Look familiar? For all you artists & creative souls out there, we’ve all experienced the oftentimes fraught relationship between Art, Creative Labor and Value. Not to mention, the ways in which our diverse cultural identities, lived experiences & family backgrounds impact our relationships to money.
As a creative person, coach & queer, I’ve had to discover/develop tools for healing my own fraught relationship to the ‘all-mighty buck’ - and to my sense of my own value. It’s a challenging and ongoing process - healing these fractures involves facing limiting concepts around money and self-worth, as well as heightening awareness of the larger systems that set us up to thrive or fail.
Systemic barriers are real and impact our lives (each in different ways, of course), but we need not accept the system as it is or our lives as they are. I do believe that we have individual and collective power to change and to make change.
Speaking of our power, did you know that you’re already a philanthropist? Artists sustain one another and one another’s work all the time! We’ve been patrons of the arts since the beginning! While our patronage may be somewhat by necessity and not by choice, communities most impacted by systemic inequalities also wield the greatest strategies! How can we use our creative resiliency to empower ourselves and one another, rather than continue to participate in and perpetuate our exploitation as artists?
I want artists to thrive - and I want them to have the resources they need to do so. Our work has value and makes valuable contributions to culture at large. As part of our sur-thrival, I want artists to make money!!! With more money in the hands of artists — LGBTQ+ artists, Black artists and other historically disenfranchised creative communities — think about the resources we could circulate to help one another not just survive, but thrive! This is not the whole enchilada, but its a powerful place to root out inequalities and shake up the system!
So, how do we shake up our relationships to Art and $$$?
As a starting point - take a quiet moment to ask yourself these questions: What beliefs around money were instilled in you growing up? What old beliefs around money no longer serve you? What new beliefs do you want to embrace? Talk about this stuff with a trusted friend, another artist, a chosen or biological family member - its good to combat money shame by sharing experiences, tools and insights.
Now for the Art part: What value do you offer through your art - your talents, expertise, time? What resources & strategies do you already have that you can claim as a source of power? In an ideal scenario, what would you like to receive for your skills and contributions in return? What will you do with these resources once you have them? Use your imagination to picture this scenario and feel the subtle energy shift as you do. As artists, we often develop a healthy relationship to mistake and failure, but what about our relationship to success and to receiving all the bounties that our creative lives may bring our way? What does success look like to you?
From this place - what’s one strategy you already have or want to develop in the near future to help you claim the full value of your creative contributions?
"DO YOU WANT TO BE RIGHT OR IN RELATIONSHIP?"
Chances are you've seen this quote bandied about in self-improvement circles, usually in the context of dating or marriage – one partner wants to be right and defends their point of view, the pair gets caught in a power struggle, unspoken expectations lead to feelings of unmet needs, an argument flairs, and the other partner is left on the attack, feeling defensive / powerless or even worse, gaslit.
This idea of “being in relationship” also resonates in the context of creativity and collaboration, particularly in this cultural moment as we consider the uneven power dynamics and privileges at play within our creative spaces, workplaces, institutions -- and, inside the larger social and cultural systems within which we work, create and live.
What might it mean to build a creative or collaborative process or, to work towards any individual or shared goal while trying to stay in relationship?
The truth is, we already ARE in relationship, but what kind?
What if being in right relationship and taking care of our relationships were our #1 priority - taking precedence over being right and even, for a moment, gasp, over a project's goal or outcome?
How might "being in relationship" change how we show up, how we problem solve, how we respond to harm or conflict (either done to or inflicted by us), and how might this approach begin to shift other aspects of our creative, collaborative and even, collective processes?
In bringing this lens to my creative collaborations, I find that being in and staying in relationship calls for slowing down, for a commitment to creating transparency and a process built on genuine participation, for ensuring access to the process across a full spectrum of needs, for establishing a set of shared (and not assumed) values & agreements for our work, for staying vulnerable (not just once but again and again), for making sustained efforts to reduce harm, to acknowledge and be held accountable to harm done and to ensure that relationships that have been broken, receive the necessary care of repair. And, all this happens before the art-making begins, or rather, as part of the art-making, and certainly before the final product or "show" goes on.
