Cultimation - THE RULE

Nobody like rules much, and the last thing I want to do is be "the man". But thinking it over as I have the last month or two I can't really see how we are going to redefine animation as a sustainable community unless we can agree on one thing before moving on to the details.

So here it is, the one essential rule at the core of Cultimation  (still working on that name :P)....

That's it. Seems simple. But I have run into some different opinions about it so I will elaborate a little.

What I am NOT talking about here is your creative drive, one student put it to me that all artists should be desperate in a way. Sure you should be driven and maybe even desperate to initiate new creative experiences, based on my personal experience there is not much point in continuing with a creative career unless you feel this desire down to your bones. But what I am talking about is the context within which you will live your creative life.

So what are the things you need or want in life apart from the sheer joy of being creative every day? For me these can be boiled down to one thing, approval.

I've identified three main kinds of approval :
  1. Fundamentals -  Getting a job in the first place, keeping your job, helping to keep a studio in the black, generally justifying your continuing presence in the creative industries. This one evokes the strongest desperation of all in my experience.
  2. Money For Extras - This makes all material things and life experiences away from work possible (family, house, travel etc). Any industry's main form of approval is extra money.
  3. Status - Getting a promotion with more creative input and responsibility, getting more people to see your work, improving your reputation among your peers, even getting better grades or praise from teachers like me.

We also have to acknowledged the difference between understanding your needs and desperation. If you have a family, you need to support it, if you want to travel then you will need money and so on. I'm not about being militant. There are plenty of grey areas, but my argument is that our industry or even our nature has come to be underscored by a certain kind of desperation. A burning desire for approval that leads to a kind of consensus on compromise, deep compromises that effect how we work and what we produce.

Over and over in my career I have witnessed a kind of race to the bottom, the very minimum an artist can live on for the maximum amount of work on a product no one is proud of. I did type up some examples, but my feeling is that the post was getting too long, lets just say it has happened with every single full time employer I have had spanning Film, TV, Internet products and Games. Often it has happened in spite of that employers very good intentions, its just the nature of economic survival to squeeze and squeeze for maximum efficiency.

What is most perplexing is that while companies and corporations are more than happy to cash in on this situation, it is usually as situation supported or even driven by artists. Artists willing to work longer, be paid less and compromise on what they are capable of. All in order to save their job, the studio or further their career (I include myself in this).

That what we have to offer has become so flexible in value is quite bizarre. Here is a funny little video that puts the same values in different situations.

And here is the final kick in the guts, not once out of the many places I have worked has this strategy actually succeeded in saving the studio, building more jobs, a better standard of work, more creative freedom or strengthening the workplace stability. When you and your co-workers prove you can do more from less it is the nature of the system to expect you to meet that price from then on. In spite of my past desperation and that of my co-workers, non of the studios I have worked for full time are still producing today, does that sound sustainable?

I could understand us setting up a different set of values for ourselves than those observed by other professions if there was some kind of trade off. But I see no evidence that there is one. If anything, creative industries is one of the least stable and underpaid professions in the western world.

I could go off about the evils of the corporate system, tell horror stories about friends (or myself) drained of creative life while trying to cut back on how much they can work for etc. But that's old ground and you can draw your own conclusions. But what I can do is focus on a positive example, what would happen if we did all draw a line in the sand.

A quote:

I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don't have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I'll solve the problem for you the best way I know how. And you can use it or not – that's up to you. You are the client. But you pay me.

Steve Jobs Demoes Quick Look

This is Steve Jobs paraphrasing one of his hero's Paul Rand (designer of the Apple logo). Its so audacious, its terrifying for an industry veteran like myself. But whether you love or hate Apple, you can not deny we are talking about one of the most successful designers of the past century. Compare the progress and evolution of Apple while Steve Jobs was in charge with a company at the other end of the scale, maybe someone like Acer computers, who make cheaper stuff (I don't know a lot about Acer the company, so sorry of its offending anyone, I could have picked almost any other computer company, its just an example). Now think of your reputation and career as being one of these two, would you rather be known as the Acer of animation, or the Apple? Would you rather have the income of the Acer company, or the Apple company?

So if money is important to you, I'd put it to you that avoiding desperation will not only save you from less rewarding work experiences, but will also lead to you making more money in the long run. Ensuring you are associated with good work will lead to your work having a greater value.

