Almost all artists are forced to write about themselves. Most on a constant basis in the forms of grants, bio’s and social media and mostly about their own shows. While this is just a fact of independent producing and artistic life it seems more and more the core of a lot of problems in the industry. One might decry that a lack of audiences. declining government funding and an increasingly competitive market to be the major problems but I disagree.
I can’t remember who said it but there is a quote that goes, “Your show begins the first moment you talk about your show”. While this is maybe a stretch, it is true that talking about your show is still the primary way to get people to become interested or to come and see it. This leads to grant and foundation application, online campaigns and press releases about the work. I have found in my experience of 20 years that it is almost impossible to be objective about ones own work. From describing my own work or in speaking to others about theirs there is tendency to either oversell and hype a work or undersell and be too modest about the same work. Of course artists should speak to their own work, this is essential but when it comes to giant grants and speaking with international presenters or Artistic Directors this seems almost cruel. To not only handle the pressure of trying to keep a show alive but also to attempt to sell that same show at the same time. It is difficult enough just to make a work but then to have to defend its exsistence in the world to strangers seems an unfair fact of life.
So aside from adding another complaint to the pile, what is to be done? My first suggestion would be to equally share grant and foundation writing with each other. While some artists are doing this already, it feels it should be more encouraged by senior artists and teachers as healthy practice. Get as many eyes and ears on a proposal to make sure it is as clear, has specific goals and shares the passion of the project. Looking back at some of my proposals in the past, I got caught up in a defensive stance where I am arguing for my project but not describing it. Often an outside eye or ear can help ask essential questions that not only help an application but can even open new possibilities.
Think we are at a time where we can do better then, “Well that’s just the way it is” and quietly complaining to ourselves and those around us. I think by working more collaboratively from the very beginning we can get way more from ourselves, our projects and our audiences.