Saturday, August 3, 2013

What does "Success" mean? Let me think about that...

What does it mean to be successful?

This question has been on my mind of late.  It’s the basis for a documentary I’m participating in titled “Making It” about the struggles and successes in the arts industry.  How does one make it as an artist?  What does it mean to be successful?

Consider what it must feel like to be in Heaven.  You’ve been waiting for it your whole life.  You’ve worked hard, did all the right things.  It feels good.  Like freedom, like peace.  Then you realize that there are billions of people who didn’t make it.  You know some of these people.  You’re related to some of these people.  Some of these people also worked very hard.  But you made it to Heaven.  How happy can one be?  How does success feel?

Perhaps personal success in this way is a bit myopic.  I find it increasingly difficult to just make art and feel good about myself when there are so many unemployed, underemployed, impoverished people slipping through the cracks.  Most of us, it seems, associate success with our jobs.  Our placement and ranking within the industry.

The more I learn about technologies like automation, the exponential growth of computing power, and our rapid increase in productivity the more I realize that jobs are becoming more and more obsolete.  It seems apparent that at some point the bond between income and employment will break.  It’s cheaper, safer, and more efficient to use software algorithms and robotics.  It’s just a matter of time.  What will we base our success on then?  College is mostly about preparing people to find jobs.  Not necessarily about learning for learning’s sake.  Will people attend college and take on huge debt if jobs are becoming automated out of existence and the remaining jobs become more and more scarce? 

These technologies will probably not affect artists and other creatives nearly as much as people in other fields.  Yet, even now I can ask myself how many artists do I know with BFA’s and MFA’s?  And how many of them are making a living off of what they studied in school?  I would submit I personally know quite a good deal that are successful and at the top of their game.  But not nearly as many as the people struggling to get a foot in the door.  Some of which are quite good.  A college education is no guarantee.  Hard work and mastery is no guarantee.  Networking is no guarantee.  Amazing fellatio... well, you do what you gotta do.  But still not a guarantee.  Even if you do make it I don’t think most nonartists realize how many hours a week it takes to be successful and to run your own business.

At the end of my life do I want to look back and say “I did it.  I spent most of my life working my ass off.”  Admittedly, part of me would be proud to say so.  My mom came to America from Vietnam with a ridiculous work ethic.  It rubbed off on me.  And the other part of me would be exhausted and burned out and probably suffering from numerous affects of chronic stress(worth looking into see Robert Sapolsky and his amazing beard).  With such technical capacity for the extremely high productivity levels that we possess today does it make sense that even now work and jobs remain our society’s main goal?  Do we really need even more jobs?  Is that success?  Perhaps what we need is a revolution in social thinking.

Consider some of these quotes from some people who may know a little about this topic.