Waiting for resources is like Waiting for Godot (thumbs up to you if you got the Samuel Beckett reference). In the creative industry, everyone’s always waiting for resources that seldom arrive – be it in the form of a grant, a sponsorship, a pledge or an investment and you hear a lot of complaining about these resources that are plugged up somewhere in some bank account with some bureaucrat who has no insight into the arts but wears the title of “Minister” or “Manager” or “Leader”, and somehow this has become the excuse for every artist’s problem. The industry this, the industry that.
I used to joke about the “industry” because creatives love to drag the word “industry” into every conversation so that they all can sit around consumed in a pity-party, “Eish bra, no work. This bladdy Industry…” and “I’m done with this Industry!”…”This Industry doesn’t pay my bills!” So when someone does achieve some measure of success, those left behind feel even worse about their lot, grasping desperately at something to call their own – most usually, their pride or their dignity or their excuses for why they didn’t get the big break or the well-paying gig or the bank loan and so on ’til the Rapture.
People who are not in the Industry love this vitriol because it makes you (the creative) look like a loser and, “Shame, it’s a tough gig, should’ve had a fallback plan hey?”
Many creatives seem to have cultivated a dependency on the Industry that reminds me of a narcissistic relationship or Stockholm Syndrome. They’ll take the perceived abuse by the Industry, complain to all and sundry about how their husband is beating their ass but keep running back to him with open arms. And in so-doing, invite ridicule. And I cannot fathom the logic.
I once did an interview with a well known jazz musician who was complaining to me about the Industry and how the government owes him (and other musicians) a better livelihood. My heart went out to him because he was already well on in years, had grand-kids already but cited the government’s cronyism for why he can’t give his grandchild pocket money for school. In as much as this was heartbreaking to me, it was also an eye-sore. Why are we blaming everyone else for our misfortune by not taking ownership of where we’re at? And why are we waiting around for things to change when we should be the ones changing it?
This extract of dialogue from Waiting for Godot reminds me of a typical exchange between two artists about when their grant (or relevant substitute) is coming:
VLADIMIR:Well? What do we do? ESTRAGON:Don’t let’s do anything. It’s safer. VLADIMIR:Let’s wait and see what he says. ESTRAGON:Who? VLADIMIR: Godot. ESTRAGON:Good idea. VLADIMIR:Let’s wait till we know exactly how we stand. ESTRAGON:On the other hand it might be better to strike the iron before it freezes. VLADIMIR:I’m curious to hear what he has to offer. Then we’ll take it or leave it. ESTRAGON:What exactly did we ask him for? VLADIMIR:Were you not there? ESTRAGON:I can’t have been listening. VLADIMIR:Oh . . . Nothing very definite. ESTRAGON:A kind of prayer. VLADIMIR:Precisely. ESTRAGON:A vague supplication. VLADIMIR:Exactly. ESTRAGON:And what did he reply? VLADIMIR:That he’d see. ESTRAGON:That he couldn’t promise anything. VLADIMIR:That he’d have to think it over. ESTRAGON:In the quiet of his home. VLADIMIR:Consult his family. ESTRAGON:His friends. VLADIMIR:His agents. ESTRAGON:His correspondents. VLADIMIR:His books. ESTRAGON:His bank account. VLADIMIR:Before taking a decision. ESTRAGON:It’s the normal thing. VLADIMIR:Is it not?ESTRAGON:I think it is. VLADIMIR:I think so too.Silence. ESTRAGON:(anxious). And we? VLADIMIR:I beg your pardon? ESTRAGON:I said, And we? VLADIMIR:I don’t understand. ESTRAGON:Where do we come in? VLADIMIR:Come in? ESTRAGON:Take your time. VLADIMIR:Come in? On our hands and knees. ESTRAGON:As bad as that? VLADIMIR:Your Worship wishes to assert his prerogatives?ESTRAGON:We’ve no rights any more?Laugh of Vladimir, stifled as before, less the smile. VLADIMIR:You’d make me laugh if it wasn’t prohibited. ESTRAGON:We’ve lost our rights? VLADIMIR:(distinctly). We got rid of them.Silence. They remain motionless, arms dangling, heads sunk, sagging at the knees. ESTRAGON:(feebly). We’re not tied? (Pause.) We’re not.
If you’re familiar with the play, you’ll know that the two characters meander along like this ’til the very end and guess what? Godot doesn’t arrive. I want to posit that even IF Godot arrives in whatever form, the likelihood of the artist championing their own best interests without having first empowered himself (shunning all talk of dependency and unlearning his ‘Ja, Baas’ attitude) is slim to none. And this is why people think the Industry is cutthroat, because the road is littered with the slain corpses of self-martyred individuals who assigned their autonomy to an agent, manager, sponsor or government department. This is not to the say that these groups are without merit and necessary in some cases, but they are extraneous and can easily become scapegoats for your inertia or lack of initiative.
It’s the same with any endeavour that requires some starting input that is perceived as being greater than yourself or coming from the outside of your own capabilities. And for this reason most people will sit around missing their moment ’til they’re old and grey, meandering from missed opportunity to missed opportunity. You hear this kind of talk all the time: I don’t have money, can’t start my business. I don’t have a guitar, can’t learn how to play. I’ll wait ’til I’m ready before I let anyone see my work. I don’t work because my agent passes all the well-paid gigs along to the big guys.
We are willfully giving away our right to live out our life purpose and then having our fruit, and eating it too.