Monday, August 20, 2012

What is the key to artistic success?



I began teaching in Continuing Studies at Emily Carr University shortly after my book, Artist Survival Skills, came out. I had picked up a Continuing Studies calendar to see if there was a course that I might take and noticed that the listing for a course called The Business of Art showed the teacher was TBA (to be announced).
I contacted the University to offer my services for what I thought would be one semester, assuming the regular teacher was on leave, but I have taught the course every semester since. I am only in the classroom for six hours a week for two months each semester, but my course is a compulsory part of three certificate programs so normally, there are twenty students in each of my two classes.
My challenge with the class is to make it relevant to a diverse range of students. Some students have considerable experience while others have none, and they work in vast range of media. Some make product swhile others provide services; some are mature and some are very young; most are female. I would say that the average age is fourty-ish.
Sometimes the interaction can go in surprising directions. In the recent past, one of my students was very confrontational in class and submitted illiterate assignments. When I asked for an appointment to discuss how we could work together to make sure that the student did not fail, I was refused so I asked my supervisors for advice.
That led to a meeting between my supervisors and the student and that, in turn, led to the R.C.M.P. calling me to ask if I had ever discussed guns, owned a gun, referenced Columbine or student-slaughters or if I had threatened the student. It was the most shocking and unexpected outcome imaginable even though the University had advised me the call was coming and not to worry. That student was removed from the class and our class was relocated for the duration of the term.
The more common experience, however, is overwhelmingly positive. Every term there students who make it exciting for me to go to every class. This summer, however, was outstanding. Amongst the registrants were two students (a couple) from Switzerland who were inspiring, three delightful lawyers, a highly energetic and thoroughly engaging and hard-working University administrator and an equally appealing financial industry executive, a frustrated engineer/entrepreneur and several international students possessed of an incredible work ethic and many others—too many to mention here.
The high percentage of professionals in my class is yet another outcome of the baby boom. The front edge of the boom is sixty-six this year and my course is heavily populated with retirees and eventual retirees seeking to establish new careers in retirement or to return to a passion postponed. Coincidently, this summer I had half the normal number of registrants allowing me to get more deeply into conversations with this great cohort during the course.
Part of my course concerns the professional of curators and my course material includes quotes from curators of whom I asked the question: “If you could address the graduating class of Emily Carr, what is the most important think they should know, in your opinion, from the entirety of your professional experience?” At the end of one section of my course this summer, a student who really inspired me asked if we could get together and when we did, she asked me the same question. Here is what I told her.
Know exactly what you want from being an artist. Be it money, public awareness (“fame”) or curatorial respect or all three or degrees of each—know exactly what you want from your career. To that add talent and that is half of what you need.
The other half is one of four things: an incredible work ethic, a balanced and appreciated extroverted personality, significant business acumen (an entrepreneurial orientation) or genius. Talent + one of these four qualities = success no matter how you define it.