LEARNED HELPLESSNESS: A Fear to Hope (Sustainable Artistry Series #1)

Photo- Gioia De Antoniis, cc

Photo- Gioia De Antoniis, cc

“Defining non-negotiables with my art sounds nice, but there’s no way.  I won’t be able to pick and choose projects. Once I get out of college, I’ll have bills to pay, rent, and a sizeable student loan to pay off. How am I suppose to be an artist and eat? I have to compromise. I have to work. How is it going to be anything but a hustle every day?”

A scared senior voiced what most there were thinking at a recent master class I was coaching in Sustainable Artistry for graduating theatre majors.

The room got very still. I could see what I was suggesting was conflicting with years of “preparing for the real world”. I could feel their fear of… Hope.

As a touring, teaching artist, I hear this monologue often. I hear it from educators. I hear it from students. I hear it from struggling artists in the field.

It’s the modern monologue supporting the starving artist myth.

It’s the “truth” many educators feel they are preparing their students to face.

It’s the false belief that you have no choice, no viable options. You have to do what you’d rather not.

And that’s learned helplessness.


Where does this fear to hope come from?

From a risk-adverse society, where failure is the true F-word. Plain and simple.

But we weren’t born risk-adverse. Quite the contrary, children take risks daily, hourly… I’d venture to say minute-by-minute if my sons (5 and 1) are any examples, attempting breath-holding-finger-crossing feats at every blink.

Their failures rarely result in learning not to do that feat again, but merely how to tweak it, alter, refine and dive again.

It’s my voice, or my husband’s, or onlooking adults’ voices that “teach” not to attempt that feat again. And we’re not “teaching” to be mean, to make them feel helpless. That’s the screwed-up part. We think we’re “teaching” out of love and helping them prepare for bigger, potential hurts. We are teaching them about “real life” in order to protect them, but we’re not…

Kids don’t remember what you try and teach them. They remember what you are. – Jim Henson

We’re teaching them–out of fear–to give up, to stop trying. And like Mr. Henson points out, the lessons don’t stick, the fear does.

And the truth is we can’t predict the future, we don’t know what their “real life” will entail.  So, we are really teaching them to look to others for direction and distrust their instincts to explore, play and risk.

Then we send them to school…

With a healthy training in looking for adults to give direction, children are sent into an education system that doesn’t educate, but rather trains. The education system has shifted so dramatically into training–passing on techniques proven to work in the past—that it’s morphed the very definition of education from its Latin origin:

THEN… Educe (Latin root) – Bring out or develop (something latent or potential)

NOW… Educate – The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.

The Latin root, educe, focuses on the internal, bringing out and developing what was already in the student. The current definition is external, the polar opposite, focusing on others having instructions they give to the student.

This 180º shift, plus more years required in the system due to education inflation (that BFA isn’t what it use to be, time for you MFA or PhD) and a crushing student debt has reduced most new artists into realists, focusing on how to survive in the “real world”.

learned helplessness

Surviving in the “real world” has translated into:

  • Take what you’re given and be thankful
  • Keep putting yourself out there, but know that it’s awful odds that is often beyond your control
  • Have back-up plans, a.k.a. A net
  • Stay in school so you can at least teach if your art doesn’t support you… And remember what we said about the odds
  • Find out what they’re looking for and work your ass off to be that

Where in all of this is room for what truly supports art?

  • Individualism
  • Risk taking
  • Speaking out when no one else is
  • Honoring your point of view
  • Looking to yourself, not the masses, for where to go and how to serve yourself/your art
  • High stakes

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle

The real kicker is… There is no true “real world”. I’m sorry, there isn’t!

There’s just a patchwork quilt of myth, fear, belief, interpretation and personal experiences heightened to fact in its transference as education. Your reality is not my reality. Just take a few minutes to scroll your Facebook or Twitter feed and you’ll see what I mean.

Let’s stop “real world” teaching, please. It is only paralyzing the next generation of artists to shoot lower, try less, and give up sooner. It even puts blinders on us to possibilities right at our fingertips. That’s the ultimate tragedy of learned helplessness. It turns everything into a forced choice, a have to, not a want or need. It shuts off, not options themselves because they are unlimited, but the ability to see and believe in them.

Life must believe in its survival in order to thrive.

Art is an exploration and expansion of life.

Artists must believe in their art’s survival in order to thrive.

This first step to Sustainable Artistry is to take off the blinders and realize you ALWAYS have a choice.

How to see those choices, weigh them, act or edit them… We’ll keep chatting about that.

You’re on your way to Sustainable Artistry… In this series–now picked up by HowlRound–I’ll chat up all kinds of hot topics: Choices instead Compromises; Is It Art or Craft?; Non-negotiables: Why You Must Say No; Allowing Your Audience To Find You.

Want to dive into for yourself? Check out my Sustainable Artistry Coaching. It’s all about delving into who you are, what you want and why it matters to your community.

30 Responses to “LEARNED HELPLESSNESS: A Fear to Hope (Sustainable Artistry Series #1)

  • I simply could not go away your site before suggesting that I really loved the standard info a person supply on your visitors? Is going to be again steadily to check up on new posts

  • Piece of writing writing is also a excitement, if you know after that you can write or else it is difficult to write.

  • Good post! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our site. Keep up the great writing.

  • Wonderful, what a blog it is! This weblog gives useful facts to us, keep it up.

  • I enjoy what you guys are up too. This sort of clever work and exposure! Keep up the very good works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to our blogroll.

  • Hi there I am so excited I found your weblog, I really found you by accident, while I was researching on Bing for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks for a tremendous post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the awesome jo.

  • Good article. I’m going through some of these issues as well..

  • Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to mention that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing in your feed and I hope you write once more soon!

