Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Follow-Up - How Not to Be a Cheesy Artist

Yesterday in the Confessional I wrote:

I confess I get concerned when I see creative people focusing on what I think are the wrong things or doing cheesy stuff that makes them feel more like a used-car salesman than an artist. My biggest fear is that someone will see me this way or I will unintentionally become this and not someone who is trying to live her life as a artist, but as someone who has lost her way from art, literature, and creative pursuits and into a world of beer hats with straws or Precious Moments collectibles.

I confess I hope if I ever end up this way, I will know it and not have to find out by finding myself dressed in a whimsical scarf and poet-pin in the Walmart portrait studio or showing up to a writing event with a self-made nametag marked "Important Author."

January left me a note asking what I thought were the "wrong things" that I saw creative people doing that concerned me.

It's a good question, so let me begin first by saying, this isn't about you personally. I'll be honest, none of the bloggers I read or my poet friends do the things that concern. I have one sort-of-friend, who doesn't read this blog who kind of falls into this category, but s/he isn't a poet, or completely a poet. Anyway, I didn't want any of you to read this and get a complex, these are just things that concern me and more for me than you.

Things to Watch Out for if You're a Creative Person - or - How Not to be the Cheesy Artist--

1) The Cheesy Author Photo.

****I write this first with a little hesitation because you will see my profile pic is a little too close to the cheesy photo for my taste. I am wearing the NW Woman's Uniform of the natural scarf, it would only be worse if I had my hand under my chin as if I'm pondering something. It's a little cliche, but I needed a profile pic for my Artist Trust grant and this was the best my husband, my $100 digital camera and my goofy self could do at the time.

2) The Poetry Book in the Pocket

****I don't want to meet someone and see their book poking from their shirt pocket. Everything about a person should not be there to focus the attention on them as a poet/writer. For example, if you show up to a place or event where you are not giving a reading wearing a badge that says "Author" and your name, you have crossed into a very egocentric and self-involved place.

3) The Artist Look

****If you are too focused in looking like an artist/poet, but you are not creating anything, I'll feel a little concerned if we meet.

Sometimes this leads into #4 if you're not careful.

4) Jack of All Trades, Master of None --
While I think it's always great to stretch yourself as an artist, I get concerned when I see creative people doing a thousand different things, but none of them really well.

I think sometimes this happens in the beginning when you're trying to figure to what you're interested in. Say you've lived a life as an accountant and yet had always felt pulled to live a more creative existence, so you jump into things. This is think is a healthy, natural method for changing your life. But I worry about the artists who are ten-fifteen years into their creative life and seem to just spinning their wheels in all departments. They aren't really creating anything and while they seem to be doing a lot but not really accomplishing much.

And I don't mean "accomplishing" as in being published. I mean "not accomplishing" as in "not creating." If you are 10-15 years into your art and still haven't had your first book, but you are writing and practicing your craft and finding satisfaction in the creation, that's wonderful and I admire people who live this life through art. You are living authentically as an artist. That I love.

If you are trying new forms or genres, that's wonderful. Explore. Expand. Create. It's the folks who call themselves a writer or artist who aren't creating, I take issue with. And maybe because this is one of my biggest fears for myself.

For me, when I became an editor for Crab Creek Review, I was afraid I was going to lose my writing life. I didn't want to become someone to talks about writing, teaches writing, edits writing, but doesn't write. I do consulting during the year, but only work with a small number of poets because I don't want that to be my only focus. So far that has not happened, but the idea of it haunts me.

I told myself if I ever lose my own writing, I will resign from being an editor. I never want to become the person who is doing everything around writing, but not writing. I know some of the things we dislike most in others are the things we dislike most in ourselves, so this red flag blows in my mind and I constantly try to rebalance myself if I feel my writing life is fading. I want to make sure I'm not losing my writing in the mix of life and its temptations.

Please throw me an intervention if I ever become this person.



  1. Oh, but I love your author photo! It's one of the best I've seen. Which one would you think it's better than that?

    I think I am OK with the stereotypes. I like to know what to expect from an author, I guess. If they were too different, they'd scare me away, I think.

    Also, hi, I am for the first time here ( I think I came from Karen's blog) and I am enjoying it. Thanks.

  2. Lori, thank you! And thanks for your note.

    I think I'm afraid of being a stereotype, or a caricature of myself. It is nice to kind of know what you're getting from others, but I just don't want to be the living cliche. ;-)

    I appreciate your taking the time to comment. Hope to hear more from you.


  3. Too funny. What a great list. Don't think you have anything to worry about.

    The thought of being someone who talks about writing but does not write keeps us all in check, I think.

  4. Years back there was a poet here who would show up at open mike readings and would introduce herself as "a mystic poet."

    I was at a reading once where a man had his poems in a hardback notebook and had several multi-colored book spine ribbons to mark the place of the poems he was going to read, and he bellowed them out in a "theatrical" stentorian bellow.

    Another poet I heard once read lightweight fluff poems, in a misty effervescent voice that sounded like he was going to fizz away in a cloud of champagne bubbles.

    These would go on my list...

  5. hi January,
    I agree with making sure we're writing more than we are talking!

    Lyle, your post cracked me up. I love the "mystic poet" and the poet who was "going to fizz away in a cloud of champagne bubbles."

    The visual of your poets was perfect!

  6. Great list and Lyle's additions are quite funny :)

    In this day and age you can also add - people who only update their twitter and facbeook for what they are selling...

  7. Jessie--

    I completely agree with the updates that are only shameless self promotion. Very annoying (and cheesy!)

    Thanks for all your recent comments! I've enjoyed them. I haven't been able to respond much because I was camping and only had my iTouch which requires small fingers to type and post accurately. ;-)


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