Meanwhile the city where I work (Brisbane) has generally become synonymous with getting creative work done fast and cheep. It may not be quite as good as what you can get in other places, but its cheep and dependable. Ultimately in an attempt to get more work (being more desperate than others) it has become expected of us that we will meet the required deadlines, but not be quite as creative. We are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The chicle's conjured up to get us desperate are many, and I've peddled a few of em myself in my time. Doing work experience while still a student I was told by my first boss, I had to be willing to do anything to get a foot in the door, another great story my dear friend Frank told me about featured a successful industry bloke who said he succeeded because while others were sleeping, he was creeping. Goals are another common tool used to fit us square pegs into round holes, list them, tick them off, achieve them, want them more than the next guy.

All of that can be fine, IF the processes and work environments you are entering into are in line with your dreams. The reasons you got into this whole crazy pastime in the first place. If they are not (and they often are not) then its probably desperation that got you there. You are probably working harder, longer and at a lower quality (spreading your skills and time thinner and thinner) so you can prop up a system that will not give you anything that lasts in return. Its not that the people employing you are necessarily evil, its just the system demanding the best economic outcomes without taking individuals into account, that is after all what it is designed to do. For an artist it is quite simply unsustainable.

Work for free or a full price but never cheap

I appreciate this creates a  tricky situation for someone trying to build a career. When I was younger and hungry for success (Oops there is another of those clich├ęs, should I say more desperate for approval) I probably would have called this arrogance. Back then I might have characterised this as advising artists to think they are too good for certain jobs or tasks. But that is not what I mean, it is more that some jobs or expectations probably don't line up with your dreams as artist, in fact they are often sold to us as being a path towards our dreams while they really just erode them. I don't think its arrogant to know what you want, to know that you want your love of this medium to last, and understand your environment enough to know when you are really making progress.

Please remember, I am not necessarily preaching any kind of extreme or fundamentalist position, where you draw the line is your call in the end. I'm just saying I think you need to have a line drawn somewhere in the first place, and that collectively we could and should be setting that standard a lot higher than we are.

So a lot of this is about knowing yourself, knowing why you do anything creative at all. I'm willing to bet that in the vast majority of cases it has to do with things that can not be measured by a growth obsessed economic system and has more to do with things that are harder to measure. Things like learning something, trying something new, working with other creative people, and most of all creating emotional connections with the people who see your work. These are the things that I think can create a positive feedback loop that feeds an artists sole, and lead to a better quality of work that must in the long run create more wealth (in some shape or form) for us all. This positive feedback, a system that creates its own energy and momentum, a context and community of artists that provides its own fuel is right out of the Permaculture textbook, and it is what I plan to explore from here on.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I've been waiting a few days for someone else to comment first but here I go:
I feel the answer, or some leads to a solution lies in your statement:
"Don't be desperate for approval" and also your statement that this isn't an article about having enough creativity but rather about finding a CONTEXT for your creativity.

Struggling with juggling searches for more income and watching my dwindling funds (sound familiar)I've recently been recalling a friends words years ago: That people need the right environment to flourish. I've been thinking on that, yesterday in fact and at first mistook it for physical environment (although that is very important and helps).I've been quelling the urge to move but a little voice is telling me that I may create the same circumstances in a different place so my struggle is with thinking outside of all the pressure I feel to "succeed" and maybe letting go of trying to control all outcomes because that just makes me do NOTHING!
I mean I don't believe that creative work is a RACE! SO I think now that rather creativity and the context it needs to flourish in requires the fertile ground of an understanding of how our own self as an autonomous individual needs to think to create an environment around ourselves that aids in producing the kind of quality of work we want to make.This is what you are getting at isn't it?
So for me, I'm having to accept some facts about these difficulties in regards to getting into the industry and how how good you have to be to "get in".
I'm stopping struggling and accepting what all the signposts say right now: that it's difficult but possible if you stay focused yet ironically grow the flexibility to be able to accept that you may have to beat a different path.
If I think: End goal: I want to be animating then hey! I'm already there and my mind shifts from feeling bereft and "not there yet" to dwelling in the opportunities and luxury of the present where I myself have made the time and space to create possible.
So we DO need to exlore the context of our creativity and I'm experiencing that lies in my own thinking. I'm trying to dismiss ? Suspend time and take a breath and focus on my own creative focus and pay it the attention it deserves. And strangely enough it's easier to not feel so desperate for approval if you constantly find yourself on the periphery!D There isn't as far to jump and I'm liking these posts because they make me think. Reminds me to move on and just focus on these good opportunities I've created and to put some of that feeling of ease and grace and goodness that I do believe in regardless of all those sloughs and lies of despair that often beckon and scream negatives. I like taking responsibility for my life and outcomes! So. Thanks!D

Anonymous said...

