This commercial path is a valid path, but achieving sustainable success via this path, is like winning the lottery. People do win the lottery, but very few do and even fewer win an amount of any sizable worth.
One would be considered foolish if they put the majority of their earnings into lottery tickets, in the hope of getting rich. Why do so many artists do the same with their careers and energies? Many, I would argue, do not realize what potential exists, in way of career opportunities and how many ways there are of making sustainable income. In playing the celebrity lottery, a huge amount of artists get stuck in having to have survival jobs—like waiting tables, temping, cleaning apartments, etc. As we only have so much energy and time in the course of a day, these artists lose valuable energy and resources, as they are tied up in paths that have nothing to do with being a creative artist.
The problem lies in part with our culture (and its insatiable hunger for all things shiny) and in part with our educational institutions. Many of our schools are selling celebrity potential in their marketing. In the case of theatre, just open any copy of American Theatre Magazine and look at the school advertisements. There, you will see many schools, projecting a message that “we produce stars too”, regardless of how few stars the school has actually produced over the years and regardless of how the extreme majority of graduates never reach such status.
When artists are putting the bulk of their creative energies towards becoming famous or becoming a celebrity, their primary focus is on themselves. The audience they are serving is that of one. Who benefits? If the artist is working, they do and if the work they do is good, the audience or view does. If not, no person benefits from his or her energies.
If one has a principle focus of serving others and one’s audience is their community and its needs, then the community benefits from the artists’ energies (regardless of whether or not the artist achieves their goals, as they are in the act of “fighting the good fight”) and in serving the communities’ needs, the artist increases their chances of making a livable wage. Why? Because the artist is responding to a need and when one works towards filling a need, one increases their chances of making a living.
My goal as an educator is to do just that–to increase artists’ chances of making a living, to give students a competitive advantage. Entrepreneurial Arts Training, such as is offered via The Hart Technique and Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts, both do this.
The best way to increase one’s chances of making a living is to perceive gaps in community cultural offerings and to work to fill those. In filling those gaps, one has the potential to create a niche. In creating a niche for oneself, one dramatically increases their chances of making a living and of achieving a sustainable creative income.
Jim Hart is the founder of Austin Conservatory of professional Arts www.austinconservatory.com