My artistic origins are in the theater, so this maxim that “the show must go on” is in my DNA. The idea that "no matter what happens the show must go on", is often upheld as a testament to the discipline, tenacious spirit and unwavering commitment of the theater artist, but it also speaks to our sacrifice, our ongoing exploitation and let’s be honest, the de-humanizing dangers of capitalism over our individual and collective well-being.
It seems to me that this maxim exists in direct anti-thesis to the relationship-centered model of collaboration that I (and many other artists before me and to the left and right of me who work within anti-oppressive frameworks) have been uplifting.
No matter what creative or collaborative field you call home, I’m wondering –
Who and what are you in relationship to or with in your work, and how conscious are you inside those relationships?
If you were to fully embrace this idea of “being in relationship”, essentially taking care of peoples’ well-being before product, valuing the means as much as the ends, looking for right (and by right I mean, not perfect, but conscious) relationship in all aspects of your process from start to finish, how might this ethos transform not what you are collaborating on -- but what you are collaborating towards?
What else are you in relationship to as you collaborate and create you art? What ideas, histories, institutions, systems, structures, processes might you unwittingly or consciously be in cahoots with?
What does your Art of Being In Relationship look like?
As a white, able-bodied person with unearned privilege, and also as a queer artist, a parent, daughter, partner, citizen, and human animal living in a complex and tender ecosystem – I approach being in relationship as an ongoing life and creative practice. Many days this practice is a big fat flop and my perfectionism, fear of not getting it right, or my need to create a polished outcome, diverts my attention to the end goal thereby sacrificing relationality. Other days, I make progress - engaging in a process of conscious co-creation with collaborators that calls for deeper self and social awareness, and that enables the collaborators to render an artistic outcome that respects the difficult, awkward and tender negotiations of getting into right relationship as part of the work.
In any given moment, we, artists, can ask ourselves: Who and what am I in relationship to right now and how conscious am I in those relationships? If I find myself needing to be "right", what becomes possible when I shift my attention and intention to getting into right relationship -- to people and to the world around me?
Image by Sister Corita Kent
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Familiar with this Chinese proverb?
While a few of you may be energized by the possibility of taking off on a thousand mile journey towards a distant, yet-unknown future destination, chances are, many of you feel daunted by the prospect. Wow, a thousand miles? I was about to strap on my knapsack and lace up my sensible walking shoes, but I’m already feeling worn out, and a little discouraged.
Or, maybe, like me, you feel both ways at once? Ready, eager and yearning to step into something new and challenging, and also fearful. Is this journey gonna be hard? But I want to grow! Is it gonna lead anywhere satisfying and rewarding? But I value surprise and risk! Am I gonna make the same mistakes/choices as I have before and end up more-or-less back where I started? But messing up is part of learning. Is this a loop trail cause I want to be on the mountaintop?!
For the non-starters in the group, the pre-conditions for your journey may need to feel just right before you can begin. You need the perfect starting point, plenty of free time, all the right gear, snacks, good weather, and you just need to finish just this ooooone other thing before we set off.
Others of you may have no problem taking that first, or even second or third step, but maybe you get lost, distracted, lose hope or direction along the way? Maybe you like to have multiple thousand step journeys going on at once like open tabs on a computer screen? For the non-finishers, you may set off with gusto and then get sucked into self-doubts, blocks or battles with your inner critic along the way.
Whether you’re challenged by starting or completing a creative project, or a bit of both - there’s a certain degree of perfectionism in play that can stymie progress, no matter where we are along the way.
An offering: Whether you‘re currently trying to start or complete something right now, can you embrace an attitude of ready enough, or finished enough?
I had a dance teacher who would end each of her classes by saying, “we’ll stop here for now” – which to me, suggested that our work was not complete, but part of a continuum. Her comments conveyed that we’d return next week to pick up where we left off or we’d meet ourselves wherever we’d find ourselves then.
The same logic applies to starting a project, try this out: “I’m gonna start here for now”.
