2 Your Artistry and Values
Defining Who Are You
In this chapter, you learn how to…
- Articulate who you are as an artist.
- Explain the purpose of a mission statement.
- Compose a mission statement.
- Relate your artistic identity and values to the surrounding community, including audience, grantors, collaborators, and others.
This will be the most personal and perhaps challenging chapter in this book. In the following pages, you will explore what drives you to create as an artist and articulate the work that comprises your artistic creation and why it is important to you and the rest of the world. You will also examine the parts of your life outside of your creative work that are important to you. By the end of this process, you will be able to develop language that brings these driving forces together to create your .
This work is difficult and requires self-reflection. It can be uncomfortable and, like all challenges in our work as artists, deeply rewarding (especially when you put in the time and effort).
You might be asking:
“Why do I need a mission statement? I’ve got real work to do.”
Here’s the thing. Your mission as an artist is what you’re trying to give to the world—a way of moving, hearing, seeing, and collaborating. Without clarity about this mission in your work, you cannot tap into your most authentic self. That understanding of what drives you helps sustain your artistic life and career over the long haul. It will help you determine what projects, collaborations, and partnerships you say “yes” to, and which opportunities are a “no,” because you’ll have the tools to evaluate what aligns with your mission and what does not.
When you have clarity in your mission, an emerges that connects you directly to the projects you develop, communities you build, and partnerships you create.
Curious? Excellent. Let’s begin.
Artists in Action
“The more that you feel like people are getting on board with your mission and your project goals, the more you feel empowered to think more creatively, more innovatively, and collaborate with more people.”
– Jessica Satava
“You learn to go for the grants that have values that align with your values. It’s never a situation where you’re trying to come up with a project to match a grant that you’ve found, but much more the opposite. You say this is what I’m doing. I’m going to keep doing this kind of regardless of what’s going to happen.”
– Brad Balliett
Your Artistry and Your Values
If you’re reading this text, congratulations! You’ve taken a brave next step in thinking about your life, how your work fits into a multifaceted artistic container, and how to keep creating.
Let’s reframe the stereotype of what life as an artist looks like. Contrary to popular belief, you can develop a creative life that is productive, sustainable, and balanced, where you’re not overextended, overwhelmed, and overburdened. You can have time to live, time to create, time to earn, and time to dream. Don’t underestimate the need to dream big as an artist.
This all sounds great, right? Sign me up for the well-balanced, creative, and engaging life of an artist.
But how do we get there? How do we take that first step towards crafting this kind of world? There is some work to do. You need to unearth who you are and what you value both as an artist and as a person. You need to identify your .
The first step in this process is to consider the words we use to convey our work as artists to our community. Let’s compare two responses to the common question, “What do you do?”
Q: “What do you do?”
A: “I’m a guitarist that is focused on contemporary solo and chamber works for the guitar.”
Q: “What do you do?”
A: “I work with guitars to explore the intersection of what’s been done and what could be possible for those six strings. I think about how technology has changed the way we listen and work with composers to create new sounds for the instrument, new ways of playing it, and experiences that are worth showing up for.”
The first version provides the facts, but it fails to consider the listener’s perspective and certainly doesn’t invite them to engage. To turn the narrative around, the second version gives us a look into the artist’s creative process while also skipping all the technical terminology (Simonet, 2014). It connects with values someone who is not a guitarist can identify with and gives them an opening to learn more.
Artists with a clear understanding of their values, or what is most important to them, are able to more intentionally create lives and artistic work that align with those values (Beeching, 2010). They also tend to be the most satisfied with their careers and comfortable in their own skin.
By understanding your own values, you can find intersections with others and build on those connections to draw people in. This allows you to create an artistic life, career, and community around the values that are central to you and your work. When you’re authentic and clear in those values, they emerge in how you show up in the world, including the following:
- The words you choose to use when you communicate
- How you dress and present yourself
- The artistic projects and collaborations you develop
- Your presence online
- How you treat others in society
This approach provides a scaffolding for individuals to shape a life that supports their needs. Your life as an artist balances many aspects, and your career is just one of these elements. Understanding your values helps you integrate art and creativity across your life and career holistically and stay in tune with what drives you. This means that no two artistic lives or careers will look the same. An artistic career requires being courageous in your efforts to articulate both your personal values and your mission.
- “I didn’t realize how important financial stability is to me. How does this change things for me?”
- “I’m interested in so many different things. Am I supposed to pick only one?”
- “Am I less of an artist if I do other things besides (insert artistic practice) for money?”
- “I’m not sure how to be authentic to myself and at the same time, sell myself and my work to an audience. How do I avoid compromising my personal and artistic values?”
