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