September 16, 2012


So you want to be an artist ... (Simon Kuper, 9/07/12, Financial Times)

The fantasy of yourself as an artist works best as a fantasy. It provides a pleasing back-story to tell yourself and others. On paper you might be an accountant, but your authentic self is Emily Brontë. That's fine until you try to live the fantasy. I knew a girl who as a child wrote lovely poems. Writing was her vocation. In adulthood, she didn't just talk about writing a novel, she actually wrote one. It even got published. And the critics panned it. She won't ever publish another. Her fantasy is shattered. That fear, almost as much as Connolly's famous "pram in the hall", is what stops most hacks from leaping.

Staying put saves them lots of unhappiness. The hack's life is fairly easy. Your work just has to be good enough. You don't have to put your soul into it and aim for perfection. You know how to do the job, you hand it in and they pay you. I know a film director who made commercials. Occasionally, he talked to film executives about making a movie, but he said he'd only do it if they gave him total creative control. Of course, they never did. So he kept making commercials, got rich, grew old and never found out whether he could make a good movie. He even posed as an artist who refused to sell out to Hollywood. It's a good life. Art is harder.

In any case, it may turn out one day that you weren't a hack at all. Arthur Conan Doyle thought his Sherlock Holmes stories were dreadful hackery. Yearning to devote himself to "better things", he even killed Holmes off at the Reichenbach Falls. Now we know that Holmes was his greatest creation. The stories weren't hack work at all, just as Georges Simenon and Alfred Hitchcock weren't hacks.

In short, if you are a hack thinking you were made for higher things, you are probably wrong. Don't give up the day job. Perhaps your authentic self is the accountant.

Posted by at September 16, 2012 7:16 AM

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