The Un-official “Artist Myth” Contest

Artists, more so than most occupations or careers, have an entire fleet of myths that dog them everywhere they turn. The problem is that these myths are based on just enough truth to make them feel real and determinant.

You know that stage of childhood when you put both hands over your eyes and were utterly convinced that no one could see you?

Sometimes, this seems to be the same effect our collective myths, about artists, have on the artists themselves.

Cover your eyes with a well-worn saying and no one can see you.

Or, maybe, the cover that one of these persistent myths provides gives you the grace period you need to catch your breath, as in “art: it’s not a real job!”

So you get one of those “real jobs,” and groom your talent at night and on weekends until you, and your art, are strong enough to throw the myth out–suitcase and all.

Myths That Serve Us

A myth is any persistent story we, as a culture, tell ourselves is a universal truth.

Some myths are long winded teachers of morality or spirituality, like “how the world began.”

Others are short sayings we repeat so often that they go unquestioned, accepted as a universal truth, like the infamous “starving artist.”

It seems that myths serve two essential functions in our common human experience:

1. In a single bite, they transmit a timeless truth (saves us time).

2. They unite a group, or groups, around a common understanding (keeps the tribe together).

Myths That Diss Us

Myths also trip us up when their veracity is outdated, or their premise flawed, because anything that saves us time and keeps the tribe together is pretty hard for our lizard brain to scoot up to the frontal lobe for challenge or dismissal.

The problem is that these myths are based on just enough truth to make them feel real and determinant.

And since a myth stakes its claim on us at a subliminal, unconscious level, we only have a ghost of a chance to shake free by paying attention to them.

Two Suggestions

1 – Listen to yourself as you think or speak about being an artist and catch yourself in the act of supporting, or sustaining, a myth. Becoming conscious is your first line of attack.

2 – Listen to others as they speak to you about being an artist and train yourself to speak up and challenge the myths out to silence your vision, while embracing the ones that serve you.

The “Un-offical” Contest

Artists, more so than most occupations or careers, have an entire fleet of myths that dog them everywhere they turn.

Here’s my list (I’ll bore you with the obvious):

  • It’s all about the art.
  • Artists are dreamers who won’t amount to anything.
  • To be a true artist you must be completely original.
  • Making art is not a real job.
  • A real artist doesn’t “sell out,” i.e. become commercial.
  • Artists are too right-brained to be good business people.
  • Artists, by nature, are egotistical.
  • Artists are loners.

How many can you come up with?


Note: This post is a re-worked, blog-friendly excerpt from my upcoming book “10 Zen Habits of Successful Artists.”

If  you’d like to be on the waiting list for first notification when it comes out, click here.

And the prize for my “un-offical” contest is a free eBook version of “10 Zen Habits of Successful Artists” to whomever comes up with the most myths to add to my list.

Of course, being my blog and all, I get to decide if a submitted myth gets credited. I don’t have any guidelines except my own sense of what makes sense, if that makes sense.







17 Responses to “The Un-official “Artist Myth” Contest”

  1. Sari Grove says:

    mmm…I don’t tell people…don’t voice the myths…I feel that if they don’t know I have a better chance of breaking them…the myths…

  2. Ruth Bailey says:

    “You either have talent or you don’t.” This myth completely disregards that many of our skills are teachable and those artists who are good at them have spent a lot of time practicing these skills.

  3. Mircea-Ioan Lupu says:

    As you already said, even if not explicitly, this is about your book, about you selling that book…
    And another myth on your list should be that concerning how everyone is interested in helping the poor artist who is unable to help himself when, in fact, everyone is interested in helping just himself, not other people. Take it as you wanted, do not publish this comment on your blog, if you do not like it, blame my poor English for it, if it serves you, but look yourself in the mirror and have the decency to admit that you are just trying to help yourself, and helping others is just the appearance of what you do, an appearance sustained on the truth which is only that of a colateral effect.

    • First, Mircea-Joan, your English is very good. I’m always impressed when someone communicates in a second language. My parents were linguists and educators (Spanish language was their passion; translating Lorca’s “Blood Wedding” for the first time into English).

      And I understand your concern about the way that serving others can be a cover story for “only” serving ourselves.

      I think the important word here is “only.”

      Because, everything anyone does, at its core, is self-serving. The question is: what is at the heart of serving others?

      You could also say a saint, like Mother Teresa, served others because it made her feel good inside.

      I believe, when you are passionate about helping people, you are always serving yourself and the other simultaneously.

      Yes, I’m very curious to see how artists view myths so I can better write this section of the book. And yes, I’m reaching out to my community to get your input.

      But imagine if I wasn’t doing this? Wouldn’t that actually not just be selfish, but arrogant – that I would imagine I alone knew what to say about the myths that surround artists?

      I would much rather have your input, write a meaningful chapter, and then exchange that meaning for moolah. You win. I win. There is no coercion or hidden agendas.

      There is only me doing my art, part of which is to help you put your vision into the world even more effectively.

      And if I am not paid for this, then what kind of role model would that be for you – wouldn’t that be supporting that,as an artist, you also should not be paid anything because it would appear self-serving?

  4. This seems like a prevalent myth to me. If you are truly talented some one will eventually notice and you’ll become successful (or amount of talent is in direct proportion to amount of success)
    Also artist are strange and different from ‘regular’ people and don’t have the same needs, desires, and motivations

  5. randall says:

    at a party i was told i couldn’t be a very good artist because i was a good athlete. apparently some people think the two are mutually exclusive.

  6. I get told all the time that I don’t look like the kinda of artist that would do the kind of work that I do. This references my sculptural work, which may be a tad creepy.

  7. It’s all talent; It’s a gift we received from some relative; It is not work; Color is intuitive; Artists don’t like to think; Artist’s are temperamental; You have to have experienced real emotional pain to be a good artist; Artists don’t know how to handle money; Artists live in another world; Artists cannot be extroverts; Somehow we create in another time zone == what I mean by this, is that people rarely understand how many hours go into a artmaking. Artists do live with the same 24hrs that other people do; Artists are difficult to live with; There is no sacrifice in being an artist; It is all fun or play; Artists are not a good financial investment; You cannot make a living as an artist; Artists are all liberal politically; Non-artists are not creative; The world can live without artists!

  8. Carol says:

    Yippee! :-) thanks for the holiday gift. I cannot wait to read it!!

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