Regardless of what you discover, it’s important to understand that as you connect with your mission, your community of partners, collaborators, and colleagues will grow. This alignment that you develop between yourself, your values, and your work as an artist serves two purposes:
- A compass to guide you towards artistic and personal endeavors
- A magnet to attract the partners that are right for you
Take a moment to reflect on your own mission and how you currently connect with the community around you.
- How are you currently sharing your story with others?
- What strategies might improve or expand the ways you express your narrative?
Artists in Action
“If it comes from you, if it really comes from who you are as a person, there is no one like you. I think automatically that becomes compelling.”
– Lara Pelliginelli
“To this day, honestly it’s challenging for me when people say, ‘what do you do?’ It’s actually really difficult for me to answer and feel good about my response. But I feel like going through that process was helpful in terms of me sort of being able to describe to myself what it is that I do.”
– Wendel Patrick
Crafting a Mission Statement
As an artist, you’re ultimately interested in attracting audiences, big or small, to participate in the artistic endeavors that you create. These can be in-person, online, or via social media. Through all of these mediums, having a clear mission and narrative of your work will help you reach more people. More importantly, it will help the right people, your people, find you (Highstein, 1997).
This all ties back to that concept of mission and being mission driven. In this section you will move through a series of exercises designed to help tease out the building blocks of who you are as an artist. You will also examine how to assimilate these parts and articulate a mission statement that reflects who you are as an artist.
Much like your creative work, your mission statement is a tool that continues to evolve. You and your work are both in progress. Adjustments and growth are inevitable and necessary. Developing a practice of putting your values and mission into words will help guide you, not for days, but for decades.
To make understanding your mission easier, start by defining your identity or branding as an artist.
Artists in Action
“You don’t want to let the grants drive the mission and the direction of the organization, because you can get off on that tangent really quickly. So, you have to be careful. There’s a line between following the money and keeping true to yourself and to your mission.”
– Andrew Kipe
Identity or Branding
The public identity that you project as an artist both on and off stage is important. It’s how the world connects you to your work. The impression that you give to colleagues in rehearsal, at the studio, or in day-to-day communication reflects on you as a professional and as an artist.
You’ll often hear this referred to in terms of branding. If this doesn’t resonate with you, try reframing branding as how you communicate your identity with others. That starts with having a clear understanding of your values, which will be an important aspect of your artistic mission. Notice how this circles back to where we started?
Identity or branding involves articulating your truest self to others. It’s about being open and willing to share who you are as an artist with the audience. Audience refers to those who engage with your work and those you interact with on a day-to-day basis.
You might be thinking:
“Couldn’t I just hire someone to handle my marketing and social media presence?”
Yes, you could. However, you will always need to communicate who you are to anyone working for you and to personally represent yourself. They can’t do that part for you (Beeching, 2010). Before you offload your life and livelihood into the hands of a stranger, keep this in mind: no one is going to tell the story of you and your work more authentically and more thoughtfully than you.
Most importantly, what you share must be relevant. That requires identifying the intersection between what you want to say and what other people are interested in. Find the sweet spot where your ideas are curious enough to pique others’ interest. This all comes down to understanding who you are and choosing language intentionally when communicating about your work.
Writing Your Mission Statement
Let’s get started with your mission statement.
Before you begin this process, please take a moment to set yourself up for success:
- Schedule 30–45 minutes in a quiet place where you can think and reflect.
- Turn off your electronic devices. (Airplane mode is your friend.)
- Bring a favorite beverage.
- Repeat steps 1 through 3 as necessary.
Your mission involves first identifying your core values, and then communicating them to the public. To craft an authentic mission statement, you must answer three questions (Simonet, 2014):
- So what?
Let’s start with “what.” You’d be surprised how many artists and artist statements don’t clarify what it is they actually do. Examples of your work and talking about those examples are incredibly helpful to an audience member.
- What is an example of your work?
- In what contexts do you do that work?
“I play trombone, and since I love to collaborate with other musicians, I often perform in orchestras and small chamber ensembles. I’m also involved in music education outreach programs to teach underprivileged kids.”
We want to know.
- Why is your work important to you as a person? As an artist?
- What is your passionate connection to the work?
- Why do you get up day after day and do your craft?
“I love bringing inspiration and meaning to community audiences through music. When my creative work is attached to a social justice theme or broader project, I feel much more relevant and connected to the world.”
This is probably the hardest one to answer, but it’s almost always the most important question. If you can find that answer, that reason, you will start to generate (a lot of) momentum in creating your mission statement.
- Why does it matter beyond your interest?
- Why might other people connect to it?
- Why does it matter to the world?
“By getting involved with projects that bring music into the community, I can inspire others to stay connected to the world, too. Teaching trombone to underprivileged kids allows me to bring the joy and power of music as self-expression into their lives at an early age, and as a female brass player, I can set a positive example and representation for the young musicians I’m working with.”
