CMU School of Drama

Monday, September 19, 2016

Want to Be an Artist? Be Passionate and Realistic About Your Career

NEA: I almost didn’t become an artist. Throughout school, I acted but never envisioned it as a vocation. As a Sri Lankan woman immigrant, I didn’t have role models who looked like me out there in public. My own experience didn’t give me the courage to pursue theater as a profession. When I was playing a supporting role as a bag lady in an eighth-grade production, the director pulled me aside and said, “You have talent. Stick with it. You have such an expressive face.” I was flattered but wondered, Then why did you cast me as the bag lady?

14 comments:

Katherine Sharpless said...

This article was useful and grounding. As an artist with an emotional attachment to my work, I often feel defensive when talking about a possible career plan and facing reality. Too many people, especially artists themselves, criticize creatives for trying to follow their passion. The occasional back-handed comment about the starving artist doesn't inspire confidence. So when I read the article title I was skeptical because I am used to so many people have negative opinions about pursuing creative careers. However, the article was clear and helpful and was a good reminder that a life in the arts doesn't need to follow the stereotype and that by building connections and trying new things today, down the road one's desired projects or jobs will come. I also appreciated the message that everyone can support an emerging artist and shift the tone of discussion which currently surrounds our community. This article will be helpful as a quick reference the next time I feel discouraged or lost.

Xinyi Wang said...

Being an artist is an extremely risky choice for life, so it requires extra courage and passion. I think most people who work in entertainment and art are very passion-driven people. The artists, filmmakers, and designers that I have met in life -- young and old -- all have this childlike obsession with their craft. There are a lot of distractions and temptations in the field, but those who hold on to the end are the ones who truly follow their heart. Ang Li, one of my favorite directors of all time, used to be a stay-home dad while working on his projects and took a long journey until he was globally renown. Alison Klayman, a documentary filmmaker whom I met over the summer, used to teach Piano to fund the film she was making in China. I think it is one of the luckiest thing in life to find a path that I truly love, and I am very looking forward to future, regardless if there is apparent success.

Lucy Scherrer said...

Being an artist is such a tricky job because you have to be focused on both the creative and practical aspects of your career, which often butt heads with one another and have conflicting results. I liked the advice the author gave because it was clear that she was trying to achieve a balance between the two and evenly prioritize them. One of the tips, however, that didn't necessarily sit well with me was when she recommended that you seek to imitate the career path, or at least the career dynamic, of an artist you admire. She kind of glossed over the most confusing part of this statement: that you get to pick how your career will unfold. For example, she said she wanted to have a slow rise in success as opposed to a meteoric one. This makes no sense to me. In all disciplines, but especially in art, there's no way to predict or plan out how successful you will be in your career.

Helena Hewitt said...

One of the biggest shifts that happened in my life when I came to college was that the thing had for years been my hobby, my extracurricular activity, my escape, became my work. I had to start planning my projects a lot more and being much more practical about my art. What I've discovered is that being a hobby artist and being a working professional artist are two completely different mindsets. It is not an easy shift for most people and making a living in the arts is not an easy job. But for the people that do it successfully, we are among the lucky few that can say we are truly passionate about our jobs. The advice that this author gives, nicely summed up in the title, is really great. Finding that balance that she talks about is essential to a successful artistic career. The artists that are too passionate can lose touch with reality. But those that become too realistic can lose the heart and drive that led they to pursue this impossible dream.

Kat Landry said...

I find this to be a really beautiful list of advice. I totally identify with the feeling of being passionate about something, but not sure if it could be a feasible career. I needed the support network, the role models, and the mentors to realize that loving stage management didn't have to end after high school. If it had not been for my mom pushing me to do what I love, my drama teacher teaching me all he could about theatre production, and the faculty at Northwestern's Cherubs program showing me that there really is a career in theatrical management... I would be studying elementary education right now. I really love that she includes the tip, "Be generous and gracious." She is so right, and it shouldn't just apply to artists. I believe that generosity, kindness, and genuine interaction are the only things that can truly get you anywhere in life, artist or otherwise. I had so many incredible mentors over the summer, and a few things I learned from them along those lines are: "Everyone just wants to be considered," and, "There is no such thing as networking; only being a genuine person." I'm doing the best I can to hold onto those principles and I hope that others do too.

