Looking around at our peers, it can be tempting to measure one’s own success as a creative professional against the success of others. While this approach isn’t necessarily constructive, it can be worthwhile to observe and gain insights from thought leaders with longer creative careers, who have overcome challenges that emerging professionals are currently experiencing or have yet to encounter. What are some of the opportunities for growth that others in your field have experienced? How has this strengthened their resolve, improved their practice and created better creative careers for them? Below, we take a look at five wunderkinds who are making significant gains in their creative careers. By examining what has worked for them in their own practice, we can better understand our own strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement. With this input, we can examine our own creative careers and empower ourselves to be better producers.
Delano Dunn – Making the Personal, Relevant
Artist Delano Dunn responds to stimuli from his personal life, crafting narratives in his work that respond to his own upbringing in Los Angeles during the Civil Rights movement along with the greater struggle for equal rights for African-Americans living in the United States. Informed by his previous forays into illustrating, the artist layers these intimate and broader political histories through his recent work, alongside incorporating a very specific consideration: the birth of his daughter. In addition to his work researching African-American cultural history at the academic level, the artist also considers the visibility of African-American women in his work due to his own role as a new father. Dunn observes that “[probably as a] reaction to having a daughter now, a large portion of my [recent series] is making women and girls visible in the work.” By taking a look at what has impacted him as an artist close to home, Dunn has been able to harness his visibility in service of creating a more equal society one artwork at a time, across race and gender divides. By examining what is meaningful to one’s own life and infusing that into new creative endeavors, the resulting work will include a genuine artistic expression that holds potential to make a greater impact on society. Artists considering how they might drive change through their creative careers might look to Dunn for inspiration.
Christine Creamer – Know What You’re Worth
Founder of Branddwell, a Strategic Marketing and Design Agency
Christine Creamer is an experienced creative and consultant who has worked with a range of startup and early stage companies on all aspects of their content and brand building, who also happens to be a lawyer. The result? Creamer has an in-depth knowledge of contracts, and an intuitive grasp of the creative producer’s anxiety surrounding said contracts. “A lot of agencies and independent creatives use stock contracts from web searches – this happens at all levels of the creative industry,” Creamer notes. When artists and creatives take for granted that the party contracting their services has a contract with terms that are accurate to their individual situation, they are taking a gamble that, Creamer observes, won’t always pay off in time or money.
The best way to move forward is to discuss the specifics at the very start of a project and to make expectations known with regards to timeline, project budgets, payment terms, project pace and method of communication (i.e.- weekly check-ins, etc) with the client. Creamer has a lot of advice to dispense with for emerging creatives or those embarking on creative careers, but perhaps the most important piece of advice is also the most surprising. “Seek advice and, once received, create and send your own contract with full confidence that you know what you are signing — and, put in a payment clause that requires payment for the project in full up front,” she notes. Aggressive? Perhaps, but it also shows that you know what you’re worth and mounts a strong point to begin negotiating from. Creamer’s advice on exuding confidence and self-empowerment go a long way, but most importantly, the stronger your positions are in what you stand for, the more your client expects from you, and the more you can begin setting better terms for yourself as your creative career progresses.
Lionel Cruet – Be Strategic, Be Selective
Artist, Art Director, Art Educator
Lionel Cruet is an interdisciplinary artist and art director with an impressive exhibition history who is continually pushing the limits of his practice. Based in San Juan, PR and New York, NY, Cruet is fearless and edgy, and his work recalls the transient relationships linking humans with the natural environment in installation and new media works. Cruet shares how he has learned to invite guests to his workspace, noting that he has “… learned that you have to be careful on who you bring to your studio. Your guests will likely have multiple opinions that might help and/or affect the work that is being produced. As an artist, I suggest to other artists to think carefully about the reasons for inviting a guest at a specific time, as some conversations and feedback can unleash a new direction or totally affect the creative process.” How much do you want others to impact your creative process? Considering how others will perceive your work, rather than purely considering what you expect the end result of your work to be, will guarantee that all parties involved will have a profitable and productive visit with your work.
Akeem Duncan – Rising Together
Publisher/Editor, Quiet Lunch Mag; Poet/Wordsmith
Akeem Duncan is an arts publisher, poet and writer with substantial experience within the arts and creative communities spanning fashion, music, visual arts, and more. As a seasoned creative working within multiple creative careers, with experience making ventures work from the ground up, Duncan has substantial advice for creatives stemming from his own lived experience: chief among these lessons learned is the need to work with a talented community.
“Coming from the Southeast section of The Bronx, I learned that it takes a certain amount of focus, determination and wherewithal to reach (and achieve) goals… especially as a person of color who doesn’t necessarily have access to certain monetary resources. It also takes talent and timing–and community! The journey is an arduous one but what makes it all worth it is the people… none of Quiet Lunch‘s success[es would] be possible without my peers. Individualism is key but community is everything. Self-actualization withstanding, always take time to nurture your ecosystem,” Duncan notes.
Julia Sinelnikova – Staying Agile to Overcome the Odds
Interdisciplinary Artist, Digital Innovator
Interdisciplinary artist and digital maven Julia Sinelnikova is no stranger to surmounting the odds. In her own words, this is a process she’s had to continually mount in order to achieve visibility in the art world. The artist notes that “as a young female artist, every day is an act of overcoming – every day I work in a world where 70 to 80 percent of the top galleries’ rosters are made up of white men. When I started doing my installations publicly, I was barely making a living. I joined art collectives…I worked every art job I could…and it was only after almost ten years as an arts administrator that I had the knowledge, network and studio techniques to go freelance.” Sinelnikova unabashedly highlights the endurance test that is struggling as an artist in a substantially skewed art world, where, despite ongoing strides to create a level playing field, the majority of gallery rosters are still dominated by white male artists. Dogged persistence enables a can-do attitude to take root, something Sinelnikova maintains in her celebrated and robust studio practice in Brooklyn. October sees the artist celebrating an art commission by the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation at Brower Park in Crown Heights; she will mount a performance art event on Thursday, October 12th, 6-8pm at the site. Reflecting on persistence – and ways you might combat the gender disparity that occurs within most creative careers – might be a useful way to put Sinelnikova’s advice to use.
When embarking on creative careers, there’s nothing like tried and true advice from pioneers in the field to embolden you to create a stronger, more sustainable practice. By applying actionable advice in your own work as a creative professional, you are one step closer to realizing your full potential, gaining and keeping happier clients and finding yourself striking a genuine chord with your audience. Growth and encouragement through recognizing you are part of the greater creative community will only help to sustain your practice. Remember that a creative career requires dedication and applied practical advice as with any other field, so apply these friendly tips and watch your work soar to new heights!
What’s your best advice for developing noteworthy creative careers?