,” or managing a tutoring business.

Your Eric Clapton example is part of why I don’t mourn for the major labels with the problems they now face. In fact, it’s healthier if younger musicians lower their expectations a little and think more in terms of a career in music that they control, their own music business, rather than a lifestyle.

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