[For the purposes of this article, I will be referring mostly to the theatre industry, but many of these ideas can be applied to visual art, music, and others.]
Being an early career artist of any kind is mentally, emotionally, and (most of all) financially draining. As young artists, we look to our friends and family to be the people most willing to support our work. In the case of theatre, that means spending an hour of your time and less than £10 to see our most recent production. And yet, we can barely even get those closest to us to be an audience member (aside from our ever-devoted parents, but there are usually only about two of them).
Why is this the case?
Allow me to present my theories:
There is an incredibly pervasive idea that artists at the beginning of their career produce almost exclusively intolerable garbage. Popular television shows such as How I Met Your Mother and FRIENDS use this trope several times for comedic effect. There are innumerable instances of a green writer asking someone to read their screenplay, much to that person’s dismay. Within popular culture, young artists of almost every kind are generally presented as someone whose work is to be avoided at all costs.
My second theory involves the societal reaction to theatre and art as a career choice. Any artist will tell you about the family member, friends, or stranger that openly questions their profession. This idea that being an artist is an unwise decision for our future seems to be connected to the fact that people are resistant to come support us, as if they would be encouraging a bad habit by coming to see our show.
In this way, those that seemingly just want a more stable and viable career for us are creating a self-self-fulfilling prophecy in which the artist is expected to be unsuccessful and ultimately is due to lack of support.
Whether either, or both, of my theories are correct to any degree, there is still the undeniable fact that the people often shy away from our work. They go see a super hero film instead of our fringe theatre performances. They buy a mass-produced poster instead of our one-of-a-kind originals. They listen to a sell-out musician in a giant arena instead of our acoustic sets at local bars.
So how do we change this?
We need to change the way we think about artists. Yes, it is difficult to make it in this industry. However, the idea that there isn’t enough room or resources or audiences for us all to “make it” is a fallacy. If your friend invites you to her one-woman play, swallow your preconceived ideas and go to it with an open mind. And if it needs work, be honest with your friend and tell her what did AND didn’t work. Invite others to see her show with you, exposing her work to audience she might now normally reach. Support the artists in your life, thus contributing to the art and culture of the world in an equally important way.
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