Observations on Being an Artist. And a Woman. At the Same Time. (NSFW)

Welcome to my blog, a collection of random outbursts, recollections, rants, and the odd recipe! Sit down, pull up a chair, and pour yourself a nice glass of single malt. Then pour me one too, please. Neat. OK, here we go...

<WARNING: language throughout parts of this opening salvo may not be suitable for work or children.>

As a lifelong artist (I started studying the craft of my instrument from the age of 4 and never looked back), image and identity are two concepts pretty deeply entwined with artistic endeavors and the definition of "success" in such (I put it in quotes because this is a pretty fluid and bullshit-filled concept particularly in the music world these days.) If you happen to be a woman and you're thinking, "Hmm, sounds familiar...", well, those two concepts are pretty insidiously anchored in society's take on what it means to be female as well.

When I met my childhood country music idol, Clint Black, years ago as a star-struck fan, he gave me some of the only truly excellent career advice I've gotten. "So, you want to be a professional musician?" he asked. "Yes", I said. "Then you better have a thick skin."

Go out into the world as an artist, and you will get reams of unsolicited advice about what material to play, how to dress, what to say, how to market your product, etc. Some of this will be constructive. Most of it will not.

Go out into the world as a female, and you will get reams of the same bullshit. Very little of this, too, will be constructive. Most is so quietly entrenched that you may not even notice until long after the fact- like those snappy comebacks that always come to you right after the offending person has walked away. Much of this sneaks by under the guise of that lurking bastard : "politeness." To be clear, I absolutely, unequivocally support treating each other as fellow human beings worthy of respect and empathy. To me, that is true politeness. But how many times have we as women been encouraged to not be too loud? To not speak up to ask questions? To not take the lead? To not take up too much space? To not take credit for our accomplishments? To not call out the "compliments" that are meant to demean, to possess, to belittle? To say "sorry" rather than "excuse me" as a sentence opener- when we haven't actually done anything to apologize for?

Go out into the world as a female artist and there's a perfect (shit)storm waiting for you to arrive so it can tell you all the ways you could be doing things "better." More "successfully." More "marketably." (This does not take into account the REALLY blatant sexism in music: the "you play as good as a guy" "compliments", or the assumption that you're just the girlfriend of the guitar player etc. That's for another blog!)

But here's the thing: the outside world does not have any justification to dictate what each person's narrative, identity, or experience is. Everyone's personal narrative is different. And if, as true artists, our personal experiences and narratives are what inform our art (as they should in honest art-making), then the only people truly qualified to comment on that are: OURSELVES. The rest of the world needs to just go off somewhere to shut up; whether it be a suggestion to "smile more" (on the street or on the stage), "advice" on what to wear, or more outwardly successful artists telling the up-and-comers what they ought to do. What worked for one person may have no bearing on another, and the business environment is changing so fast that in the words of investment pros themselves: "Past results do not guarantee future performance."

Here's a petty little example:

Why should I wear a sundress and cowboy boots when performing? They were never part of my personal narrative (except the boots, but only when I was actually working in a barn.) Why should they be now- apart from the fact that they look an awful lot like the "uniform" of the chick roots music singer these days. And that's my problem with it- the whole concept of "uniform." It means "sameness." And I'm even less comfortable with that notion that I am with actually wearing the damn dress. (I'm not all that comfortable in anything you can't hike in.) Now I'm not judging other people's fashion choices. It all comes down to the WHY. If you're wearing a dress and boots onstage because you like it and it makes you feel good, great! That's your narrative. If you're doing it because it's a thing that people who play that sort of music do... well, that's a little awkward. Same goes for the skimpy cocktail dresses and skirts and high heels. If you feel naturally happy in those clothes, excellent! (I'm quite jealous of my friends who do! Because they have way better balance in heels than I do.) But you can't pretend the dominant paradigm isn't one that encourages women to market themselves by appearing a certain way. It's a fine line between "hot girl next door" and "slut" and I don't think women are the ones drawing that line most of the time. And that's troubling.

Take enough daily bombardment of this conflicting (and unsolicited) input, and eventually your ability to tolerate it just plain short-circuits.

The day I was "mansplained" to about "artistic responsibility" from someone whose success was due far more to luck and connections than hard work and actual responsibility (after having watched that person abdicate and delegate much of said work and responsibility) was the day I ran out of fucks to give. Because that was when I realized that little gobshite actually had zero authority over the narrative of my life, my inspiration, and my trajectory as an artist. And that's when I realized that the main reason all this input always feels a bit "off", is because the issue here is with THEM, not with ME. THEY would prefer I smile more, or wear a short skirt, or write a certain type of song, or feel bad about myself if I choose not to.

So next time you run into a woman (in music or society at large), consider that perhaps she's not trying to be "cold" or "aloof" or "angry" or "bitchy." We're just out here doing our thing, trying to be authentically ourselves, and have simply run out of fucks to give.