If we can develop a softer relationship to our perfectionism, our need to “get it right”, our pressure for polish – all rigid standards that much of mainstream society normalizes and perpetuates (and that have roots in white supremacy culture, btw) – then perhaps we can begin to make space for other values and norms to come forward: the values of vulnerability, authenticity, experimentation, exploration and growth.
These values 👆are the playground (and the creative ground) of the artist and anyone earnestly attempting to take on something new and challenging.
How can you apply the idea of “ready enough”, “finished enough”, “we’ll start here for now” and “we’ll end here for now” in your life and/or creative pursuits? How can you hold true to the values of vulnerability, authenticity, experimentation, exploration or growth as you begin or move on from a project?
What old beliefs or norms might you need to shed to embrace these new mindsets?
What might be possible if you were ready or finished enough and could start or stop here for now?
When we take a moment to pause and listen in, to breathe and connect to our bodies, many of us carry the expectation that this should be a pleasurable experience! But, our bodies - the elegant organisms and gaseous meat sacks that they are - do the challenging, 24-7 job of carrying out biological functions, logging a lifetime of experiences, and holding all our F-E-E-L-I-N-G-S, some pleasurable and some painful.
For many of us - particularly people from disenfranchised communities who may experience harm, both quotidian and systemic (myself included) - getting into our bodies can bring discomfort, even trauma, and so naturally, we don’t want to go to there! Or, for others - I’m thinking of cis-gendered, white people (myself included), when we get present in our bodies, we may have to look at and feel feelings around our respective privileges that may be ugly and hard to sit with.
It follows, then, that we may sense a potential risk, and even danger, in getting present in our bodies. It also follows that getting present and into our bodies means something different and may require something different depending on who we are and where we're situated.
And, what are the risks and dangers in NOT being present? In NOT connecting to and naming our feelings? What are the costs? Where is the potential harm there, and to whom? Again, these answers may be different for each of us, depending on who & where we are.
Lucky for us, we are not our feelings. As the poet Rumi wrote, feelings are the unexpected visitors to our guest house. Our feelings are only one part of our rich inner life - along with biological functions, firing synapses, physical sensations, energetic fields. Just as the biological function of a tummy rumbling signals hunger, our feelings often signal an unmet need. So, anxiety may signal an unmet need for safety and longing or loneliness may foretell an unmet need for connection, and so on...
If we can relax the fear or judgment we hold around our feelings for a moment, just to simply watch and remain curious about them - aka see who has come to visit - what might we discover?
Take a moment in private to pause today. Breathe. Imagine you have the safety and support you need around you right now to feel all the feels. Watch each emotion surface and wash over you like a tide. What feelings are most present for you right now?
Sadness? Anticipation? Anxiety? Rage? Fear? Numbness? Disappointment? Excitement? All of the above?
See if you can choose one feeling to really sit with and explore - without judgement. What's it feel like? Look like? Where does it live in you? Does it change as you sit with and explore it? What's the feeling underneath that feeling? And, the feeling underneath that one? Stay a little longer than is comfortable, if you can.
If this feeling was just a visitor to your house, what might it be here to teach or share with you? What unmet need is this feeling signaling to you?
How might you begin to meet that need for yourself right now and/or who might you call upon to support you in getting that need met? What are all the ways in which that need could be met, big or small? What wisdom does this houseguest have to impart before moving along to its next destination?
Like many queer youth, I wanted to be a Boy Scout, but alas was not able to join their ranks.
I have since adapted their practice of Life-craft in service to coaching: in training the heart, head and hands, young scouts build inner tools as much as their critical thinking and survival know-how.
In much the same way that a scout might learn to whittle a piece of wood or make cover in the wilderness, we can learn to develop our inner resources - adaptability, creativity, empathy, compassion, wisdom, stamina, resilience - readying our hearts to meet life's challenges and crafting our lives with care and intention.
As we hone these skills in the present, new possibilities emerge for our future.
What tools do you call on, particularly in moments of challenge? If you were to sharpen one tool that is already working for you, what would it be? And, if you were to add one tool, what tool might help you begin to whittle the future you're hoping for?