During my humiliating dance audition this weekend, the issue of humility naturally came to mind. First, I was struck by the humility that the expert dancers where demonstrating so well. I heard no trash talk, no boastfulness. In fact, the better dancers helped the struggling ones while we waited. This was astonishing. Hope for the future in these youngins?
For myself, the temptation was to openly deprecate myself. I was embarrassed. I wanted people to know that I had no illusions about my dancing abilities. I wanted reassurance from the other performers that I wasn’t that bad or that they understood that I wasn’t going for a dancing role.
But this isn’t really humility. It’s a way of shading or manipulating the situation. It’s a way of saving face. A friend of mine was helping with the auditions. I leaned in and whispered, “Geez, you could have warned me about the dance audition!” I immediately saw that this was unprofessional of me. What could she have said or done? What did I hope that she would say? “David, don’t worry about it. Just do your best. Besides, you’re a shoe in!” No, she couldn’t say any of these things, and it was inconsiderate of me to put in her that position. It was at that point that I knew that I just had to keep my mouth shut and concentrate on doing the best I could do.
So what does the humble artist look like? Well, I’ve struggled with this over the years. I’ve been unthinking, arrogant, boastful, praise-whoring, back-stabbing…all of it. But when I think about those artists who are humble, it’s the ones that no matter how much better or worse they are than you at what they do…time for a list.
The Humble Artist:
- Doesn’t seek praise
- Gives respect to all other artists and appreciators (present or not)
- Takes direction and criticism quietly and thoughtfully
- Is gracious with receiving and giving praise and appreciation
- Helps his/her colleagues and accepts help as well
- Encourages and praises his colleagues (present or not)
- Welcomes the possibility of improvement in their art
- And are willing to laugh at themselves and let everyone else laugh at them, too!!!
I’ll be watching for and appreciating these traits in others and hopefully in myself this week, and perhaps adding others to the list. It just makes the work of our arts much more enjoyable. Agree?
Over the years of being an amateur in various disciplines and arenas, I’ve made some mistakes and watched other people make mistakes with what appears to me to be a code of etiquette for amateur artists. I’ve also seen people with impeccable etiquette!
- Never misrepresent your amateur status. It’s sad and bothersome to see an amateur who inflates their accomplishments with the intent of representing themselves as a professional. It’s a form of denial. It makes them look foolish. And it diminishes their art in the eyes of those that know better. It’s the name dropping, the woulda/coulda/shoulda, the constant smoke-screen of bullshit about past, present, and future projects. It’s a self-perpetuation of self-delusion with an intent of getting others to help perpetuate the lie. This has to stop. Besides the fact that it makes us look like fools and diminishes our art, it perpetuates the perception of amateurs as wannabes and hacks. Not all amateurs wanna be professionals. Some amateurs, in fact, have obtained a level of mastery with their art, but have chosen to remain an amateur. Some of my all-time most memorable moments in music, theatre, writing (etc) have been in amateur settings. It is a high form of art that exists only for the sake of love of art. Embrace it in yourself and in others. Art is so subjective. The moment you call yourself a pro or aspiring pro, you’re offering a different set of lenses for people to view your art that may ultimately diminish its value in their eyes. Instead of only judging and enjoying your work on its merits, they will be judging it on whether it is truly worthy of professional status. Don’t do that to yourself unless you are truly ready to aspire to professional status.
- Learn how to accept a compliment. We as artists are constantly striving to improve our art. It’s part of the process. But as soon as you put it out there for the world, it is no longer a process, it is just art, and people will have an opinion about it in it’s present state. If you are fortunate enough to receive a compliment, the only proper response is:”Thank you. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed what I did.” Anything else is insulting to the tastes of the patron. The worst thing you could say is: “Thank you, but….[I wish I would have…or I thought I sucked, etc.]”Also, don’t immediately jump into a diatribe of how wonderful you thought you were, your preparation, your futures plans, etc. If they want to know, they will ask.
- Show respect for professionals and aspiring professionals. You will undoubtedly encounter, perform with, show with, or share with pros or aspiring pros in your art, and if not, you will at least have the opportunity to talk about them. These are people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to their art; for that, they deserve your respect, no matter how you feel about what they do. Don’t bad mouth pros (or anyone in your discipline). And when you work with them, be supportive and respectful. It only diminishes you in the eyes of people around you if you’re disrespectful, not the pro. Common example: “[professional] stinks. Sure, they’ve sold a million, but that’s just cuz people have bad taste.”You’ve not only insulted the pro, you’ve insulted a million potential appreciators of your art.
- Don’t use your amateur status as an excuse for unprofessional behavior. Professionalism is not about being paid, it’s about respect for your colleagues and patrons…and who knows, maybe one day you will decide to aspire. Don’t you want to have a reputation of being a professional in terms of your behavior?
- Never force your art on someone. There is nothing wrong with promotion of your art. After all, how else can you share it with the people who appreciate it? But don’t push it on people. Don’t be that guy who walks in with a printed copy of their latest short story and places it on their buddy’s desk and stands there waiting for them to read it. This is awkward. People will begin to avoid you…trust me, I know! Although you might have a few friends that truly love what you do and want to be advised of your latest masterpiece, most of your friends will not give a flying flip…if they did, they would be asking you for it instead of you having to bring it to them. Advertise broadly, not targeting this person or that (unless they’ve signed up for individual notifications). If it’s sufficiently advertised and it’s any good, the people who want it will reach out and take it.
When you follow basic etiquette with your art, you put yourself in the optimum position for sharing it.