Work is Good
The delightful and talented Val Trullinger sends this link to an article on design and intellectual property rights. Must read for all arts employees and those freelancers faced with the thorny problem of contracts which forbid our showing work to other clients.
The explanation for these policies varied by discipline and firm size. Architects I spoke with explained that their policies are purely a matter of liability; the concern being that an employee who maintains their own intellectual property may expose the firm to a potential lawsuit. Industrial designers are more concerned with ensuring that a client is delivered the full and exclusive array of intellectual property that the firm is commissioned to design. Graphic designers further utilize the agreed upon scope of work in delineating ownership of intellectual property.
The client has the right to know that you won’t run around and sell design concepts they paid for to third parties.
As a freelance illustrator, I’ve had several clients who refuse to allow me to sell original art unless they have first refusal on it. Then I wait forever to hear back from them. Also, some clients refuse to allow any work to be shown in my portfolio, even though the work is published. I do not understand this position. The online portfolio limitation makes sense, but clients should consider allowing creators to have a password locked portfolio they can provide to clients. Of my recent book contracts, four of nine were contacts made because clients reviewed my work online. Web Goddess Diana McQueen is hard at work on my new portfolio website, by the way.
Over at Black Mermaid, hypnotherapist/writer Julie Ditrich has another interesting article on the psychology of creativity, “Understanding Your Defense Mechanisms”. She’d posted this some time ago, and I forgot to link. But after reading another interesting series of essays this week, it struck a chord in me that I wanted to share with you.
Defense mechanisms serve a protective function for the psyche. They distort uncomfortable realities into acceptable ones by blocking conscious awareness from experiencing painful thoughts, feelings or desires. Some defense mechanisms such as “affiliation”, “self-observation” and “self-assertion” are considered to be healthy functioning aspects of human behaviour. Others such as “denial”, “passive-aggression” or “repression”, however, if used to excess to avoid confronting unpalatable situations or realisations, can keep you from expressing your true thoughts and feelings.
A friend directed me to some early 1990’s essays by a mutual acquaintance. They advised the aspiring creator to completely block out the world, to live in their dreams, to put their work first above all things at all times, and to sacrifice everything external for the internal. I’m paraphrasing, but I am not misrepresenting.
Work is life and life is work. Without a life outside the art, there is nothing to make the art.
Without a healthy dose of objective reality, you have no idea whether or not the work you are doing has any meaning to anyone but you. If you are doing the work entirely for yourself and your own enjoyment, that is fine. But if you expect other people to read it and buy it, you have a problem. If you do not have enough of a connection with the world outside your head, you may create something which has great meaning to you, but which means absolutely nothing to anyone else. All well and good if you are living in mom’s basement, not so good if you expect to make a living on what you create.
You have the absolute right to create whatever you want. You have the absolute right to make up your own language and talk to yourself.
You don’t have the absolute right to be successful at selling it.
After reading this ex-acquaintance’s essays, and comparing them to Julie’s advice, it was clear that my ex-acquaintance’s advice was about protecting himself from the outside world. From criticism, from rejection, from failure.
The only protection from these things is to never publish your work or to allow it to be seen by anyone. If you keep your work to yourself, you need never face the ire of the internet, the scorn of editors, the reality that there are not enough people in a world of 5 billion to send you enough money every month so you can pursue your dreams full time.
Not being able to pursue your dreams for a living is not failure. It means you are just like almost everyone else. Few people are privileged to live in the protective bubble that’s in their head, and make a lot of money letting other people watch you do it.
Being an artist is not rare. Being a good artist is rare. Being a commercially successful artist is extremely rare.
If you don’t have a well-rounded life, it’s unlikely that your work will be of much interest to others. If you want people to bring value into your life, you have to bring value into theirs.
When art is less about communication and more about self-protection, it’s unlikely to be good art. And it is less likely to be of interest to others. And the bottom line to commercial success as a creator is your work must be of interest to others. That doesn’t mean it has to be good art. That means it has to be appealing to others.
Which doesn’t have to be an either/or equation.
Art is communication. If you expect people to be interested in what you have to say, and if the only person you care to communicate with is the person in your head, then don’t be surprised when few want to listen to you talk to yourself. Or, sadder still, when few want to watch you live in your bubble.