Once you’ve reflected on these three questions, the next step is to combine your ideas into a coherent paragraph (or two). Think about the ways all the ideas connect for you and your work. One way to approach this is by asking a final question: “How?” How does what you do tie into your why; and most importantly, how does your specific artistic work enable you to make the impact you articulate in your so what?
Remember, your mission statement will continue to evolve with you—nothing is permanent! Focus on your mission statement as a reflection of who you are as an artist at this moment in time.
Artists in Action
“It makes me really picky about my projects and about the grant proposals I put my time into, because I know that if I pick the right thing, I have a high chance at success. I have the luxury of saying okay, I really want to do this one thing. Now I’m going to put all my efforts into setting myself up for this one thing. I can really focus on my projects in that way. I found that to be a successful strategy for me personally.”
– Christina Manceor
“You can’t bend yourself in knots to try to get to money. If the opportunity doesn’t speak to what you’re doing and what your values are and what you’re trying to accomplish, then it’s not a good fit for you. Then you kill yourself trying to meet the parameters of that grant or develop new program that you either don’t have interest in or can’t sustain.”
– Jeannie Howe
Aligning With Your Mission
Let’s discuss staying aligned with your mission while developing your career.
Over the course of your working life, you will be presented with a multitude of opportunities to consider. When making big decisions, it can be helpful to possess a tool that allows you to determine if something is aligned with your values. Your mission statement can serve as that device.
We live in a world with limitless opportunities but limited funding. As a result, many artists shift from a mission-centered approach to a more career-focused model (Simonet, 2014). It’s easy to understand why—the status of opportunities, potential access to financial resources, and social recognition can be alluring.
Still, remember that the structure you are working to support, the foundation of who you are at your core, is what drives you to create. When the priorities shift and creative work is informed solely by career drivers, you will find yourself off course and out of alignment. While those career motivations might fill your pockets with cash, they may not feed your soul. At the same time, by using your mission statement as a tool to stay aligned with your personal and artistic values, you can set yourself up to pay the bills (and then some!) through the creative work that is most meaningful to you.
As Andrew Simonet puts so elegantly in his book Making Your Life as an Artist, “Your career is not your work; your career supports your work.”
Exercise 2-1. Artist Example
Artist and educator Wendel Patrick wears a variety of hats in his creative, personal, and professional lives. By representing himself on social media with consistency and authenticity, he has amassed a substantial following on Instagram (as well as other platforms). Check his work out at @wendelpatrickofficialmusic.
- Find several examples of artists in your field with public profiles you admire.
- How does each artist convey consistency and authenticity?
Exercise 2-2. Know Your Audience
While your core values and identity remain relatively constant, the way you share who you are and frame your narrative may change depending on who you are speaking to. Your audience probably includes groups of people in different demographics or contexts. For example, a teaching artist might frame their work differently when inviting colleagues to an in-person concert through social media versus sending emails to parents to recruit elementary school students to their virtual teaching studio. Consider these questions:
- What different audiences do you interact with?
- How might the way you communicate about your work change depending on the audience?
Exercise 2-3. Resource
Download Andrew Simonet’s book Making Your Life as an Artist from Artists U. It is fabulous and free. For some incredible examples of artist mission statements, check out pages 126–129.
Exercise 2-4. What, Why, So What?
In this activity, you construct elements of your artistic mission by reflecting on Simonet’s questions: “What,” “Why,” and “So what.” Your responses to these questions will help add depth and specificity to your mission.
- List ten words that describe your work, identity, and/or brand.
- In Simonet’s book, he calls this a “Tiny Haiku.”
- Nouns and verbs are especially good. Adjectives are okay, as long as it isn’t all adjectives.
- Freewrite for 5–10 minutes on what brings you meaning in your creative work.
- This could be now, in the past, or hopes for the future. Consider ideas such as: what inspired you to be an artist, your early and current artistic influences, what projects or audience experiences have been most impactful for you, etc.
- To , keep your fingers (or pen) moving; no need for editing, grammar, or complete sentences, just write.
- Answer the questions: What, Why, So what?
Now that you’ve reflected on past artistic projects as well as future aspirations, answer the three questions, “What,” “Why,” and “So what?” about your own work. Focus on content rather than writing style. It’s okay to use bullet points.
- What? What art form(s) do you practice?
- Why? Why are you motivated to create and/or share art?
- So what? How can you use the art you create to make a difference for yourself or others?
- Evaluate your alignment between current artistry and identity.
After reflecting on your responses to the “What,” “Why,” and “So what” questions, consider the following prompts:
- How does your current artistic work align (or not align) with your identity and values?
- Where are the points of intersection?
- What feels out of place?
- Identifying your mission provides a framework to help you determine what projects, collaborations, and partnerships align with your values.
