Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Rise of the Arrogant Artist

Have you noticed that a lot of the most successful people seem self-centred? A little arrogant, perhaps? Obnoxious, even. Is there something we humble, peaceful, generous, gentle arty types can learn from this..?

When I meet successful writers, they often seem to have an unshakeable belief that they are right. 'Here's my art,' they say. 'That's what you're getting, World, and I couldn't care less what you think about it.'

That's not true, of course. The artist cares deeply about what people think, and often they are, underneath it all, humble, peaceful people like the rest of us. However, they appear to have an arrogance because their art is pushed out by a passionate, blinkered drive that makes it the way it is and, for that artist, the product cannot possibly be any other way. It's not arrogance, it's ownership. It's taking responsibility. And that's exactly the way it should be. For art to satisfy, it must first satisfy the vision and inspiration of the artist. The seeds of creativity that drove the artist to devote blood, sweat, tears and years must be realised with integrity for there to be any point in doing it. 

If you think about it, once the artwork is available to appreciate, the artist shouldn't really have any say in what people think. It is what it is. The wise and productive artist puts it out there - publish and be damned! - gives himself or herself a quiet hug for keeping that integrity and for pleasing themselves with it, then moves on to the next one. 'Fire and forget' is my motto. If your artwork happens to resonate with a proportion of the population, great! You will make some money. If it doesn't, you've satisfied your soul... and best of luck with the next one. At least you didn't bend your soul out of shape simply to bow to the opinions of others. 

Success is not measured in money. It's measured in fulfilment. And what you want... is both. 

So what's the point in learning stuff about your art if an artist is simply going to satisfy their heart? 

Good question. The problem with the above is that most writers are not able to bring their story to life in a way that satisfies their inspiration. Once it's done and they read it back, it doesn't quite deliver what they felt inside. And that is really frustrating. So they rewrite. Then re-read. And it kinda works. So they rewrite. And re-read. And rewriting is fine. Essential. Unavoidable. But it isn't a very good 'method' for problem solving. Three or four rewrites and a six months later you've forgotten what the hell gave the thing a beating heart in the first place, and it starts to go cold and stale and become really hard work. Until it dies on a shelf as you put it down to experience and move on to something new and exciting. 

When a writer asks me to read their story and tell them what I think, I refuse. I won't do it. I ask them what they think, because that's what's important. It must stay in their ownership. I get them to pitch a short version of the story. I ask them questions about the characters and motivations and, bit by bit, I try to connect with that original inspiration. I then talk to them about specific areas of story power and story theory that will help them understand what is bugging them, understand how that might be addressed and then stay on the spine of their inspiration. And that can be learned. Like a painter can understand the limits and potential of different paper, brushes, colours and media, and a composer can learn the limits of orchestral instruments, ranges and technology, so a writer can learn where the power of story lies and can use that knowledge to maximise the power of their own story and to remain faithful to the inspiration across the long haul of writing it down. 

And you mustn't be scared to put it out there! So many of my clients are really just after reassurance. They want to rewrite forever rather than face the judgement that surely follows completion. Terrifying. Rejection... terrifying. Best just never finish, right...?! 

If you want success (whatever success means to you) you MUST have the courage of your artistic convictions. There's only one person who can tell your story and that is YOU. There's only one person who can decide if your story is right or not and that is YOU. 

William Faulkner once said: 'The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity.' 

That is true, BUT... a good artist has mastered his craft, and therefore doesn't need to turn to others to deliver his inspiration as he hoped and intended. 

So be arrogant. Be superior. You ARE the God of your story, and you mustn't be ashamed of that. Be the God. This is your art and you must guard its integrity because You Know Best. In fact, ONLY you know the definitive truth of your story, so it's not arrogance, it's standing up for what you believe in. Learn the craft of story, but then be absolute in how you apply that knowledge to your work. You will be respected for that attitude, and finding respect will take you closer to 'success' than just about anything else. 

I quite like what I said earlier: Success is not measured in money. It's measured in fulfilment. And what you want... is both. And 'both' means: Pure art, mixed beautifully with knowledge of how that art works.