Friday, February 15, 2008

How to Have a Glamorous Career

Pretty Lady must confess that she has been emboldened to take the precipitate step of offering Glamorous Career Advice--even though her own career has not, as yet, peaked--due to the recent and tragic meltdown of her dear colleague Deborah, who made the error of appearing competent in public:

SELLOUT gets a lot of email. Most of it is unhelpful. It's mostly strident requests for personal advice, personal sad stories, *enormous* jpegs of people's work, and kind of stalky stuff about where I, personally, have been seen on the internet and in real life. And re-mails wondering where my personal reply to the personal advice question is. I get a lot of these.

Wading through these anxious, grabby, selfish emails takes a lot of time and gets depressing. As a result, I have developed a much better understanding of what gallerists and curators go through--why they tend toward such strongly policed boundaries.

Well, gracious. Pretty Lady can relate. And she has some very stern words for all you young, or not-so-young, artists, musicians, actors, fashion designers, writers, models, dancers, and wannabe Famous People out there. They are:

NOBODY can GIVE you a career. NOBODY is GOING to give you a career. You have to develop your career YOURSELF.

This would appear, on the face of it, to be simple and obvious information. But Pretty Lady fears that the youth of today have been grossly misled, by travesties such as American Idol, America's Next Top Model, the careers of a few interchangable blonde 'singers,' and the Art Star phenomenon, into thinking that all they have to do is get Discovered. Additionally, they have to Want It Really Bad. At least, this is what Pretty Lady gleaned, the one or two times she has troubled to look at a television, during the last several years.

Darlings, Pretty Lady must then begin with the obvious: You are being manipulated. You are being manipulated in a most unsubtle fashion; you are being manipulated into believing that the power is all Out There, in the hands of Them, and you must wait around for Them to give it to you. This is how They keep you quiet, quiescent, and obedient, and how They get your money.

Pretty Lady can't believe she had to spell that out for you.

So. On to the Real World, which is ever so much more fun than all that goop.

1) Pick something you love, and work very very hard at it.

Again, it seems rather tautological to have to say this, except that Pretty Lady has encountered ever so many people who behave as though it Weren't So. While running her gallery, she received enthusiastic exhibition proposals from 'artists' who had painted two paintings. She was the focus of ongoing schmooze campaigns by 'artists' whose portfolios were indistinguishable from the output of your average sophomore painting class; she received peremptory demands for an exhibition date from 'artists' who were not, currently, making any art.

She furthermore has known 'writers' whose life's oevre consisted of a handful of clich├ęs, written on stray scraps of paper, 'fashion designers' who felt it was a waste of time to learn to sew, and 'singers' who believed that voice lessons were an insult to their creativity.

To these people she says: Get over yourselves, go away, and DO something, before you bother Pretty Lady, or anybody else, again.

2) Take some initiative.

This does not mean 'corner an agent, gallerist or producer and torment them until they agree to represent you.' It means 'get together with a few peers and produce your own project.' It will, in all likelihood, be a Complete Flop; this is called a Learning Experience. We all require them, and it is much, much better for you to have them in relative obscurity, among friends, than in the International Spotlight.

3) Assess and re-assess your own efforts, with scorching honesty.

If you are a musician, record yourself, listen to the recordings, then listen to twenty recordings by artists you admire. (If there are not twenty artists you admire, you are a narcissist; please go away.) If you are a writer, write 500 pages of manuscript, put it away, read 10 great novels, then reread your manuscript. If you are an artist, paint 20 paintings, then go to the Met, the MoMA, and the Tate; also visit the sophomore painting seminar at your local community college. If you are a fashion designer, learn to sew, and wear your own designs. Examine your body afterwards, for chafe marks, and the clothing, for unplanned gaps, puckers, and holes.

Compare and contrast. Have a hard-assed friend or two do likewise.

4) Learn to consider criticism objectively.

This does not mean knuckling under to every spiteful, ignorant comment that is casually flung your way; nor does it mean ignoring the 50 people who point out the exact same weakness in the exact same thing you showed them last time. Know your standards and objectives, and adhere to them with integrity and humility.

5) Show sincere interest in other people's work.

Nobody wins friends and influences people by talking about themselves at every opportunity. Get out and meet people, find out what they're doing, and talk about it. You may learn something, and you may make genuine friends.

6) Market.

Don't hide your light under a bushel; websites and blogs are easy to create, and very cheap. Postcards, ditto. But do not push the marketing to excess if you are not actively engaged in steps 1-5; you will merely demonstrate to a great many people that you are a complete jackass.

7) Give as you expect to receive.

This, perhaps, is the toughest prescription to follow. An aspiring creative person is, frequently, a chronically penurious one; she may feel that she is perpetually at the bottom of the heap, and has nothing to offer except for her Shining Talent, which ought to be enough.

It isn't. At the very least you can offer a listening ear, and an occasional home-cooked meal, to a friend in similar straits. If you can offer these things to a friend, it is but one step to offering them to someone with a bit more clout. Cultivate an attitude of serene, overflowing generosity, rather than Desperate Deprivation. People will want to be around you.

Do not, however, try to manipulate people with a 'tit for tat' agenda, however artfully concealed. This is bound to backfire; people do not like feeling beholden. Also, if a person proves themselves to be the sort of parasite who takes and takes without reciprocating, stop giving and walk away. There is no point in being a patsy.

A genuine, fruitful connection proceeds organically, with both parties to the endeavor giving willingly, within their means, at their own pace.

8) Handle your finances realistically.

Pretty Lady has already written on this issue at length; she has only to add that nobody ever got famous by shopping. And if you DO hit the jackpot, for heaven's sake don't fly off the handle and become a drug addict. Invest, invest, invest! If you have a chunk of money socked away in real estate, mutual funds, and money market accounts, you can afford to tell your skeevy dealer, craven producer, or double-dealing agent to take a hike, instead of being a slave to whatever crass mogul happens to hold your leash.

And finally, for a truly inspiring portrait of a person who combined grinding hard work, realistic self-assessment, canny perspicacity, and timely intrepidity to realize a Dazzling Career out of the depths of poverty, Pretty Lady recommends Act One: the autobiography of Moss Hart. Her seventh-grade teacher handed it to her, when she was in seventh grade, saying "I think you'll like this." Pretty Lady still has no idea how she knew, but still rereads it every five or ten years.


Chris Rywalt said...

As usual, posts which seem complete in and of themselves get little or commentary attached. So let me just say, amen, bravo, and thank you.

Anonymous said...

I second that.

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