Ego, the Artist, and Personal Mission

By James Haro

All people in the arts are snobbish, narcissistic, attention-grubbing…oh, I’ll stop there.

After all, this isn’t something I really believe. Not really-really anyway. I think there is a certain segment of self-satisfied, shit-don’t-stink-ers that are in the arts, but I believe it’s a quality someone brings into the arts and not something that is naturally bred in the arts. Those kinds of people would be that way in whatever capacity they were filling (business, finance, education, etc.) and I don’t think it’s something that defines arts in particular, even though its a popular stigma. But on a more mild and base level, everyonedoes have an ego. Everyone likes when their ego is rubbed and everyone hates when their ego is bruised. Some people bruise more easily then others. Some people need their ego rubbed way too much. Yet ego is a fact of human life, and the fact that you have one becomes pretty damn apparent in the arts. 

I was struck by an episode of “Six Feet Under” that I watched the other day in which Claire, the youngest of the main characters played by Lauren Ambrose, is forced to deal with a fellow art student and ex-boyfriend named Russell. Russell claimed that Claire didn’t give him credit for an idea he felt originated from him. Yet Claire ran with it and found a bit of success with it and Russell was left to confront her about it and subsequently mope about not getting the credit he felt he deserved. It made me think about giving proper credit, what constitutes a stolen idea, and how the artists’ ego comes into play. More than that, it made me speculate a question I’ve wrestled with before: Why does a person even pursue a career in the arts? From a non-profit perspective, which most arts institutions in this country seem to be, the organization’s existence must serve a purpose for the community it is a part of. So when someone decides they want to pursue the arts, whether it be in acting, producing, writing, managing, what have you, is it because they see a need present? Should we assume most artists are looking to serve the needs of the community? Or, is it that there is a more self-serving factor at play?

Take Russell for example. Say Russell as an artist was only interested in having outward, community based goals met. If good art is being made and made accessible to an audience then he should be satisfied that Claire’s work is being presented regardless of whether he received credit or not. He should be happy that he possibly helped put in motion, directly or indirectly, a project that filled a community need. However, Russell’s motives for being an artist appear to be more about receiving acclaim and congratulations and getting proper credit. Of course I’m not saying that wanting the credit you deserve is a bad thing, but it makes me wonder about how much we do things to serve ourselves in the presenting and creating of art as opposed to serving an actual need. I think it’s a tendency we don’t care to admit or examine.

I know I’m certainly not above this at all. I have an ego, I have self-serving goals. I write on a blog, I produce a podcast, I pretend people will possibly care what I have to say. How self-serving is that? However, since it’s something I’m concerned with, I do reflect on my projects and endeavors with the question of what purpose they serve. Taking into account my background in studying the non-profit model, I realize how important the idea of a mission statement is and how it helps identify purpose. Therefore, I try and develop one for every project I take on. I find it helpful to identify whether or not something should be pursued. If the project only has self-serving intentions at its core than why do it? If you can put into words what you are doing, why, and who it’s for then it helps legitimize for yourself and others that your efforts aren’t solely individualistic.

To take that idea further, I want to propose the need for artists to identify and develop their own personal mission statement. I found this while helping a friend of mine develop language for an application she was working on which asked for a typical prompt of something akin to “What is your  an artist?” Taking what I was learning at the time about writing mission statements, I took that sort of approach when going over what exactly the purpose of her existing as an artist was. We actually achieved writing a very lovely two or three sentence mission statement which she goes back to and uses frequently. It helps to remind her of why she does what she’s doing and for what purpose. My concern is the increased production of art for the sake of producing art. There’s no real purpose, only content and a hope for self-advancement or that you will receive some notice or acclaim. I addressed this a while ago in another post which involved my call for the importance of an outward focused mission. Now I am calling for the same application, but for the individual as well as the organization.

And I suppose if I were to write my own mission statement, it would read something like this: “James Daniel Haro is pursuing a career in arts management for the purpose of serving the artists and arts organizations that produce beautiful, biting, uncompromising, and gut punching works of theater. He also strives to find ways to help theater become more accessible for uninitiated audiences.” Could I write a better one? With some time probably. Of course I’m allowed to change my mission if I deem it necessary down the line, but for now I at least have something to reference when I forget what I’m doing and who I’m doing it for. Not only to serve myself, but to serve others as well. Is it self-serving to think my help is worth receiving? Well, that’s a discussion for another time. Besides, I don’t want my ego bruised.

So, I challenge you to write your own personal mission and examine what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it for. Are you like Russell simply looking for acclaim and credit. Are “because I want to” or “because I have to” good enough reasons? Why are you writing that new play? Who are you hanging that piece in your gallery for? What is the purpose of the new arts blog you’ve created? It will help focus your goals and strengthen your case for pursuing a project and ultimately why you chose a career in the arts. If your purpose isn’t readily evident, don’t worry. For now your purpose is merely to find a purpose. Such is life. Good luck!

James Haro is a Los Angeles native currently attending Drexel University in Philadelphia, seeking his BS in Entertainment and Arts Management, Theatre Concentration. He co-operates a blog at AngryPatrons.com and produces/co-hosts the podcasts on ANGRY PATRONS RADIOEpisode #Dos of Rant&Banter is NOW UP! (Click here) OR, subscribe to us on iTunes.

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