Back at my first job, which was at an ad agency, I remember getting back to my cluster of cubicles one afternoon to find the cubicles across from mine in utter disarray. Chairs were upended with castors rolling in the air, paper flying every which where, and in the middle of that maelstrom was one of the creative directors.
I remember one of the secretaries leaning in to whisper, ‘Because he’s creative…’ Like that little phrase explained everything, like ‘being creative’ gave one the licence to throw a destructive hissy fit in the office.
I remember thinking to myself, ‘Well that ain’t right…’ I mean I was ‘creative’, but I didn’t think I’d get away with behaviour like that. Maybe because the guy was a big-shot CD and I was just a lowly newbie writer who was just happy to be there.
In any case, that incident stayed with me because I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be like that.
Fast-forward to almost 10 years later…
…and I was sitting in the artist’s career workshop that would (for good or ill) change my life forever.
The guru giving the workshop was telling us how the moody, angsty, Van Gogh-type of artist was a very Western idea and that in Asia, artists were very folksy, community-ish people whose goal in life was to serve, well, the community.
After another 10 or so years (and 40 or so pounds), I find I can’t help thinking about the validity of the (forgive me) ‘emo’ stereotype and the ‘I want to bring colour to the people of my village’ persona.
In the first place, I think maybe that artists, just like anybody else, can’t really be labelled or categorised just like that. In the second, I think maybe both the Western and the Asian ideas of what artists are ‘supposed to be’ have their, you know. I think they both have something there.
Because let’s face it, I mean, we’re not exactly ‘normal’, are we. It’s like a condition (not an illness, because ‘illness’ implies that there’s something wrong with you that you have to cure).
Apparently, we’re just wired differently. We have this (unfortunate?) ‘thing’ where we seem to sense or to feel everything x100000 more deeply. If we’re happy (and we know it) we’re ecstatic. If we’re sad we feel like jumping off a cliff. Some of us do. Sounds trite, but it happens.
The thing is that most artists (these days I guess) don’t live in a bubble (even if some of us might like to) and that most art isn’t created ‘alone’. There will always be other people around, some of whom are within striking distance or in the immediate vicinity, and there will always be other people who are affected by who we are and what we do.
Obviously, when you have like a wolf in sheep’s clothing hanging out with the sheep, there’s bound to be some sort of friction sooner or later. Artists might ‘look like everybody else’ (i.e. basic humanoid) but inside they’re chalk and cheese.
Make it, easy on me…
Until the starships are ready and we get the green light to go live on the moon (with the rest of our kindred, lol) we all must just co-exist on this planet and live together. It is possible, you know, I mean, I know you know. I’m just saying that maybe there are a few things that either side could maybe, you know, do, to make it ‘easier’ for the other.
I would start by saying that artists shouldn’t be ‘treated specially’, maybe. Like I think that maybe we shouldn’t get ‘free passes for throwing hissy fits in public’. In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I’ve thrown my share but I hasten to add it’s not behaviour I’m proud of nor endorse (in fact, those hissy fits in all probability have zero to do with my painting).
You know, someone once told me that ‘artists have their own moral universe’ or something to that effect. This isn’t something I subscribe to, really, even if there might be some people who seem to think it explains the whole ‘free pass’ or ‘public hissy fit licence’ thing. (Anyway, I don’t talk to that someone very much, anymore.)
I would also say that being the minority, in a way, and seeing that most people sort of ‘have to live with us’, I think maybe the onus falls on us to help them to, you know, well, ‘live with us in peace’, I guess, lol.
Time, Space, Warped
Because they may not (here we go, here we go) ‘understand’ that we probably need ‘me time’ to work on stuff—whether it’s in our heads or in tangible form. And space to work on it, in. And that that ‘me time’ might coincide with, oh, the ‘normal’ hours for supper or whatever.
They may not ‘understand’ that we ‘probably’ don’t like it when they come busting into our ‘workspace’ when we’re in the middle of ‘stuff’. Like when you’re in the zone and the colours are swimming into each other and it’s beautiful and you want to control the flow but you don’t and then (SFX): BLAM! BLAM! ‘What time were you leaving the house tomorrow?’
