Hello fine folk of the internet and good people all around. After a week of being gone we have once more returned to the fray. We wanted to gather our thoughts on some of the recurring issues we've been seeing with starting artists in a climate that has become more friendly and yet more polarized at the same time. The internet will be and forever remain a strange place where it can be difficult to navigate your way through meaningless dredge and, I will leave it up to you dear reader, to decide if this blog is part of that. This week we'd like to talk about the catch 22 of getting professional experience and the professional conduct that goes along with it. We'll talk about the importance of taking yourself seriously if you want to do serious work and behaving yourself professionally if you want to be treated like a professional.
Let me start right there, professional conduct. I've had a lot of trouble rearranging the words in such a way as to not offend or state the obvious but I don't think that's possible. Professional conduct and the reputation you build is the cornerstone of your career, it will stretch much further than you might imagine. It's true that for every type of behavior there is a crowd but don't mistake the popularity among a given demographic as indication of a widespread positive image. That is to say, if you go around insulting people you might get a strong following though not everyone you might have to work with at some point in your career share the same opinion. Which leads me to that extremely crucial word which is paramount in understanding what professional conduct means; Opinion. The most common mistake is to mistake opinion for fact, which can be a slippery slope from discussion into rhetoric defenses.
All this is amplified by social media, a place where false stories, 'vigilante journalism' and rhetoric reign supreme. Now when you think this only applies to politics you are mistaken. These forms of behavior can be found in almost any community, from politics to model trains and so too in the art community. This is a problem almost as old as time, especially on the internet but only recently the spotlight was put on it in a big way. We've seen it within the game community in 2014 and we've seen it again during the US presidential election. This blog is not a place for such political debates or analysis for a multitude of reasons, what is important to understand however is that the divisive nature of arguments, the aggressive isolation of a few and the drowning of solid logic with rhetoric is not unique to those platforms and that we cannot and must not brush them off as insignificant when we see them. While we might not have organised movements within the art community there are certain dogma's that keep rearing their heads, ones that have no place in a community or profession where freedom of expression are it's literal foundation and origin, and I cannot stress that word literal enough. Art is a reaction, a voice, a freedom of expression. Whether it has something meaningful to say or not. It's personal and in such there is no right and wrong. Expression is not the ability to adhere to the rules of theory; that's merely a tool you can use to help you with expressing what you want. So, where do we start?
The 'solution' to all of this misinformation is of course to be well informed, but how can you do that if there is so much misinformation out there? The whole situation seems Kafkaesque. A high level of scrutiny and background research is required to form an opinion but that takes a lot of time and energy. Sifting through articles, reading multiple opinions, going back in time to see if there is any historical reference on both the topic and the discussion. Reading and re-reading the arguments or statements posted, making sure you understand what's going on. Should you have to do all that just to get your 2 cents in?
Yes you should. As the saying goes, the buck stops with you. The final responsibility about your own words and actions lies solely with you, even if it's a nonsensical debate. Does it mean you should be a hard lining a*hole who busts everyone's chops every single time? No, of course not. Sometimes you just have to sit out a 'discussion' (as far as they still exist on social media) in favor of something else, like reading up on color theory or painting or drawing. The base principle which I'm talking about is to look more in than out.
One of the mistakes is looking at this from a single comment point of view; assessing the harm of a single comment (which can be devastating). When looking at a single comment it's easy to lose track of the bigger picture and especially in an age where perception can be skewed so easily we don't often ask ourselves the difficult questions; if we show systematic symptoms of a*hole behavior or worse. No one wants to admit they have deep seeded 'discomfort' with certain ethnicties , practices or convictions. More often, as the explanation goes, it comes from an alternate much more altruistic ideology that distances itself from these negative qualities. Yet, we see them everywhere over and over again, seems strange if everyone is truly just.
Again, if you think this only applies to theology rather than color theory I'm sorry to inform you otherwise. See for yourself if this sounds familiar:
Digital painting is cheating because it doesn't utilize the techniques of old.
Photobashing is cheating because it's not purely painting.
Hand painted concept art is stupid because it's too slow.
Character anatomy should be done by heart, not with reference.
Painting over a photo means the image will have no artistic merit.
Using anything other than the brush tool in Photoshop when working digitally is a hack. Don't use any 3D, that defeats the purpose of painting.
The list goes on but you get the point. Where is all this information coming from? The well that sprung the list where we can cross reference our opinions and transmute them into fact. The Philosopher's stone of this generations Fact alchemy (The mythical process of turning opinion into fact) is social media. The more likes a post gets the stronger the transmutation becomes.
In the end all of this serves no other purpose than to be right and for the other to be wrong. This senseless divisive tool gets in the way of something extremely crucial to art. Self expression.