From Alonso's blog recently:
re: creativity:

Ian said...

You are heading towards very similar territory that Frank and I are in our discussions Michelle.

Getting things right in your head, making sure you feed the right nutrients in there to get yourself producing work that challenges you. The metaphor we are toying with for this (keeping our permaculture link going) is compost.

Getting into the industry will not help you build the right compost for creativity. Just as modern industrial scale farming uses up the humus eventually leaving the land devoid of nutrients, an employer trying to succeed in today's commercial system has almost no choice but to use up the creativity you arrive with when you start work. Then when you run out of creativity, which is inevitable if time and energy isn't taken to foster and nurture new growth (ie compost it), you will be replaced with someone who still has some creativity to offer (either because your boss will replace you, or the system will replace your employer with someone who will).

Sooooooo, not being in the industry is something I would like to portray as much as an opportunity as anything else. Your chance to start creating the right mental state for continual or permanent creativity. .....Hmmmmm Permativity?

When this is achieved I believe work will come looking for you. :)

Anonymous said...

Yes! I like that!D I believe that!

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Daniel said...

Sounds like you're growing quite a bit, Michelle, and combining your comment with the response from Ian made this particular blog post much more powerful.

Ian you're absolutely right about getting things right in your head first. Once I did that, I actually got an email out of the blue from the CEO of a game company, offering an internship which I gladly accepted. Once you start projecting your true self, you'll find people who share your interests are drawn to you. Find local networking events for people in your field and just "dive right in" and network with these strangers (who turn into friends with time and repeat encounters). I personally feel this is the best way to find where you are needed and where your talents will be best utilized by people who you can trust to take care of you and nurture your creativity, rather than pound it into oblivion. Get out there and network! It’s actually not hard, enjoyable even! The first game developer event I went to I sat alone outside the bar for like an hour. Around 12 game developers came and sat with me after that hour. Six months later not only do I have a foot in the door, I’ve got a whole leg in!

Also, Ian, you mentioned (paraphrased here) “'businesses draining new interns for all their creative energy and moving on to the next target”. I’d like to address that with a personal experience, yes it is negative, but the lessons learned are ultimately positive.

I once worked for a guy for months, only to find that by the end of it my creative energy was completely exhausted, promised payment never came, and the guy had found another person to drain - as he saw my creative energy slow he created a hostile work environment for me, i.e. started blaming his own shortcomings, pretty much forcing me to withdraw by convincing me it was my fault there was no money. Well, there was money, my work brought him thousands of dollars, none of it ever came my way though. My philosophy as an artist after that experience is to make sure I always size up the moral background of my employers.

Don't be afraid to talk about goals, finances, community and morals with your employer. Someone with bad intentions will be dismissive on these subjects, become uncomfortable, or try to avoid the discussion altogether. If they aggressively or passively accuse you of dissenting simply by questioning their motivations, you can be sure their intention is impure. Someone with good intentions, on the other hand, would be more than happy to express their goals with you (and be happy that you share interest in these goals), which should at least include,
A. Create a self-sustaining workplace where everyone gets the pay they deserve
B. Commit to bettering the community in some substantial way by giving back
After all, which would you choose? A greedy employer who is just interested in growing the company purely for his own financial gain, or an employer that realizes the importance of sharing and giving back to the community? Which one do you think would screw you over?

Other than talking and digging for information, also be very observant and use your observations to form an actual opinion - and do something with that opinion! For example, with that guy I was talking about; At one point I had visited his mother's for dinner with the both of them and to talk business. He blatantly disrespected his mother in front of me, insulting her intelligence. It seemed like something that happened often in the household. At the time I thought to myself, "Well, I'm not here to judge my boss' character and family life, I'm here for business and to make money." Well, I should have acted on that observation and walked away. It cost me a lot of time and money to ignore my intuition.

I hope my experience will be useful to someone out there! Also great blog Ian, lots to learn here! I love how it’s about much more than just animation :) Keep it up buddy!!!

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