What is a meritocracy, anyway? Politically, it’s a system of government where the people select their ruler based on ability alone. In theory, the most well-qualified individual earns the right to rule. In regards to art and performance, a meritocracy would exist in a situation where the person with the most experience or formal education lands the job. This rarely, if ever, happens in the real world. Artistic success is a volatile concoction of many disparate attributes, and unfortunately, there is no cut and dry recipe for success. However, performers can benefit from considering the following attributes that get most people hired. If you are looking to improve your rates of artistic success, try stretching yourself towards these categories.
Education Isn't Only a Degree
In most cases, professional degrees from college will not help you get hired in the arts or performance fields. A mistake that many artists with degrees make is that they expect that the field “owes” them for their time invested in higher learning. Once more, art is not a meritocracy. Try to think of formal degrees as important, valuable tools that help you build the career you want. You may not be able to build a bed with only a screwdriver, but you certainly won't be able to build one without it.
Education is extremely important. It helps you hone your craft and it gives you the confidence to pursue your goals. Be aware that earning more degrees will not guarantee you a job or lasting success. What you learn from being a working artist or performer outside of school is just as valuable as what you learn behind the desk. Try to accept most opportunities that come your way without burning the candle at both ends. You never know what you’ll learn and who you’ll meet! The most successful people in the arts are those who show up and start conversations with their peers. An excellent book, written by one of my own college professors, is The Savvy Musician. I highly recommend it for all musicians and most performers of other disciplines!
This is the ugly truth: looks matter in the arts, probably more than you expect. Especially with performance and auditions, people care what you look like and are eager to criticize your features. If you are hoping to become the next pop idol, you will need to exercise and watch what you eat. Artists who will be in the public eye need to develop a consistent sense of fashion and style. Most importantly, you must remain confident of your body and the way that you carry yourself. It is unfortunate, but conventionally “good-looking” people will get hired over someone who isn’t as well-dressed or confident but who is more skilled. This reality is uncomfortable, but it is here to stay for the conceivable future.
Your brand is what makes you identifiable. This should be something that helps you stand out in a crowd and links you to your art. For example, Adele’s albums and artwork are almost always done in greyscale. This scheme, as well as her dress, harkens back to an older and more intimate time of performance. This coincides with her music as many of her songs sound as though she has an “old soul” and are about tough personal topics. Focus on ways to link your personality and image to your work. Having a solid brand will help you get noticed which will, in turn, help you get hired. Ask a trusted friend or family member what makes you unique if you are stuck for ideas.
Right Place, Right Time
As previously mentioned, the most successful artists have the biggest web of connections and acquaintances. Train yourself to be personable and easy to work with. Knowing lots of peers will increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time. You want to be the person that your peers think of when they are in a pinch. Be friendly, kind, and good at what you do. Being in the right place at the right time isn’t about luck at all. It just boils down to consistent and quality work as a dependable artist. Think of the arts as a meritocracy of people skills – if you train yourself to become a people person, you will cultivate more connections that lead to success.
Who Do You Know?
Similar to the previous topic, successful artists challenge themselves to meet the movers and shakers in their field. If you are the most skilled or outgoing person in a room, you are in the wrong room. Push the boundaries with your art and you will attract people who are doing the same. Successful artists always have one eye open and focused on ways to leap into new opportunities. Be sure to cultivate your professional relationships and rarely, if ever, burn bridges. The artistic field is very small and word travels fast. If you accidentally upset a colleague, you may be barred from other opportunities with someone else. Stay in touch with your acquaintances and be quick to offer help (without overextending yourself!) when someone needs it. Your kindness will return to you.
Social Media Is Your Friend
Regardless of your opinions of social media, it isn’t going anywhere. Successful artists have a wide network and prominent online presence. Social media is also a great tool for virtually attending events, starting collaborations, and meeting new people. Sharing and reposting topics from artists with higher online pull than you will also help you become noticed. Learn how to maximize your usage of social media and you will increase your chances of artistic success.
Finding consistent success in the arts is like catching lightning in a bottle. It isn’t often possible, but considering the above tips will increase your chances of getting hired and being noticed. Remember that art is not a meritocracy and that your skills and experience will not guarantee success. A successful artist is one who is adaptable, versatile, outgoing, and kind. Stay tuned for our next blog post, or read about loads of other informative topics here!