Portrait of An Artist, By A Young Man
I was so close. All of my finals were done, I had two classes to go. The rest of my semester should have been a breeze. But it seldom turns out the way it does in the song.
On the last day of my immersive theatre class, I had to produce a “creative statement.” A coherent, one-page description of the way I describe myself as an artist.
The problem with this is that I tend to describe myself as “an artist.” That’s the end of it. When I meet someone at a cocktail party or send a blog to a bunch of strangers, saying that “I’m studying to be a TV writer” is usually more than sufficient. Sometimes I add a qualifier, but it’s just based on whatever interests me at the moment. “I’m passionate about making multi-camera sitcoms cool again.” “I want to write epic, operatic dramas like Sons of Anarchy.” “I want to be a pioneer who makes Mad Men-level shows for short-form platforms.” These descriptions are purely arbitrary, and are often gone by the next week.
Not to say I’m not serious about this stuff. I just happen to have diverse interests. I quote Deadwood as often as I reference Leave It To Beaver. I’ve written coming-of-age-sitcoms, political satire, sketch comedy, horror, and quite a bit in between. Which is fun, when you’re young and learning, but eventually you have to specialize in something.
More concerning is the fact that I didn’t have a good reason for being a writer, aside from the fact that I enjoy it and can’t imagine doing anything else. Again, that’s a fine personal reason, but if I ever want to start producing work that actually says something, I need a better reason for why I’m doing it.
This assignment was an area where just about everyone else had me beaten. Even if I thought my work was better than that of certain classmates at various points in the semester, their artist statements blew mine out of the water. The whole situation was rather disappointing. I always thought that developing some kind of artistic voice would come with age, but the assignment made me realize that it doesn’t just happen, you have to actively create it yourself.
I expressed this frustration to my professor (a personal favorite of mine), and he gave me some great advice. He said to look through everything I’ve written, and look for patterns. He said that every male writer writes about masculinity in some way (just like every female writer writes about femininity), but everyone does it differently. The same goes for quite a few other large, unavoidable ideas.
The masculinity question was a perfect starting point, because I realized that a lot of my comedy comes from the sheer absence of masculinity. Every (good) comedy I’ve written has featured weak, spineless, delusional men who are completely incapable of getting through a day without lying to themselves. It’s interesting, because I certainly never set out to do that, but I find myself drawn to those characters time and time again. I just didn’t see the pattern until I looked for it.
I repeated this exercise with a few other variables, and while I still find myself skipping around genres, I began to form a coherent portrait of myself as an artist. Heading into my senior year, I’m more focused than ever on creating work in the lanes where I truly excel.
Just when I thought I was done, the most valuable lesson of my art school career probably came on the last day of the semester. Talk about sprinting to the finish line.