Sabrina Browne said...

Whenever I'm asked what it's like to be an artist, the first answer that comes to mind is usually "terrifying." It's true that so long as you pursue your passions and do what makes you happy you'll be "successful," but I'd be lying if I said I did't ever think about life after CMU or trying to get a job. Growing up, my dad has attempted to instill in me his "10 rules of life" which will apparently lead me to success. To his credit, some are rules I think everyone of every profession should follow, such as "rule 1: be aware of your surroundings. If you walk into the street and get hit by a bus, rules 2-10 are irrelevant," or, "every day try to make someone laugh." On my path to becoming an artist, I've formed some of my own rules to life, many of which I found on this list. "Focus on your passion," for example, is perhaps the rule I recommend most frequently to people. If you aren't passionate, it shows in your art. Regardless of medium, category, or anything else, no one just ends up as an artist or falls into art. Having just come out of interviewing for theatre/drama schools, I've been asked "why do you want to be a stage manager?" or "why do you think you'll be a good stage manager?" at least 10,000 times in the past 8 months. My answer can be summed up by answering simply with "I'm passionate about it. If you don't love stage management, you don't stage manage. But it's what I'm passionate about, so it's what I'm gonna do." I hope that others find what they are passionate about and follow it to success.

Vanessa Ramon said...

I can completely agree with the message of this article. When I was younger, I use to think that following your dreams meant you couldn't be realistic about them. I thought that a life of pursuing theatre was supposed to be filled with no thinking and just doing, but now I see the error on that thinking. When Someone is realistic about their future, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are being negative about it. I think that being realistic about following your passion means that you work hard to prepare for the challenges that it might bring you and equip yourself with the skills and experience you need to succeed in your goals. A theatre teacher once said to me that you will never stop learning. I think that is a saying that can sum up what this article is saying. You will never stop learning so don't act like you are the most talented, always be open to opportunities to learn new things, and always treat others with respect because they are on the same journey to learn as much of theatre as you are.

Monica Skrzypczak said...

For years I wanted to be an artist, but my dad was an engineer and I was smart so everyone thought I would become an engineer. And I went with the flow because being an engineer was the safe job, it guaranteed me money and a stable career. But as high school came to a close I realized more and more that all I wanted to do was become an artist (and yes, I know I am a technical director not a designer, but I still have a passion for the arts) So I explored programs for scenic design because that way at least I wasn't doing fine art, as if scenic design isn't just as much of an independent job that bourse around from commission to commission. And I will never forget what my professor at the scenic design summer program I attended did for me. She took me aside and asked me about my past and I explained the engineering and art and she opened up my eyes to technical direction which could meld both in a way I never thought about and, most importantly, she had full confidence that I would be a great technical director. That I could do it and have a real career out of it. I will never stop trying to live up to her faith in me. If it had not been for her, I would have ended up as a normal engineer and probably given up a lot on art.

Michelle Li said...

I take all of these tips very much to heart. You cannot expect to get very far in the arts world especially if you don't realize that you are not a product of simply your own effort. You are successful and where you are because of THE GENEROSITY OF OTHERS! The mentors who have dedicated their time to you, the millions of supposedly stupid questions answered by your professors, and those who have volunteered to listen to you ramble and rant when you have an idea for the "next best thing." You are here because others have helped you along the way whether it be financially, emotionally or physically! And we as artists must remember that and stay humble. I know there's that whole romantic image of the artist that is egocentric and it's their way or the high way-- I say screw that. I'm sick and tired of perpetuating the idea that you have to have a big personality that demands the room in order to "be somebody." That is boring, ennui and overrated. I'd much rather work with the respect of others, while respecting them as well! Thank those who help you. Thank them again. Thank them twice more! Just remember, karma will make its way back to you tenfold.

Samantha Brown said...

Being an artist is a tricky thing to do if you are not smart about it. It is important to think about all of the risks and variables to working as an artist before you jump right in. You need to accept that you will not always have a job and might not have a lot of money to live an extravagant life. The advice she gave in the article is very useful and important. Having a mentor for me was a huge part in why I am a stage manager. My mentor taught me everything I knew about stage management before I came to school. She was the one who found me and asked me to work on a community theatre show with her, which gave me the experience I needed to get to where I am today. I think it is also very important to see as much art as you can. I am not a huge fan of museums, but I love going to see Broadway shows or any other shows in my area. Getting exposed to different variations of art will ultimately make you a better artist and more well rounded.