If you’re me, 10 to one you’d yell ‘HWAAT?!!’ (and jump a mile high), because
But then oh dear. That was your mom (or dad) (or your grandmother or the maid or whoever else you happen to live with) and you yelled at them. Tsk.
And so you’re the bad guy now. Even though on your planet, it might be argued (no it can’t) that they’re the bad guys for throwing off your groove. (I’m sorry, but you threw off the empress’ groove…) (Sooooorryyyyy…)
If only it were a question of ‘groove-throwing’, because there’s also very likely a little matter of, oh, ‘messes’, ‘noise’ and the like.
You see, not all of us are fortunate enough to have private studio space. A fair number of us find ourselves having to share the space we work in with others, and those others may or not be ‘one of us’. Whether they are or not, though, not all of us are able to ‘maintain order’, and the inevitable, resulting disarray can inevitably get on the nerves of ‘the others’.
Conversely, those of us who are able to maintain order while working, might be driven a little batty by ‘space-mates’ who aren’t as ‘OC’ as ourselves. A variant of this behaviour might be when the space-mates seem to have trouble with the concept of private property, and the artist is of the I-freak-out-whenever-someone-touches-my-things variety.
Also, if you’re like me, you’ll prefer to work with music on. And not all of us have wireless earphones or whatever. I’m lucky to have worked in a household that appreciates opera because there are times nothing else will do but Pavarotti. But I imagine the neighbours might’ve had something to say about my taste in music.
Should the day ever come when they would have their say about my obsession for Mozart’s Requiem playing at full blast (nothing like a good Requiem to make you feel alive, LOL), I would have something to say in reply. Because there are actually times (quite often, in fact) I’d much rather work in absolute quiet…
…and until I can actually afford a pair of Bose’s, these are my only defence against the surround sound quality of their speakerphone conversations and pedestrian listening choices. Point being, there are ways to cope, and to keep the relative peace.
Sign of the Times
The thing is that none of us (as in ‘us’, nor ‘them’) are mind-readers. And until we develop mutant-level empathy and telepathy, the only way we can all work around this maybe is good ol’ fashioned communication.
We can’t always expect or assume they get what we need in terms of time, space, and so on, which is why it might help to explain this (in a ‘nice’ way) to them.
Of course, you could always do it like this, haha:
(Line 2 says 'DO NOT KNOCK/ENTER')
But I don’t suppose it would hurt to tell them why; hopefully if they get a load of your work in progress (if you allow that), they’ll get it.
Speaking of explaining, one of the things that always used to get me (and still does, sometimes) is how a lot of people seem to think that you have all the time in the world to finish what you’re doing. You know, like ‘What’s the hurry? You still have five months.’
//Cry. Five months for some 10 large-ish (for you) pieces, all of which require detail work and each of which you would’ve liked at least a month to work on so you could know—sleep? Because you need to work your day job during those months at the same time.
I was also once told that I’ll never understand what it’s like to have children, ever, because I’ve never had any (and probably never will). I reckon the argument might be made that they’ll never understand what it’s like to ‘have monsters’ because they don’t do what we do. It’s the same: artists and the people around them must just cut each other a little slack that way.
In the end, putting up with other people simply because they also have to put up with you (as Thomas a Kempis put it so much better) is probably the best way to go. Everybody without exception has their little idiosyncrasies; I guess it’s just that maybe in people like us these quirks and such seem to tend to be a little more pronounced.
In closing, I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who’s ever had to put up with me while I was making stuff (and even when I’m not, making stuff). I’d also like offer my sincere apologies for all the times I’d, you know, thrown hissy fits of my own.
And to anyone out there who might be having a tough time living with people who make art, or don’t, it can be tough, I know. If it helps, we could maybe talk about it.
I don't purport to know everything. Yet if the little I do know can be of any help, you are more than welcome to it.