- Your mission can extend beyond your artistic work.
- Your mission may change and grow over time—as your work as an artist continues to evolve, so will your mission.
- Your career is not your work; your career supports your work.
- Creating alignment between your mission, personal values, and artistic practice brings your most authentic self to the forefront and provides the opportunity for audiences to connect with you and your work.
Below are excerpts from artist interviews conducted by Zane Forshee. Full artist bios and interviews are available in About the Artists. This section includes the following artists and topics:
- Adam Rosenblatt on his First Experience with Grants
- Andrew Kipe on Why Goals Are Critical
Adam Rosenblatt on His First Experience with Grants
How did you start using grants for your artwork?
ZF: How did you get into thinking about using grants for your artwork? How did that even fall into like something in your purview?
AR: I think for me it was just hearing about all of the colleagues and students that had come before me and that I saw, you know, as a student. Working in school, I was starting to have some ideas of projects I wanted to do, or things I wanted to try when I left school. And there’s always those students just upstream of you that you see doing the same thing that you will eventually do kind of getting into the professional world doing their own projects. You start to become aware of how they’re able to make those things happen.
A lot of the thing that kept coming back was, oh yeah, there are grants out there. There are grants everywhere. Just need to apply for grants. It just kind of became like this mantra repeated by so many people, like, just get out there and apply for grants and you start doing your research. You start seeing what these grants are, which ones are out there, what they require. I remember starting to do my first few. Again, they all came back, none of them worked out. But eventually I got the one.
What do you wish you knew when you started to seek funding?
ZF: What are some of the things that you wish you knew at the beginning when you started to seek funding?
AR: Yeah, I definitely think that my first few failed applications didn’t have to go that way. I had no idea what the panels were really looking for. You read, of course, the description and you kind of take your best shot at it. But I think I forgot that a lot of the time that the people reading those applications are people like me, just further ahead than me. Basically, you know, 10, 15, 20 years further ahead in their careers than me and they’ve seen a lot, and so they know how these projects work.
I think if I had advice, if I were to give myself advice those many years ago, I would say: First, make sure that it’s a project that you believe in, like, if it’s not a project that you are 100% crazy about realizing, then it’s probably not worth writing the grant application. It’s kind of like rule zero for me now, especially. If I’m not totally believing that it’s going to be an awesome thing, then I’m never going to be able to write it authentically or convey that message authentically to a panel.
I remember making that mistake so many times. I thought, oh, I just need to apply for grants because that’s what you do. I just need to, you know, think of a project to fit the grant. I found that very quickly that that is totally the backward way to do it.
Andrew Kipe on Why Goals Are Critical
Why is it so critical to stay aligned with your goals as an individual or an organization?
ZF: It’s obvious to me why it’s important to not chase, and just to stay aligned with your goals as an individual, as an organization. Would you have a few things you could just share from your perspective on why that’s so critical?
AK: At the end of the day, whether you’re an art organization with a mission or whether you’re an individual artist with your own artistic vision, those things on some level can be malleable, right? They can evolve over time; they can go in different directions. But you have to have some sort of guiding core as to why you’re making art. Why are you doing this? Why are you as an artist or you as an organization going through all this really hard work? Let’s face it, this is really hard work to make art for somebody, for some community, for some group, for yourself on some level. But you want to give that out.
If you get to a place in your organizational journey where getting the money is more important than making the art, you have come off the rails, right? We could think of some large arts organizations in this country if we wanted to that maybe have gone down that road.
As either an administrator or an artistic lead, a music director or orchestra member that’s part of the organization, or as an individual in a smaller group, you have to have the grounded center to be able to say, this is not why we are here. This is not what the mission of this organization is to do. We’re not going to do it and we’re going to find another way. Even if that means we have to take a step back, maybe we have to change our programming somewhat, because the funds aren’t there for this year.
It’s better to do that and stay true to the mission than to follow money that maybe is not beneficial. You’re seeing a lot of this right now in the museum world with money that came from individual donors, not necessarily foundations or whatnot, but individuals who have some problematic business tendencies, that have put a lot of money into different places. You have to know who you are, and who you are as an artist and as an organization.
Beeching, A. M. (2010). Beyond talent. Oxford University Press.
Highstein, E. (1997). Making music in looking glass land. Concert Artists Guild.
Simonet, A. (2014). Making your life as an artist. Artists U. https://www.artistsu.org/making#.YxI-uOyZNyp
a written expression of your current artistic goals, and motivations; see artist statement or artistic mission
the correlation between ideas, projects, artistic disciplines, or values offering the possibility of synergistic collaboration.
a conception of yourself as a creative person, in relation to your art and community
to write without self-censorship or judgement to allow your stream of consciousness onto the page