Opinion and Expression
When it comes to self expression there is nothing more important than the complete understanding of the relationship between opinion and fact. Between theory and expression. Which takes precedent, when, why and how. When do you break the rules of perspective? When do you break the rules of color theory? How do you do those things? What is your motivation? The more you understand these theoretical principles the better you can apply or ignore them in your own work and, hopefully it won't drive you straight to the message boards to criticize others for not utilizing them properly. Slowly we're coming full circle to professional conduct. And just to take a shortcut to the conclusion; the more you research theory, and the way it affects your own work and ideas on what you like to make, the less intimidated you become by the opinions of others. You see, it doesn't matter at all what you think to another person. It just doesn't. Same goes for mine - I realize that people aren't waiting to hear my opinion on their work if they don't specifically ask for it. You shouldn't care what I think about your use of color. Good or bad. You do you.
This is where our little world separates itself fundamentally from other practices. We don't have to be divisive, there are no polarizing schools of thought that shake the world. We have the appearance of such existence, do we ever. This is however merely an illusion - our expression is based on opinion. See we aren't governing nations, we govern expression. Art is a reactionary voice. We don't elect anyone, follow one leader, one opinion, we are united in our multitude of opinions and styles all coming from one simple origin; our opinion.
The more you know, the more informed you are, the better the resulting expression will be. To make a pun interjecting all this seriousness, the more you draw from the better you draw. Self expression is something that grows over the years and one of the catalysts for this is the connections you have with others, when ideas cross over. This does imply however that you have to be open to them. You can come across many different opinions, some that you agree with and some that you utterly despise, just don't make the mistake of mistaking your opinion for being better than that of another.
Professionalism and Experience
Now that I've hopefully hammered home the importance of research and forming a well informed opinion to better express yourself it's time to tie it in with professionalism. Professional behavior is more than being polite. It's about being able to listen, absorb, interpret and translate opinions of others with compromise when needed, especially when working in a studio with others. It's a rare skill. Some people assume that if they work in a professional environment they themselves are therefor by proxy professional. This is very far from the truth. It's a skill that takes practice to get good at, it's a skill that you have to be aware of consciously, it's an active skill. You can be working in the industry for a decade as a professional and still not be professional. When trying to get a job it's important to understand that distinction. The company you are applying to might take a look at those 'one off' posts you made and see a behavioral pattern they don't like.
There are 3 factors involved when getting hired:
- Your experience
- Your personality
- Your intelligence (not raw but that applicable to the relevant job)
Hit 2 out of 3 and you have a good chance. You can be a insufferable person if you are fantastic at your job and have a lot of experience and nobody needs to work with you. Concept art and illustration is unfortunately not one of those jobs. However, if you have little experience but are great to work with and you show a lot of potential you are still hitting 2 out of 3. This is why you should look at that Philosopher's stone, or a mirror, to figure out where you stand and how you measure up. This is why you read as much as you can and inform yourself, to keep up with others, to help translate, to understand what the logical course is of any given assignment. It's also why you should constantly work on your people skills and patience and ask yourself, truly, if you are an a*hole.
The phrase comes from a book written in 1953 by Joseph Heller titled 'Catch 22'. It follows a bomber squad in the second world war stationed on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa. The main plot device is the 'Catch 22' airmen requirement. Airmen who were mentally unfit to fly could declare to do so, however, anyone who applied showed a rational concern for their own safety and was therefor sane and required to fly.
Being rejected for a job that requires experience for lack of said experience is a catch 22, a Kafkaesque situation, a illogical loop.
The solution to this problem on paper is very simple; make your own experience. It's the execution that's problematic. The Socratic Paradox; How do you know what you don't know? For, if you had the understanding of how to get the experience required, you would have, most likely, attained it or set out to do so and thus it wouldn't be a problem to begin with.
The easiest answer for this is simply faking it. Hit that 2 out of 3. Be professional, easy to work with and do as much research as you can on whatever it is you need to know. Ask other people in the industry, pick their brain not on what they do but what the requirements are for them to do a successful job. Then set out on your own to do a project where you fake those requirements as best as you can. Art direct yourself if you have to, demonstrate this understanding.
If you don't understand professional behavior you probably won't get very far. If you don't understand proper research and how to ask questions you probably won't get very far. the adage, "just don't be an idiot" comes to mind. Though, we all need help from time to time - thankfully.
In the end it all adds up. The better informed you are, the more you learn to listen and distinguish fact from fiction, and discussion from rhetoric, the more you will grow as a professional. The more professional you are the more likely it is people will want to work with you. The more you work with others the more your work will grow and the cycle moves on.
My journey on this is still ongoing. I learn more and more every time I talk to people about how I can grow, when I'm being an a*hole. It influences my paintings. I come from a concept art background and never gave much pause to people who paint everything by hand since I was simply not fast enough to work that way in the job that I had. The more I tried it and came to realize it's merits the more it began to change my opinion about my own expressive qualities and the more my work began to change as a result. If you let your desire for a certain way of expressing yourself creatively drive your work rather than your desire for work drive your creative expressions you'll discover a new side to yourself. One that might very well lead you to be unemployed since self expression within production art is increasingly rare - yet - despair not. There will always be a place for a well rounded, well mannered, enthusiastic artist.