Natalia Kian said...

Beyond being incredibly inspiring in its own right, this article made me immeasurably grateful to be a part of our program at CMU. The other day, after weeks of feeling confused in Cake Everyday and not knowing what to expect, Tina, Anne and Joe sat us all down and had a long talk with us about what it meant to be artists, and how we needed to start viewing ourselves in order to grow. I left after that hour long talk with four pages of notes, feeling more gratified by that one class than I had in my entire freshman year. One of the most memorable things Anne said to us, which I wrote down word-for-word, was "There's no finish line in life. You learn a lot from going down in flames." That, to me, is what this article is saying. Racing to get somewhere is not the same as doing something. Trying to be a certain way is not living as an artist. And the mindset that you'll ever be done trying to be your best is a cage, holding you back. At the end of the day, all you can do is give yourself to this thing you love, this "art." If you go in believing you can only succeed, believing you've done everything right, you've already failed. You may as well have never gotten off the ground at all. That is what I believe CMU's design and production program is trying to teach me. Whether I'm wrong or right, that is what I intend to learn here.

Cosette Craig said...

You can make money doing anything if you work for it. There is a store in san francisco that sells exclusively beads and rabbit skulls but the owner is passionate and realistic so her business is thriving. This same principal applies to being an artist. Find the thing you love and then find a way to make money doing it. Don't make it your free time after work, make it your day job. This is something I've learned coming here. I used to roll in the theater after history class in california and do what I did for fun but now I get to schedule my day around the thing that used to be my hobby. I cut out all the stuff I didn't like from my life and started focusing on the stuff I felt strongly about. Moving also made it clear that I could have become an engineer or some other career easily and been ok at it but I didn't really care for it and I probably had no chance of becoming the best. So i decided to invest time in something I wanted to become great at. A guy that owned a really killer donut shop once told me, "why get good at something your bad at when you can get great at something you're good at?" and he gets to make donuts for a living so his advice obviously works.

Sasha Schwartz said...

While the bulleted points in this article are generically cliched, they are well- intentioned, and it’s definitely nice to be given a confidence boost through lists like this. I think it can sometimes feel easy in our conservatory program to forget about some of the “practicality” this author is describing and just go full- steam ahead in our very specific area of theater. Especially with the amount of coursework we have, I think it can be easy to forget about the practicality of it all as our teachers tell us to focus on the art, design, and technical skill involved in our projects. Of course, we do learn about the practical sides of things along the way, like resume and interview skills, but not so much stuff to “fall back” on, or supplement our hopeful theatrical careers in a substantial way. This article reminded me of a question asked by a parent during one of the drama information sessions in the first week of freshman year, “should my kid get a minor to have something to fall back on?”, and Kevin replying, “no, because that means they will rely on their back up plan and not try their hardest at their actual plan” (or something along those lines). Obviously it’s important to stay humble and realize that it’s very difficult to make a lasting durable career in the arts regardless the prestige of the school you go to. But I guess we are all hopeful people in that we all went here in pursuit of something bigger than us. I’ve been thinking a lot about what being successful means in terms of being able to raise a family, take care of my brother, and my parents when they get older. Especially because my parents are immigrants, I think they have very specific ideas of what it means to achieve your dreams. While I am definitely still figuring out what “practicality” means in terms of a theater degree, I am very grateful to be at a school which seems to be making practical a little more reachable.

Emily Lawrence said...

When I tell people I am studying theatre for my profession, I often get a look of either concern or amusement. They then typically ask if I am going to be an actor and I say I will be a technician, then they typically say that is a better option for the field I am going into. I always question why it is bad or amusing that people want to be actors. Yes its true that not everyone will make it on Broadway, but that is not the end all be all. And saying you make it does not mean you made it on Broadway, it simply means, in my opinion, that you found happiness and fulfillment in the work you are creating. My end goal is not to make it on Broadway as a designer, but to be a designer in a theatre where I am happy with the work and the people I am surrounded with. So yes you can make a career out of anything that makes you happy, you just have to decide that that is what you are going to do.