For anyone who’s living a life of creative pursuits, being realistic about our chances of making it to the next level isn’t something that we generally take into account. Like I said in my post about the romance of the ideal a few months ago, most of us tend to live life with our heads in the clouds, and maybe one or two toes scraping the ground for good measure. After talking with a friend about the inevitable umbrella of naiveté that we musicians have to live under, I realized a few things.
There are two kinds of artistic naiveté. One is good, and one is bad.
To be fair, it could be argued that both are bad, but nobody who has devoted their life to pursuing near-impossible goals like musicians and artists is going to lock horns with me on this one. We’ll leave that to the folks who are always wondering when we’ll grow up and get real jobs. Anyway, the good naiveté is that which we use to ignore the odds of turning art into real income. I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager, and I’ve been spending the better part of my last five years working on developing my current band. As much as I believe in the music we’re making, as good a band as I think we are, the simple fact is that the law of averages is against us. For every band that makes a living from their music, there are hundreds that never even came close. Maybe even thousands. And being good is no more a guarantee to your success than being lucky. Being smart about your music career is a must, but that’s a topic for another day.
If I spent enough of my time thinking about the enormous obstacle that’s continually in front of me, I would throw my hands in the air and give up.
Most rational people would, and that’s why some people would look upon what I’m doing with my life and be baffled as to why I could be wasting my time so thoroughly. Luckily for me, I’m surrounded by plenty of supportive people who understand why I do what I do. But even some of them probably think to themselves that while they admire my determination and passion, they’re happier to be in a more secure place, maybe with a house and a family and health insurance and something resembling retirement savings. They may be more practical than me, but they’re not necessarily better informed; I know full well what I’m getting myself into. I just have to retain some level of naiveté in order to keep doing it without becoming hopelessly discouraged.
The other kind of naiveté is worse, and that’s being naive of the present instead of the future.
This kind is for the artists who don’t realize how much work goes into making professional creativity happen. They think they know. They probably think they’re doing it. But they’re not. Not even close. They’re probably doing half of the work, maybe. But because it seems like hard work to them, they think it’s all covered. The thing about music and many other related professions is that if you’re not putting the vast majority of your free time into it, you’re not doing enough. If you’re not sacrificing a huge part of your personal life for the sake of your passion, you’re not doing enough. If you aren’t constantly putting your own sanity, security and tenacity to the test, taking your patience to its most extreme limits and spreading yourself as emotionally thin as you ever have, you’re not doing enough.
And if you’re not doing enough, you won’t make it. Plain and simple. Luck may smile upon you once in a while, but it won’t last unless you’re throwing all of yourself and more into what you do.
But once we realize how much we must work (and when we aren’t letting ourselves feel like we’re entitled to any degree of success), then we artists need to let the naiveté about our chances kick into full gear. Like, stupid full.
I should mention that realism does have its place among creatives; we should all recognize the fact that nothing in this world is permanent, that we cannot hold onto anything forever, and that if we’re spending our time thinking about how great things will be later on instead of fully enjoying the amazing things that happen while we’re toiling for our craft now, all our passion will be for naught. Impermanence is realistic, and that realism teaches us to enjoy this moment while it lasts—that is its place in our lives.
But when it comes to our dreams, aspirations and goals, realism has no place. That’s where unrealistic, artistic naiveté shines.