Here’s the question: Is your “artistic temperament” flaring up?

It’s on my mind because Don Cheadle’s mesmerizing portrayal of the great Miles Davis in the film Miles Ahead got me worked up over the question of what is artistic temperament and how it functions in your life. And I’ve got my doubts about the whole artistic temperament concept.

Miles Ahead Artistic Temperament

Cause or Effect?

Perhaps the whole idea of Artistic Temperament is really about mistaking the effect for a cause. In other words, an artist’s volatility may of course be the natural expression of her or his emotional world, but it is also the product of that artist’s behavior, habits, and choices.

Years spent in practice rooms can leave many of us obsessed and overly aware of our own unhealthy inner dialogue. The emotional sensitivity that is necessary for artistic work can leave many of us feeling vulnerable and abused when it comes to everyday life.

And so we act out. Often hurting ourselves or others.

Beware the fall out

For some, early success mixed with drugs or alcohol, sex, ego, and/or violence, makes for unhappy lives that end far too soon (think Miles Davis, Judy Garland, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, and many other musicians).

But I don’t buy that having a turbulent lifestyle is the price an artist must pay for making great art. It’s too similar to saying that mental illness is the required side dish that comes with genius. Of course there are the Sylvia Plath and Van Gogh examples, but there are also plenty of centered and sane artists, think Peter Paul Reubens and Joan Tower.

Artists Behaving Badly?

Here’s my pet theory: extremely talented and accomplished musicians are at times granted leeway for poor social skills and erratic behavior that is chalked up as “artistic temperament.” When they treat others badly it may be excused or overlooked — if they are “gifted” enough — as though talent is a get out of jail free card.

The problem is the “artistic temperament” excuse doesn’t help the artist or those around him because it doesn’t address the fundamental challenge of how to make your art AND make a life for yourself.

In author David Ebenbach’s piece, “Being an Artist Doesn’t Mean You Get to be a Lousy Person” he describes how in his early years his writing heroes were often villains in their own lives — and how he found this romantic.

As a young man, Ebenbach excused his own at times erratic behavior as due to his “ink blood.” He writes, “It was a nice way to convince myself that (1) I couldn’t help myself, because of some artistic temperament, and (2) really it wasn’t that I was a jerk; I was just a charmingly rebellious artiste who did things his own way.”

Getting over yourself

Ebenbach eventually got past this mindset, and with therapy and medication, became not only a successful author, but a reasonably well-adjusted person with a family, a contributor to society.

The truth is, for many musicians, our art is a refuge from inner (or outer) turmoil. In the studio we can escape the realities of life’s difficulties.

But life’s realities always catch us up:

You can run but you can’t hide

Every creative artist must deal with the art vs. real life conflict: that In order to make your art, you need to have a lifestyle that will support it. Much of what passes for artistic temperament is musicians behaving badly (been there, done that). It’s the acting out in frustration over being distracted from our artistic work by the necessities of real life and the needs of others.

The only way to have both an artistic career and a life that supports it is to find a balance between the competing demands of our artistic yearnings and the rational universe (the basics of paying rent, dealing with others, making a living, and having a life).

Your music or your life

The way we bargain between these two competing sides determines the quality of our day to day lives and our art. How well we sleep at night is a consequence of how well we manage the stress of the competing demands on our time and energy. And this determines our ultimate ability to live with ourselves and with others while continuing to make art.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my coaching work is helping musicians find the sweet spot that helps them manage their artistic goals and live a life that supports these goals.

The first step is to find out what you actually need.

Ask yourself . . .

What is the structure or support you need to create in order to do your best work? Is it . . .
more time
a type of workspace
access to inspirational sources
colleagues and collaborators
specific performances to work towards
accountability: a trusted feedback loop
a solid financial threshold so you’re not panicking about money

Knowing what you are looking to change is the first step.

The second, is to reach out for the help you may need.

To have a conversation about the vision for the life you want to create and how career coaching can help you achieve this, contact me HERE.

Here’s to your better future,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well!

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