Posts Tagged ‘competence’

Making A Living At Your Art Requires Great Competence

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

If you want to make money from your art and only your art you can follow one of two paths: you can get lucky or you can get good.

I can’t do anything about the luck. That has more to do with winning the genetic lottery and a number of other factors generally not within one’s control. If you are so lucky, congratulations.

For the rest of us, we can express our artistic drives naturally and basically. Bang away at that piano. Draw and fill up pads. Write in stacks of journals or create endless blog pages. Go ahead. Express yourself.

But if you want to get paid, you’ll need to get better.

For almost any form of art there are long traditions of training and expertise. Do not spurn these things. You can only go so far on your own. You’ll need to understand the history, learn the language of criticism, and learn how to take in criticism and figure out what to do with it. You’ll need to learn technique. And you’ll need to devote tens of thousands of hours of practice.

I know musicians who make money because they are students of the art form. They typically supplement their performance earnings by teaching, administering (running arts businesses, managing the band, etc.), and doing other peripheral jobs. Most of the people who I know that make a living in the theater are in education. The painters, sculptors, and illustrators I know also work in marketing, construction, and product design, to name a few paying jobs.

And almost to a person every one who earns money does it because they are highly skilled at their art form. Those who do not have the skills typically do something entirely unrelated or have made choices that place other things at the center of their lives.

My choices were about family and lifestyle. And now I have the time and perspective to be a greater artist and writer. And yes, I still make a living by writing for business. I can do that because I have developed skills that make me valuable.

You might be one of the lucky ones who do something naturally and need no training or experience. I don’t know anyone like that. If you’re not that lucky you’ll need to do what the rest of us do and work at your art.

I May Be Wrong Now, But I Don’t Think So

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Randy Newman is one of my favorite popular songwriters and performers. And a line from one of his songs sticks with me this week as I write about the role of skepticism and science in our personal lives. It’s from his theme song for the TV show “Monk” called “It’s a Jungle Out There.” I’ve used it in the title of this piece. My usage doesn’t refer to the character of Mr. Monk, who is both highly intelligent and competent, but it resonates with my thoughts on doubt.

Doubt is an important tool and an indicator for the intelligent person. While too much doubt can become interlaced with fear and become crippling, a little doubt is a good sign.

If you live your life without doubt, it’s a very bad sign. There’s a cognitive bias that can be boiled down to this: incompetent people think they’re smarter and know more than they do.

It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Even Charles Darwin wrote about it, saying, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

According to Dunning and Kruger, incompetent people:

  1. Overestimate their own skills.
  2. Don’t recognize real skills in others.
  3. Don’t see how incompetent they really are.

But there is hope. With training most of us, although initially incompetent at a skill, can begin to develop a clearer picture of our own capabilities.

Doubt can be a very useful tool for you. If you’re filled with doubt, redouble your training and study. Learn how to rank your own competence and capabilities. And test yourself. If you have no doubt, you’re probably wrong about something, overestimating your own abilities. That’s a sign to stop and check your facts, think about things, and seek more help or training. Then get out there and try, fail, get better.

I’ve experienced this in my own life. When I was young I used to enjoy singing and acting in plays, so much so that I pursued it in college. I thought I was terrific and leading man material. But I found that I was consistently cast in comic or supporting roles where I’d receive high praise. It took me several years of training and development as an actor to realize that I simply wasn’t very good at those leading roles that I thought I deserved. As my skills blossomed I was more able to rank my own talents and those of others. And because of that I became a passable director and a more than capable writer.

You can do this. I have no doubt about that.