3 Lessons for Artists from the Movie La La Land
If you love watching old Hollywood movies with beautiful tap numbers, hilariously over the top group dance routines and other-worldly dream like sequences - La La Land will be right up your alley.
The music, the acting and the story were delightful but what really captured me were the lessons.
The movie follows Mia (an aspiring actress working as a barista on the Hollywood lot) and Sebastian (a struggling jazz pianist desperate to save what he feels is a dying art form) and there are a few gems not-so-hidden in there that artists might like to chew on.
HAVING A SIDE JOB THAT ISN'T YOUR PASSION IS NOT ONLY OKAY BUT IS PRETTY NORMAL
I loved that we got to see the really unglamourous part of starting out as an artist. You're still honing your skills and aren't being taken seriously yet, so you might find yourself earning money doing something less than ideal for a while.
I have had a lot of less-than-impressive jobs along the way. I worked as a waitress, receptionist, supermarket check out chick, library shelf stacker and even did a stint as a children's party fairy.
Having those jobs in order to support yourself as you work on your craft does not mean you're a failure. No matter how long you're doing it for. It simply means you're more committed to your art than you are to having an impressive work title to tell people at dinner parties (no disrepect to those with fancy job titles).
As an aside, if you are at a party and someone asks what you do - please don't tell them you're a barista. Be bold and tell them you're an actor, singer, dancer, poet (or whatever else you are).
We tend to identify with our paid roles more than what we aspire to and it doesn't help with our self confidence surrounding our art. Own it champ.
YOU WILL NEED TO BE WEARING-A-SUIT-OF-ARMOUR-TOO-HEAVY-TO-WALK-IN RESILIENT
All arts industries are competitive and can be a little soul destroying if we're not careful. There's a scene in the movie where Mia gets bad feedback after a performance and decides to throw in the towel because it's all too hard.
For years she's been to audition after audition where people have ignored her, interrupted her and passed over her and she's had enough.
Sebastian's character tells her she's being a baby (maybe not his most tactful moment). But really he's asking her "How badly do you want it?"
You need a very thick skin when you encounter rejection on the regular. Each NO feels like a personal attack, a sign that you're not good enough.
Instead we need to see it as a test.
How hard are you willing to work to get that YES? How much do you love it? How compassionate will you have to be to yourself to get that YES?
The writer Elizabeth Gilbert used to put all her rejection letters on her wall (she ended up with quite the collection) to spur her on even more.
The second you give someone else the ability to make or break you, it's all over. It's not about them, it's about you. Will you keep going no matter what or does it feel like it's too upsetting to continue? Either way, the choice is yours not theirs.
GET CLEAR ON WHAT IT IS YOU WANT
Without spoiling too much of the film, Sebastian takes on a couple of gigs that don't sit well with him. He takes them because "at least he's getting paid to play music", but he's pretty damn unhappy.
He ends up in one of these situations for a long time and gets stuck. He lets his real dream fall away and decides that making money is more important.
Now, these decisions are going to be different person to person. Some people view this as "selling out" and others deem it as "being realistic".
I'm not judging you either way, but I do think it pays to get some clarity around what is most important to you.
If you'd prefer the security, go for that without any guilt. If you'd prefer to earn your keep in another way and create the art that feels most authentic to you, do that. But don't make these decisions without really thinking about why you're making art in the first place.
Do you find the whole resilience and dealing with criticism part tricky? Yep, me too.
If so, you might like to nab my 5 day email course with snippets from my book The Moderately Tortured Artist to help you move forward and give yourself permission to make epic, wholehearted music.
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