  • Admiring the persistence you put into your website and detailed information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material. Great read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  • Its such as you read my mind! You seem to grasp a lot approximately this, like you wrote the ebook in it or something. I think that you can do with a few percent to force the message house a little bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog. An excellent read. I’ll certainly be back.

  • hello!,I like your writing so much! percentage we be in contact extra approximately your post on AOL? I require a specialist in this space to unravel my problem. May be that’s you! Looking ahead to see you.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts about %meta_keyword%. Regards

  • Keep on working, great job!

  • I have been surfing on-line more than three hours today, yet I never discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is lovely value sufficient for me. Personally, if all web owners and bloggers made just right content material as you did, the net can be a lot more helpful than ever before.

  • Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My site covers a lot of the same subjects as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Superb blog by the way!
    click here http://mayprosek.com/index.php/component/k2/itemlist/user/137041

  • You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!
    click here http://bellinova.se/index.php/component/k2/itemlist/user/474592

  • You can certainly see your enthusiasm within the work you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.
    fifa 18 coins http://secretgirlgames.com/profile/leighstaple

  • I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my difficulty. You’re incredible! Thanks!
    fifa 18 coins http://www.foxtrader.net/home.php?mod=space&uid=1082120&do=profile

  • Hello, I read your blogs like every week. Your writing style is witty, keep up the good work!
    view my blog http://www2.cvc.ac.th/nlt/userinfo.php?uid=183219

  • I simply want to say I am all new to blogging and seriously enjoyed your web page. Most likely I’m planning to bookmark your site . You definitely come with beneficial stories. Cheers for sharing your web-site.

  • Amazon Customer^Took a little time to get here very happy thank you!!!~5|

  • A. Bernard^Good stuff for the price but small for a 6-footer like me. Customer service was very good for coming from China.~4|paul h shim^Good~5|Maurice J Price Jr^As expected~4|Arrow^Stitching was bad.~3|

  • Good V I should definitely pronounce, impressed with your web site. I had no trouble navigating through all the tabs as well as related information ended up being truly easy to do to access. I recently found what I hoped for before you know it in the least. Reasonably unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or anything, site theme . a tones way for your customer to communicate. Excellent task..

  • Amazon Customer^I ordered this sweatshirt as a women’s large. Was told it’d be delivered between January 4 and January 11. When it finally came it was January 18 and several sizes too small! It was definitely not a women’s size large. Very disappointed in this purchase. This was supposed to be a Christmas gift and not only took longer to get here but then didn’t fit.~3|

  • Ark McKiver^Fits as expected and looks good too.~5|Kim Bremer^My son is 6’2″ and 250 pounds and this fits him perfect.~5|Tony P.^Well made tee shirt.~5|Lynn Brown^Previously bought the RL brand but these are great~5|HOLLYV^this shirt is great! fit as expected.~5|Adiel^You have to stretch it a bit so that it would fit like a 3xl shirt~3|Ronald W. Morrison^Exactly as expected.~5|Sunny in Florida^I do love this shirt&#44 it is excellent quality&#44 not too thin of material. Very soft and I love Polo products. Only problem&#44 this shirt ran to short&#44 and I ordered the Tall size. It’s fine otherwise&#44 plenty of room around the neck&#44 not real tight. My husband doesn’t like a tight fitting shirt 🙂 Will have to return. Thank you!~4|ja$on^nice color~5|Cocolave^very nice cotton material. product as represented.~5|

  • Amazon Customer^The sweatshirt is kid sized & not at all what we expected.~3|

  • JFernandez^My son love it~5|

  • Mary Mary^Very colorful&#44 lightweight&#44 comfortable and cool. I live in Florida – hot&#44 hot&#44 hot – and this is great. I love the American flag pattern. It is just as pretty as the picture. Easy to wear and adjust size. Great price&#44 as always&#44 on Amazon. Can’t wait for next national holiday so I can wear it with my red&#44 white and blue clothes.~5|fuzzy bear^Just as I expected – very comfy and oh&#44 so U.S.A.!!!~4|Amazon Customer^So much fun wearing this. My name is Erika and everybody was calling me Erika America. It’s brighter than it looks in the picture so it’s even more perfect. Attached an off guard picture- don’t mind how weird I look lol~5|Rebecca^Was a gift for my dad&#44 he loves it. He lives at an assisted living facility and the residents love the design&#44 very patriotic.~5|JM Bunkin^Very nice visor for the money. Seems well made&#44better than expected~4|Sharli Hocker^So cute! Will work great for a hot 4th of July.~5|Daisy Gray^A cute hat for Summer. Made nicely and fits comfortably. The colors are very bright and much more vibrant than the picture shows.I would definitely buy this again and would definitely recommend it to a friend.~5|Jay Thumper^Lots of compliments. Great visor for the 4th!!~5|Gary^As advertised. Good product&#44 good vendor.~5|grumpy^Well made&#44 and it goes great with my sleeveless denim USA Flag shirt I also bought from Amazon.~5|

  • Janice M.^My husband has a very large head and can not usually fit into most hats but this hat fits him perfect! It seems very well made and comfortable to wear for long periods of time.~5|

  • Ammaar^10/10 Authentic LRG&#44 make sure you buy from real sellers.~5|Amazon Customer^This shirt fit exactly as expected and was an authentic LRG product. My husband loves it.~5|Mark Fabela II^Fit how I wanted&#44 matches my gear&#44 dope graphic~5|caintian^Horrible knock offs wouldn’t recommend ordering. Would be zero stars if I could. Shouldn’t even mention they are LRG.~3|mplsmike2013^Quality shirt. But WAY way too small. I got a XXXL and it fit like an XL.~4|

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *