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What Sustains You as an Artist?

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What Sustains You as an Artist?

What sustains you?

What keeps you going when you want to stop?

What re-inspires you when you start to question whether or not it’s worth it, or you’d be better off moving back to Montana, or when you feel as if you’re spinning your wheels?

I had a student who had been called in for a prominent network TV show 13 times. 

On his 14th  attempt, he booked.

What sustains us then, to keep going, in the face of rejections? 

I think it all comes back to remembering not only why we do this thing that we feel we must do, but also how to keep ourselves sane and fulfilled amidst the gaps when there is no work.  

Sustainability actually takes work. We live in a world now that talks about how we have to think in terms of sustainability. And we do. But to sustain anything requires a shift in consciousness. From a global perspective, it means to become more mindful of how much we waste, or to limit our consumption of non-renewable resources, or to think about what we need versus what we want. 

At an individual level, as artists, to sustain ourselves is to create with people we love, to stay connected by doing work that matters, and to push ourselves creatively to do things we didn’t think we could do before. 

All of this requires work and also awareness to change. 

A hero of mine, Anne Lamott, in her book “Bird by Bird,” discusses the writer’s process and what it means to really write something—create something—meaningful. I think the same rules apply whether you’re an actor or singer or dancer or musician. You have to lean toward vulnerability and commitment and truth—no matter how daunting. 

That, then, becomes the sustaining act. That’s really the reason we want to be creators—because of that sensation—those Eureka! moments that occur when we’re striving, striving, striving to make something that means something. 

Substitute the word “write” that she uses with the word “act” or “dance” or “sing” and you’ll see that it’s all the same for all artists everywhere. 

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done. If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward the vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being un-liked. Tell the truth as you understand it. It you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

Indeed. 

And also sustainable.  

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts! 

Anthony Meindl is a Los Angeles acting teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Meindl’s full bio!

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