As most of you know, I have been an artist as long as I can remember. I’ve been drawing, painting, and highly engaged in art since kindergarten. I have always danced to my own tune, had a different idea on how things should happen, hear things differently from others, and have seen things differently from others. I always dressed differently, and had no filter on my mouth. When I was young, if teachers didn't understand my way of learning, they labeled me as a problem child, or dunce, giving me terrible grades and presenting me as a clown or daydreamer to the rest of the class. But teachers who did get who I was and the special way I learned often would be able to find ways for me to excel. I wouldn't just excel but I would get the best grades in the class.
Now I do not think every artist has a start to life this way, but I do think it takes a certain kind of person to be able to create something that inspires others to see things differently. Most artists I believe at some point deal with resistance or flack for taking a different path that what is socially accepted. This could be choosing to make a creative talent into a career, where one might get shit from their families that they should perhaps choose a more stable occupation. It could also be because they don't do things the way others do them in standards of appropriateness within their society or culture. Personally, people think the way I dress now is “cool” (so I've been told), but when I was younger I always dressed “strange”. I wore my dad’s 70’s clothes in high school, while everyone else wore Gap, Polo, and Banana Republic. In Junior year I cut my hair short and bleached it, and was immediately labeled a lesbian (like that was a bad thing). I liked to go to spoken word performances, art gallery openings, and kick ass concerts while a lot of my peers liked to go on spring break, get shit faced, have sex, and play sports. Don't get me wrong, I love playing sports (Varsity Volleyball 3 years in a row!), but I hated watching them, and just overall did not enjoy doing what people my age seemed too. I also had a mouth on me. Being an adolescent with ADHD often had me saying what I think before really thinking about what I was saying or to whom. It often got me into trouble with teachers, my parents, and even my peers. I went to a Catholic high school and often got into debates with my religion teacher about doctrine and blind agreements we made with religious law that made no sense to me, or I called out my peers for being jerks and making up their own socials rules that made no sense. The funny thing is I wasn't the most “abnormal” person in school either. There have been many strange and eccentric types throughout the years that I didn't even understand...people I both admired and who made me uncomfortable.
Why do I point out all of this? Because sometimes as artists we don't fit into the rules society created. Instead we often wonder where do we fit in when it comes to integrating with our families, our community, our job market? Furthermore, how do we know if we are being true to ourselves, what is appropriate, what is proper etiquette, what is “professionalism”? If an artist does in fact get to be as eccentric and out there beyond the boundaries of social norm, but still need to function in a way of business that keeps them working well with the majority...how does that work?
I say this because not only because of my past, but because I live in NYC and quite a lot of artists and eccentric personalities live and work here. In fashion week I am surrounded by all sorts of amazing, talented, yet unique people. Here it is quite common to have the eccentric be successful. But I've also noticed people - even in my own artistic tribe - who I consider to be borderline unprofessional. I see it backstage, on set, on social media, on blogs, posts on Facebook, Periscope...everywhere. As much as I am 100% with the notion “don't follow the man”, and “do you”, there is a line where doing you becomes being inconsiderate and plainly just being an asshole.
So what's the difference and how can you still maintain being you, as eccentric and different as your God given right to be, but still be amazingly successful and great to work with? It's one simple word: Integrity.
So what does that mean? Integrity is having a situation be workable for all. Quite plainly, Integrity is being whole and complete. It’s having your actions match what you say you will do, what others you work with expect you to do, what you stand for, and overall doing the right thing to do. Now where most get all twisted is the part where you do what others “expect” you to do, when their expectations don't match who you are. Well here is the addendum to that: if you are being in integrity to yourself, you have the freedom to agree or not agree to someone's prior known expectations. If their agenda does not match yours, your personality, or your brand, you can choose NOT to work with them. For example, if working for a company as freelancer or consultant requires you to come to meetings, work related events or appear on film or tv in a suit or uniform, or their branded t-shirt, and that is not your style, nor is it your brand or personality...that is fine. But you can choose to not work with them or make a negotiation prior that works for you. When I had just graduated college, I taught art in public school in Westchester. I wasn't given a dress code, but I knew if I worked there I had to dress business casual, and edit my language so it was bureaucratically appropriate for the environment of adolescents. Not my style for sure, however I definitely pushed the boundary to the limit where finally I decided to quit. I realized this particular appointment didn't fit who I was and rather than make them accept the way I wanted to be, I moved to another career where I knew I could be more myself.
As an artist who works with others, be it clients/companies/brands/whatever, people want to work with you for who you are and what you can give them. But in order to make the relationship workable, one needs a to specify what is expected of them and agree or not agree to comply. Some of the basics usually are unspoken but in the normal world expected just the same: show up on time, do the best job you possibly can do, communicate any possible problems or issues before skipping over them, check in with any changes that might need to occur, finish on time, layout all expected rates or finances prior to commencement of job, don't take advantage of someone's time or talent. Just be respectful and don't assume someone will be ok if you do not do what you say or what they expect you to do. Don't assume others have to put up with your eccentric nature because that's just who you are. If you agreed to give them something then you are expected to give your best version of it in the time you agreed to give it. If you cannot or don't want to because it feels wrong to you, then renegotiate to terms that feel good or don't do it!
Most who hire me know my gifts and talents in not only delivering exceptional artistry in a timely fashion but also the ability to articulate information that is not only easy to understand, but relatable, and down to earth. Most know I curse here and there, but not in a way that is derogatory or defamatory. That being said, I also know that when on a professional video or around children to refrain from any language that could widely be considered offensive. Both myself and the client are in an understanding of each other's brand and are in agreement to allow certain things to be in consideration of each other. Because of this agreement (which sometimes is unspoken), people enjoy working with me. I am able to hear what a brand wants and needs but still let my artistic voice come through without compromising integrity for them or for myself.
Other scenarios from minor to extreme could be being asked to cover your tattoos, wear less jewelry that you like to, talk highly about a product that you do not think is good quality, wear clothing or accessories that is not you, work with a brand that has methods that go against what you stand for (testing on animals, exploitative child labor, cheating customers), work with a brand that mistreats workers, work with a brand that talks badly about other brands publicly, asks you to do things that go beyond the scope of what you know or are willing to do for the agreed compensation…Pretty much in all these scenarios an artist could be considered as “selling out”. However if what you are being asked to do works with your beliefs and standards in a way you feel good about, and you can agree without any damage to who you are at heart, then go for it. Only you will know.
I have straight up seen talent (actors, musicians, elite personalities) show up to gigs hours late, be boisterous and inappropriate or rude and dismissive, and say and do whatever they want because “it's them”, and the companies they work with will agree to it simply because they are a big name or talented. But let's be honest...do people want to work with them? And do we not hear it trickle down through the industry how awful an experience it is to work with them?
So BE YOU. Live your life as your stand. Let your ARTIST VOICE be heard. By all means, do not sell out. But if you need to exist in harmony with family or work, consider the communication and agreements it will take to do that. Be in integrity with others AND with yourself…and just remember…Never be sorry for who you are, but remember in the end that what will bring bliss to your life and others may take some work. But if you are an artist, you can create it anyway you want...right?