Day 8 on the New Writing Course

Tightrope

The tightrope between commercial success and artistic integrity is something most artists struggle with. During the course so far, we’ve concentrated on process, character development, finding our ‘truths’ and excavating from our portfolio of personal treasures. Commercial success and the business aspect of writing has been bubbling in the background. Every now and then, each of us has got our feet wet; debating and mulling the complexities of how to keep true and make a living from our art.

My question: Is commercial success a smoke signal for artistic failing? Or is it a sign of something else?

Today we had the pleasure of meeting Gurinder Chadha and her partner Paul Mayeda Berges. Both effaced warmth, strength and assertiveness together with a strong aroma of success and discipline. As a group we got a little heady.

As Gurinder spoke, explaining her beginnings in geography, journalism and then film making my heart warmed to the girl-makes-good narrative and I reminisced over my own favourites; Bhaji on the Beach and Soul Food. Yet Gurdinder’s story was no sugar and spice and all things nice. She is a business woman and makes no apologies for it. This writer, producer, director wants her movies to be seen by millions and is prepared not only to be part of the ‘machine’ but also oil its cogs occasionally; for her, character and plot must be equally measured in with consideration for audience responses and marketing objectives.

I began to think…

For me, the struggling artist has become synonymous with integrity; and in a world where success can be fickle, and money even fickler (if there was such a term) – integrity, is to me, all an artist has. Through out these two weeks we have met all manner of writers; pragmatic, enigmatic, kooky and a little crazy. All have been beguiling in their own way. All gave generously to our group. And all spoke, (even quietly) of the business side of things.

As the arts, slowly (and by that I mean slow in the way of tectonic plates) shifts from a upper middle class Oxbridge educated occupation to those of us with smaller wallets and even smaller family fortunes– there is a need, an absolute necessity for the writer to find a way to ‘make a living’. After all a writer can not live on words alone and children of writers can not eat alphabet spaghetti every night (even if they’d like to!). Thus we must find a way not only to make a living but to make that living work; both financially and artistically.

But how?

Commercial success does come with some concessions; but realistically if we want to continue writing we must feed both our muse and our stomachs. Whilst always knowing this I’ve also been terrified of what this might mean. These two weeks have shown me that there is more than one way to do this.

Perhaps that are concessions to make, but by being more connected to my artistic voice I may find the courage to try some of them out. And if I open my mind – maybe there are more possibilities there.

Sharmila Chauhan – Writer

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