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Diva in Full Swing

Owning Your Process to the Nth Degree

This series explores sustainable artistry by breaking down the starving artist myths and giving mindful support for blazing your own flexible, dependable path. Join the revolution of artists and educators unsatisfied with day-to-day surviving and hell-bent on everyday thriving in that improvisational space called an artful life. Have a topic or question for a future post? Drop me a line @creativelyindie.

child on swing set
“Playground” by Jon Bunting, CC-BY.

Artists often encounter two extreme fears: People will think I’m a fraud. People will think I’m a diva*.

They are polar opposites and connected to the same root: a public accusation of “Who do you think you are?!”

The question is a shaming tool that pops up when an artist puts their foot down for the sake of their art and their sustainability. That’s the diva fear. Or it pops up when an artist doesn’t have the next answer or when failure occurs. That’s the fraud fear.

These fears cause many artists to water down their process and vision, because small doses of self-care and self-doubt are rarely sniffed out by the masses.

But that’s no way to live. And it’s sure as hell no way to make art!

To unravel this fear knot, we need to do a few things. First, observe it for all its pluses and minuses. Second, rebuild from its original base. Third, stand in this conscious truth and observe again.

Free from this fear of judgment, those extremes become a playground swing that arcs with the force of your creative ownership.

Kick to the sky, open up, and become vulnerable. You soar into the air to grab a snapshot perspective only those who put themselves in the swing will ever truly know. Own that you strive for more than is ever possible. Own that your high expectations for yourself and your art allow you to love and long for the clouds you cannot touch. Laugh. Shout. Take that feeling, information, and inspiration with you as you…

Swing backwards, pulling inward towards yourself, processing, and recharging. Own that you don’t know every step of the way to get to those clouds. Own that what you don’t know is vast and humbling. Breathe. Hug yourself, as you lean as far forward as possible and then…

Dive back as hard as you can and kick to the sky!

When you’re truly playing on this swing—whether you’re on your belly flying, standing up, flipping, or launching out at the highest arc—that is when you own your eccentricities.

Ooohhhh, eccentricities! Another nasty label I’m grabbing proudly, because to be eccentric is to “deviate from established or usual pattern or style; deviate from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in odd or whimsical ways” (Merriam-Webster). That needs to be supported and explored!

Curiosity is deviant and whimsical. And curiosity keeps you on the leading-edge.

It’s all connected. The diva needs to expand what’s possible in themselves and the art form. The questioning artist also needs to replenish, retreat, and contemplate the unknown. And your eccentricities, fueled by curiosity, need to playfully improvise the relationship between these two extremes.

It’s a cycle to understand, accept, and honor.

Stating an artistic need within an industry structured on vertical status and scarcity is a bold, bold move.

But the full swing is rarely taken into account by others. That’s why such stunning artists who have worked tirelessly in their art may actively reject such an honorable title. Our current society only focuses on the height of the upswing: the moment showing them flying high, solo, eyes up to the sky (not on us down here), laughing, and getting their moment in the sun.

But that’s only a fraction of the arc. Anyone who puts in the decades of training, focus, passion, and sacrifice knows that. They know it in their bones.

Diva is derived from the Italian for goddess. I have trained and worked with divas (male and female) who are artists striving to connect to something bigger than them, and in order to do that they raised the stakes for themselves and those around them. Clear non-negotiables and rituals were expressed and whether they were understandable or eccentric was not mine to judge. These conscious structures allow them to do the hard, vulnerable, soul-stretching work they alone motivated themselves to do.

Beyond honoring those that are pushing the possibilities within our art form, there’s a deeper need to address the diva/fraud issue. An artist’s fear of being judged in this manner causes them to hesitate voicing basic artistic needs for fear of overstepping. These basic artistic needs are what allow them to fully engage, sustainably, in their art form.

Since we are all different, my basic may be your extravagant. Let’s keep that in perspective. It is not for the industry to judge the need. The artist must voice it, step forward in getting it, and show its relevance through their process and empathy towards other’s basic artistic needs.

This is a simple change, not an easy one.

Stating an artistic need within an industry structured on vertical status and scarcity is a bold, bold move. It requires you to stand solid in the work you’re consciously doing to create a sustainable and generous process, because inevitably someone will say…

Who Do You Think You Are?!”

girl silhouetted at a window
“Silent City” by Sophie Charlotte, CC-BY-NC.

The only way to take that accusation head on is to know.

Your faith and deep understanding of your identity, intention, and impact are the only things that will combat that potential silencer.

That faith and understanding will motivate why and how you:

Knowing is not defending. Knowing is being.

Otherwise, your fear turns an amazing swing into a constricting chair. It’s up to you, not them to take back the language and kick to the sky.

*Important side bar: Calling someone causing drama in rehearsal a diva is a misnomer. Take a look at descriptions of a fragile yet rigid ego that may, in the extreme, motivate narcissism. The difference is crucial in the arts and arts education. To confuse a diva (one using their craft to focus on the art at all costs) with a narcissist (one using their craft to focus on themselves at all costs) is to call the ceiling the floor when teaching architectural design.

Thoughts from the curator

Jess Pilmore explores sustainable artistry by breaking down the starving artist myths and giving mindful support for blazing your own, flexible, dependable path.

Sustainable Artistry by Jess Pillmore


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"A mind, once expanded by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions"

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

This essay (especially the bit about the difference between a diva and a narcissist) definitely expanded my mind! Thank you.

It also made me realize that those in real-life who don't really care about anything (such as a certain "friend" of mine from high school) can assume that someone (such as myself) who does really care about something (such as a play, or even a concept or idea) is a narcissist -- and insult him/her accordingly -- whereas in reality the person is more akin to a diva.

Thank you again.