Updated: Feb 20
Ours is a time that seems to be fermenting from the fumes of judgment, bombarding our media, politics, and entertainment. One way to break those bonds is to focus on value.
Judgment is a vicious cycle of unintended consequences. Placing judgment on something automatically creates an attachment to an implied “should.” If it’s not that, then it “should” be this. Attachments perpetuate limitation against an opposite, a “should.” The trouble with limitation is that it will always provoke disappointment and uneasy feelings for someone, somewhere.
One of my artists asks me on a regular basis: “Is this wrong?” or “So that’s good?” He’s trying to navigate his development in a language he can understand, and with a history of addiction, he understandably questions his own judgement. He's also hesitant to set goals, and maybe he's right to be.
Goals also create attachments that can limit possibility. They present a box that you hope to land in. But if we’ve learned nothing else from the 21st century thus far, we’ve hopefully learned that life is unpredictable. So why limit our experience to a box when we’re living in circular times?
In my work with artists in development, we create benchmarks instead. Benchmarks are basically goals without the finality attached. They allow you to measure value and identify progress. I call that a value judgment.
Value judgments are a tool to measure your own feelings toward a present opportunity and the choices you make around it. It is a judgment, but not one with a limiting expectation attached. It is merely a measurement of the moment.
Your worth is invaluable so value judgments are not always monetary. For some people a meal, rehearsal room for an hour, or consultation will provide quantifiable value. You get to define what value you want, need, and are worth.
If you choose to work for free, what is the value that you receive from that work? Even if artists will complain about it, many do not question the concept of “working for exposure” at some point in their careers. Especially if they are young or new to an industry.
Working for free is not the problem, nor is it inherently limiting. But I encourage a value judgement to be made so artists understand what exactly they are in fact receiving in the exchange. And I don’t mean a “promise.” Keep it in the moment. For all the promises made to artists working for free, how many of those have been delivered? Take your own poll and ask the artists you know.
Measure your time and assign a value. Maybe there’s an average of a 50% loss on your art. Once you understand that, you can start to create benchmarks to close the gap or supplement the loss. Why not? That’s #ArtsMeetsBiz.
It may take different forms in different situations, but whatever it is, make the value of the work you do, even paid work, quantifiable. You don’t have to expect it or even ask for it, but know your value when you offer it to the world. You never know when someone will ask: a patron, investor, agent, or venue.
“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” I heard this from a clinical psychologist suggesting that if there must be a measure of value, the only sustainable scale is you.
“Identify yourself not with the initial state of order (a particular way of looking at the world) … [nor with] the state of chaos when everything collapses around you, but identify yourself with the process of transformation, from order thru chaos. So the way that you confront the fact that reality is continually transforming is that you allow yourself to transform with it.”
This is another way of living in the moment, the only solution I’ve found to effectively banish judgment from my life. Winnie the Pooh is a lovable embodiment of this concept.
In the film Christopher Robin, Pooh plays a game called “Say What You See.” It’s as simple as that – saying aloud what is in front of you right now. By leaving behind the chaotic mindset of building attachments, Pooh is merely zooming into the moment. You can watch the scene here to see how your ego resists the moment.
And it usually is ego standing in the way of you getting what you need. Or it’s a fear of success, fueled by ego. So when you’re weighing the value of every opportunity, ask the question: will it help me become a better person than I was yesterday? Only you can answer that, and it requires listening to your heart, not what society or any outside influence will tell you. Not ego.
Here’s what I say to my artist in recovery: You get to define what is good and what is bad...so you tell me. This might not work with all addicts, so I don’t recommend trying it at home. I use the example of an addict in recovery because it offers an extreme example. No one, in their heart wants to be an addict.
Let’s look at a case study on the drug epidemic. Most people agree drugs are limiting in the long term…including addicts themselves. But what has the value been to judge drug addiction as “bad?”
Has social judgment helped prevent addiction? Overwhelming research suggests not. Consider the Pew Research Center’s findings from 2018: "As fatal overdoses rise, many Americans see drug addiction as a major problem in their community."
In response to one of the worst drug epidemics in Europe, Portugal adopted an aggressive drug treatment program, decriminalizing all drugs in 2001. They attempted to remove the judgment attached to drug addiction and started revaluing what that meant in their country.
In "Portugal’s radical drugs policy is working. Why hasn’t the world copied it?," Susana Ferreira explains:
“Portugal’s policy rests on three pillars: one, that there’s no such thing as a soft or hard drug, only healthy and unhealthy relationships with drugs; two, that an individual’s unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves; and three, that the eradication of all drugs is an impossible goal.”
Sixteen years later, statistics showed a dramatic reduction in drug addiction primarily by destigmatization.
I invite you to throw out judgments and goals. Replace them with value judgments and benchmarks, placed only on the opportunities currently being presented to you. One day at a time.
Emileena is writing a book on artist development called ANOTHER WAY, the Tao of Artist Development. If you are an artist looking for development, consider Emileena's E-Velop program.
Original Artwork by Dave Law, freelance visual artist and illustrator. For more, please visit www.davelawart.com.