The Robust Artist

I love artists, pretty much ALL artists.  And I think all humans are inherently artists.  I’m a commie.

I teach a free workshop twice a year that begins with “The Arts are a Human Birthright”.  And if you want to see me draw my spiritual sword, say something like: “Some people just don’t have the talent.”

<Shing>  I’m comin’ at you like Joan of Arc, you heathen.

Those walk-the-plank artistic competition TV shows?   <Shing>

Mean-girl art-shamers?   <Shing>     Catty critics?   <Shing>

A former musical hero of mine said “Some people have soul and some just don’t,” so I threw out his CD’s and recycled his posters.  He may as well have said “Some people have A SOUL and some don’t.”  You’re fired, ex-hero, go clean out your workspace.

Today, I work with artists ranging from brand-new novices to advanced professionals.  Regardless of their experience level, I still run into echoes of internalized, critical elitist bullshit, bouncing around their brains:

“That guy doesn’t even belong on the stage.”
“God, she thinks she can sing.”
“He has no business in this business.”
“They are so not-ready-for-prime-time.”
“Just mouth the words, honey, you’re not a real singer.”
“Give it up, you’ll never get anywhere. It’s pathetic.”

Usually the poisonous weed-thought is wearing the face of a middle-school teacher, or a family member, or an ex lover, or a director, or a boss.  Sometimes, the face is the performer’s own, baring the same critical fangs they’ve been biting other people with for way too long.   (I’m guilty there, and someday I’ll write Confessions of a Repentant Mega-Bitch, a 12-volume compendium.)

So I mercilessly hack out this leftover psychic garbage.  Or sometimes I trade my Joan armor for Glinda wings, coaxing baby artists out of the shrubbery, offering a plate of cookies while I sing my commie Snow White songs.


I’m also a professional director, a gatekeeper, a judge and critic.  I hire and fire people; I cast, cut, curate, manage and program.

I see the reviews and survey data, and I see the bottom-line (aka financial) consequences of any off-the-mark choices.  I’ve worked for contests, churches, theatres, concerts, team building and production companies, conferences, festivals, TEDx and other lecture events, so I have to understand and serve the specific aesthetic context, not just follow my own personal taste.

I have to be able to say NO – no, not for this one, not yet, not quite, not now, not any more, not for this context, just…No.

Thank you.

How do I expect my baby woodland critter artists and my noble unicorn-riding warrior performers to deal with all this no?

Just like Joan:   nobly.

One of my projects is running a network of 200+ artists, where we teach adherence to a model I call The Robust Artist.   The human world of shared art and communication is not for scaredy-cats.  It’s not a Julia Cameron paradise where all art is beautiful and everyone gets a turn on the best-seller list.  In the real human world, every attempt at communication includes a danger of failure.

But, we create a virtus around confronting that danger.

When I teach in church contexts, we talk about the “The Christ Moment” – the pinpoint moment when we offer up our thing –  which sometimes feels like being crucified, hanging there, exposed and bleeding.  And we have no idea if we’re getting raised up in 3 days or not.

We do it anyway

Why?  Because that’s what makes it glorious.

Plus:  get real, people, it only FEELS like being on a cross.  Our limbic system is worried that a loss of reputation will get us locked out of the cave.  50,000 years ago that was a literal death sentence, but today, bad art rarely gets you killed.

I tell my people:  we’re not doing brain surgery.  No one dies when we screw it up. 

Bus drivers can’t say that.  But we can.

So I push my students to perform often, risk often, try new things, get shot down, defeated, crucified.  Get booed or panned, and then go share your war stories (and love stories, and ghost stories) with your artist friends, those saints and fellow travelers.  Get drunk and sing songs together about your glorious adventures, your resurrections and ascensions.  Let them inspire you to rashness and more daring.  Quote Shakespeare, kiss barmaids and speak in French.

Je n’ai pas peur, je suis née pour faire cela!”     

I do not fear this – I was born for this!