*This is for a couple of young artists who asked me about jealousy amongst artists & how to find community in art-making. Maybe for you, too?
So you were sitting there trying to enjoy a performance when all of a sudden something ugly starts to wake up inside you and you find you’re staring at the stage and the performer with less delight than dejection, more jealousy than joy.
You’re feeling insecure about your work. You feel underused…overlooked…uncertain.
If it goes on long enough, you start to get really good at finding fault with those “more successful” creatives. You get critical in an attempt to protect your own sense of worth. But it doesn’t work, because instead of fueling better art in you, it makes you bitter, brittle, dry.
You weren’t meant to be this way, and you don’t WANT to be this way. You WANT to be generous and cheer others on. But you don’t know how.
The first track on my album Feed Your Soul is called “Vanity Vanity”:
When they passed me over like a penny on the sidewalk
I wanted to roll into the gutter
I wanted to listen in case they talked
Oh, little darlin’, you’ve got a problem
Better treat it before it’s too late
Vanity, vanity, how’d you get your hands on me
Goin’ to the doctor who knows my sin
And he’ll show me what I’ve got and take me to the river to get clean
Nobody likes to feel passed over.
You have gifts, you’re pretty sure, but have no earthly idea what to do with all those songs/screenplays/ideas/drawings. Or you’re trying. But your thoughts and motives are confused, and you don’t want to admit it to anyone else, because it’s ugly and everyone else seems above it.
I don’t have answers or a prescription but I’ve been ugly inside, too, and I’ve often felt like a big zero. And when I heard someone say to pray for those you do not feel love for, that it would change things, it sounded a bit pious and quite impossible. But I tried it anyway; I prayed for a fellow artist I didn’t know personally, whose success felt, for whatever (no good) reason, like a threat to my own. Prayed for her to be fruitful and heard and to get better at her work and find more open doors. I don’t know what happened to her through that, but my heart, like the Grinch’s, grew 10x bigger. I found it impossible to ask on her behalf and still resent her.
Doing your thing.
My friend, Aaron Rice, says: “Stay in your lane,” and I think that’s a brilliant way to say it. It doesn’t mean you can’t try new things. But it means we have to stop looking at what others are doing and get to work. I really believe we’re meant to SHINE in unique, inimitable ways. The more I take that advice, the more lovely and useful I am.
Like prayer, giving thanks has the power to protect us from envy. Maybe only Mom & Dad care about my music, so I thank God for them. Give thanks for the coffee shop that opens its platform to the unknown artist. Thanks for the life story that gives way to song or story. For the weakness that makes me dependent. For the older man who tells me how that lyric reached a cobwebbed corner of his heart. I learn to give thanks for my own voice, as unimpressive as it seems to me.
When we moved to North Carolina, I was at a total loss for artistic community, knowing no one and finding few musicians to intersect with. Art-making can be very isolating, even though music should ultimately be collaborative. We spend a lot of time in our own heads, and it’s easy to feel like the only weirdo in your town (or house).
There are more of us out here than we think. We have to watch for kindred spirits and create spaces that will draw us together. A lot of times for me it’s meant volunteering myself and my time to creative efforts, however small they may feel. It’s given me the chance to spend time with others who are at least interested in seeing artful things happen, whether they are artists themselves or not.
Some suggestions? You might…
*Volunteer with an arts camp for youth
*Say “yes” to local opportunities in community & church
*Reach out online via email or websites or forums
*Share your work online and let others find YOU
*Share art with often overlooked communities of people
*Participate in conferences for creatives (International Arts Movement)
*Support touring indie artists who come through town.
*Host a house show, provide a meal and a space for them to rest.
*Join the Nashville Songwriters Association
*Be willing to travel for opportunities to meet/share/work
*Search the web for like-minded artists & reach out.
*Find artists you respect & ask how you can support them.
*Host a meet-up at a local coffee shop for area songwriters & musicians.
At the end of the day, we need each other. We really do. We make each other better.
There’s no room for jealousy or isolationism.
There IS room for all of us at this party. Even me. Even you.
And this last picture? It has nothing to do with this post except to say maybe we also need to take ourselves a little less seriously now and then.