grab bag blog

This is where I talk about my work, my discoveries, my creative process, and the ins and outs of marketing in the arts.

Giving Back: Love What You Do

March 30, 2012

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This is the fourth of five posts on the topics of my presentation at New Hope Academy’s Ask An Expert Day. Check them all out here!

#4. Aligning Your Dreams and Your Work

During my presentation, one of the teachers asked me talk about what it’s like to work for other people and create art for them, as opposed to creating my own work with no oversight. It was an interesting question, one obviously designed to get me to tell the kids that they have to get used to having authority in their lives. And its something that creatives deal with constantly— horror stories about problem clients are everywhere.

Alignment cartoon For myself, I see it in two ways: if you want to have complete creative control over your art, then you are a fine artist. Fine artists are different from commercial artists in that they are drawing primarily from themselves and their interpretation of the world. These are the artists that inspire us, who we learn about in art history class: Jackson Pollack, Pablo Picasso, Marcel DuChamp. That CAN happen for you, just like you could become a Hollywood A-list actor and make millions of dollars and choose your own projects.

The rest of us, however, have to do our own self-directed projects on the side and spend our days working for other people, which means tailoring your art to meet their needs, to fit into their brand, and to speak as their voice. As a creative professional, how do you deal with that? The trick is twofold:

FIRST, you have to be willing to be a collaborator and to work for something bigger than yourself. Sometimes, that something is simply a collective or a company. But for it to be something that you can really buy into, that can inspire you and others, it must be an idea. Hopefully a big idea. Are you just designing a brochure for a local school to get a paycheck? Or are you creating something that will help kids in this community learn by introducing them to new concepts? Does the law firm you design for just pay the bills, or does it help everyday people make sense of a confusing and labyrinthine legal world? The more you can see your work as being for a greater purpose, the easier it is to find the drive to do it. It’s also easier to see yourself as one part of the whole, working in collaboration with others, because you are all working for the same thing. And in the end, it’s simpler to ask if a design accomplishes a goal in service of the idea rather than if your boss or client “likes it.”

If you take this concept a step further, you get to the SECOND point: try to only work for and with people who align with your own values and desires. Find companies whose big goals and ideas are things that you believe in as well. I did it by specifically seeking out theatres; almost all of the work I do from day to day advances brands and an artform that I believe in, and that I’m proud to help craft. I still have my own projects that I try to squeeze in, but I’m so proud of the work that I do every day that I feel fulfilled. This also means avoiding projects and companies that you know will only cause you misery. Can’t stand the thought of advancing the business of a coffee shop owner with shady business practices or a faceless corporate cell phone company? Don’t work for them. You do not have to accept working for someone or something that you hate. Everyone gets stuck in a crap job sometimes, but let it motivate you to find the better job and the better boss.

So the takeaway I gave the class was that you can and should find the alignment between your own vision and values and those of your potential employers or clients. When you need to work for money, work at something you believe in, and be selfish on your own time. Strike that balance and you’ll love what you do.

P.S. This idea of aligning your vision and values was inspired directly from the teaching of one of my clients, a leadership consultant named Marguerite Callaway.


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