Updated: Feb 22
While most artists will agree to the value of business coaching, few want to pay for it. And the more I appreciate the plight of an artist (specifically my own), the more I recognize why: They are trepidatious about any outside influence requiring a financial exchange. (See my blog The Exploited Artist vs. the Insecure Artist.)
So I get it. There are a lot of expenses to be an artist and funds are always tight. It’s why I’ve opted for writing a book about my work over pushing my coaching services.
But the result of those tight purse strings is a lot of under-educated artists, losing money on short-term decisions instead of thinking about how to sustain a career. Most art programs conveniently skip over business and finance courses, and artists rarely take the time to think about long-term strategy when decision-making.
While a career can certainly launch without traditional business skills, it won’t find sustainability without strategy. You know what helps with that? Professional coaching! Former Google exec Eric Schmidt says of his business coach:
“How could a coach advise me if I'm the best person in the world at this? [T]hat's not what a coach does ... They have to watch you and get you to be your best ... Once I realized I could trust him and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea.”
The business community has run agog with coaching services. I’ve seen coaches in NYC cost upward of $2,000/month, even if the national average is slightly lower. For the business owners and entrepreneurs who swear by them, you get what you pay for.
“No matter what stage your business is at, a coach can make you work harder and progress faster than you would on your own. From providing a much-needed ego check to helping expand your network, a business coach can give you both the tools and perspective you need to go from point A to point B.”
Why wouldn’t this appeal to artists? Well, for starters, the return on investment has a much lower ceiling. Success rates in the Arts are already so minuscule that conversations around sustainability are only just beginning, whereas it’s been a hot topic amongst traditional entrepreneurs for years.
Secondly, exploitation runs rampant in the Arts. Consider the Weinstein scandal, Kesha, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Jean Michel Basquiat, etc. Artists are understandably more cautious about who to trust.
So I knew it was an uphill battle to build programming (#ArtsMeetsBiz) for a demographic so suspicious of outside help. And if you’re shopping for a coach, you really should know what makes them qualified to guide you. Your art is precious enough, entrusting someone with your career is a whole other ballgame.
Two things to know when you're looking:
Development never ends. People want to see an end point, or some guarantee that they will see results in a certain time. If a coach is promising you something concrete, they just want your money.
It’s a personal journey. Coaching, especially artists, feels like social work sometimes. You have to peel away layers of personal obstacles and society’s brainwashing before you can get to any of the concrete work. There is no guarantee as to how long an individual will take to process all that.
You could look back and view your whole life in terms of stages of development, or what I call Sustainability Cycles (Exploration, Inclusion, Evolution). The closest thing I’d say to mastering the development process only happens when the three stages of the Sustainability Cycle are occurring concurrently.
So where am I in my journey of development? Well for starters, the journey is rarely linear and time is relative. And since the possibility of every stage is in the very moment I am experiencing right now, I suppose a more direct question would be: Which stage am I focusing on right now?
For example: I am always Exploring what opportunities are in my life, living in Inclusion of anything that comes my way, and I Evolve every day beyond who and where I was yesterday.
I’m focusing on Evolution at the moment, trying to adjust my work constantly inside an unstable state of the Arts. I’m forging new territory however, so Exploration is ongoing. And I also struggle occasionally with incorporating the opportunities that present themselves in my life (Inclusion), especially the obstacles.
In terms of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, a story I correlate to artist development, you could say I’ve “Returned with the Elixir” and am currently “Mastering Two Worlds:” that of the “Ordinary World,” and that of my new paradigm.
“Return with the Elixir,” is a phrase that was popularized by Christopher Vogler’s interpretation of the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell’s original teachings goes beyond to explain the process of becoming a “Master of Two Worlds:”
"Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time—not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other—is the talent of the master. The individual gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment." (The American Monomyth by Robert Jewett & John Shelton Lawrence, 1977, NY: Doubleday)
That is to say that I’ve journeyed into and out of the “Cave”, i.e. facing and overcoming personal demons and psychological obstacles. Even so, my struggle to stay in the moment remains constant. Every time I think I’ve conquered my innermost fears, a new one drags me back into the Cave. That’s because the story is non-linear! If I were to ever say I’ve conquered the Cave permanently, I’d be lying to you...or selling something. Ha!
I believe I’ve found the “Elixir” I want to share with the world. My work is the vehicle I’ve chosen to do it: the Sustainability Cycle, my book, and a paradigm shift into a community where artists are celebrated as equals and development is a respected constant. These three gifts are really the same: a world with no need for exploitation. This is my art.
Now I want to recognize that the simple desire to coach others contradicts Campbell’s hero, which is why I’m writing the book. The personalities we remember are not the ones who are trying to make a splash; it’s the ones who are staying true to their authentic selves:
“[The Hero’s] personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him." (The American Monomyth)
So while it takes a village to mount a paradigm shift, I’m starting one artist at a time. Building a better future for the Arts requires a community of artists finding their “at-one-ment.” If you’re reading this blog, you’ve already accepted Campbell’s “Call to Action,” in this case to find #AnotherWay. You can’t do it alone, none of us can. So value your coaches!
Emileena is writing a book on artist development called ANOTHER WAY. Join the community by attending a monthly Meetup (it's free!).
Original Artwork by Dave Law, freelance visual artist and illustrator. For more, please visit www.davelawart.com.
If you are an artist looking for development, consider Emileena's E-Velop program.