IDEAL: How the world “should” be. Let’s ignore the differences of opinion about what “ideal” means to different people and let’s just simplify by saying an “ideal” world is one which is fair. People are judged by their merit in personality and in the work they do. There is no such thing as privilege, or unfair advantages, or prejudice and bias (either conscious or unconscious). Chance and luck and coincidence are nonexistent.
REAL: How the world actually is. Sometimes people are good and sometimes people are bad. But even good people have unconscious prejudices and biases. Because of unavoidable privileges no one starts on an even playing field. Chance and luck and circumstance affect everyone differently, and randomly. Even under the best of circumstances, nothing can be 100% fair to everyone.
Still with me? Seems simple enough, right? We all know that the world can be an unfair place. However, how we operate between the two extremes of Ideal and Real has an undeniable affect on how easily we move through the world. To be successful, you must make choices that place you on the spectrum between insisting on the Ideal and coming to terms with the Real. It is a personal choice for each and every one of us, and it affects everything you do.
—Finding Work: As an Art Director, the number one question I get is “How Do I Contact Art Directors?” That’s a valid question, and the answer is, you find the AD for the company you want to work for, you email them or send them mailers, and eventually they give you work. Unfortunately that’s not the answer most people want to hear. They want to know how to find those Art Directors. I say use the internet. Do some research. Go to conventions. Use social media for research. That’s not good enough. People want a list of contact info for every AD in the biz handed to them on a silver platter. Well, in an ideal world, that would be available. (Honestly, it kind of is, on twitter.) But in the real world, ADs are a bit harder to find. Although it’s certainly not the conspiracy many artists make it out to be, the fact is, we’re busy and we think we are easy enough to find already, and if an artist isn’t dedicated enough to doing a little legwork to find us, well then, maybe they’re not trying hard enough, because plenty of artists find us just fine. But time and again (it’s certainly the most popular tag on DearAD) artists complain that there’s no list of ADs’ info being spoonfed to them. That it’s not fair that it’s so hard to find ADs. They seem to think that being an artist entitles them to this information automatically. And honestly, it’s kind of insulting to the ADs out there who are doing so much to make themselves accessible to artists at cons and on the internet (and writing this column). So the artists who are so hung up on how they feel that it should be easier to find ADs miss the very real opportunities to find those ADs in reality.
—Sexism: This is a very loaded topic, and I’m going to wade into the mine field for a second. Let’s just take it as a given that sexism exists in our culture, and soft (unconscious) sexism is hard as hell to prove, or fight. So in a world where women are told to act more like men to be taken seriously, what is fair? There’s a part of me that says being nitpicky about things like vocal fry are over-policing women, that “equality” doesn’t mean we have to be more like men to succeed. Yet, I know that working to eliminate upspeak and over-apologizing in my language really does have real results in how people of all genders in the workplace respond to me. Ideally I will continue to fight the unfair criticisms of women…but in reality I know I will be more successful getting my ideas in the workplace taken seriously if I package my language in a more forceful male style, and I have learned to do so.
—Awards: This is a huge topic lately that keeps coming up again and again and as a frequent juror of things, I can’t help but roll my eyes when people cry “not fair” on juries. Awards and annuals and show juries are not always perfect. But they are the best method we have to highlight and award the best work in the field, and honestly, they do a very good job. Yes, there are outliers who are pushing the envelope so far or are so outside the average that they do not get properly recognized by juries and awards immediately, but in the main, juries are the fairest method we have for finding the best work in a given field. I will continue to be on juries and fight for skill and quality over style and personal preference in rewarding artists and Ideally that will never leave a worthy piece of work out. In Reality I know sometimes this method leaves out some worthwhile work, but I will continue to support awards and contests and annuals—not only for the good they do in celebrating our peers, but also the good they do in exposure outside the SFF art world.
I do not understand artists who do not get into an annual on their first try and then complain and refuse to enter ever again. You have to participate to change trends, you can’t just take your toys and go home. If you refuse to enter these contests and annuals, then you can’t complain when art like yours is not recognized and rewarded.
These are just a few examples, but I think you can see what I mean. Don’t let an insistence on the world having to be fair keep you from being successful in the world as it is in reality right now.
Personally, I choose to fight to bring about my ideal world while I make concessions to operate in the reality of how the world really is. Some people might be appalled at the concessions I have made either personally or professionally to how the world is, and that’s their right. I choose my clothing and makeup for the effect it will have on others, especially in the workplace. I continue to dye my hair because it makes me feel good to choose that about myself, but also because it’s really helpful to be visually branded and easily identifiable as a geek and an artist. I try to alter things about my speech and bearing to boost my confidence and counterbalance soft sexism. I use psychological tricks to be taken more seriously by people in business I need to get approval from in meetings. But I also have a strong internal moral system that I adhere to and there are a lot of things I will not budge on.
Some people choose to stick much more closely to fighting for and insisting upon their ideal, and other people will choose to go with the flow much more than I have, bending their morals to work with the system as it is. This is for each of us personally to decide. That’s what makes up our personal morals. Morals are important, and they should be made consciously, and for you alone, not because someone told you to believe a thing. They can also adapt and change. If a moral you feel is important is holding you back, that is your right and your choice. Choose it or change it. And then don’t complain that other people are making other choices, or that the world isn’t fair. It’s not ever going to be perfectly fair.
Go ahead, bitch about it to the friends and family you can safely bitch to: Life Isn’t Fair. Then pick yourself up and get on with it.
But this is the most important thing…even while you are making accommodations, you should be trying your best to make the world more fair. While I operate in the “real” world, I am also actively trying to change it for the better. Through education, through volunteering my time to artists, and through writing this column, I try to make our corner of the art world a better place. I challenge you to do the same.