I was recently notified that I was unsuccessful for an opportunity I’d applied for - and although this is a pretty regular (and expected) occurrence, for some reason it hit me quite hard this time. I’m still trying to work out why exactly, as I thought I was getting quite blasé about the uncertain outcome of applications! My usual strategy to avoid disappointment is to simply assume in advance that I won't get something - I know that there are a lot of artists out there applying for what are a finite series of opportunities. But, alas, I admit that it's just not possible to be entirely objective - when I’ve spent a long time thinking, writing and dreaming about a creative project that means a lot to me, I inevitably start to look into the future and imagine all the exciting things I might be able to do if this particular application happened to be successful...
I try to manage some of my application dilemmas in a couple of different ways: by being very specific and only applying for things that genuinely align with my practice and creative goals; and looking at the process itself as a valuable one that can help me to clarify and refine my creative ideas. But there's still that seemingly inevitable feeling of disappointment - even failure - when I don't succeed, which often makes me question why on earth I put myself through it at all.
My career path has had a few interesting twists and turns over the last two decades - after some fairly intensive classical training, I went on to explore a lot of different freelance creative work, and in 2010 decided to suspend my musical activities for a while to focus on my visual arts practice. After five years I began to return to the idea of performance again - music came back slowly but surely into my life, and I had a greater clarity about how to approach the development of my work as a composer and performer. It feels absolutely crucial to have been through that process, and I wouldn't do anything differently, but you inevitably lose a lot of professional ground in five years. I pretty much dropped off the musical radar entirely - by my own choice - and then when I did decide to come back to music, I promptly moved to the other side of the world! So I'm working hard to build up a creative profile, and I have to constantly remind myself that it's a slow, gradual process.
This year I’ve written 8 applications so far, and altogether over the last two and a half years I've submitted nearly 40 different applications for grants, residencies, festivals, performance and development projects… Apart from anything else, that feels like far too many hours spent gazing into a computer screen! A handful of those applications have had successful outcomes, but only one actually involved any tangible financial support - very often residencies, showcasing or professional development opportunities still require the artist to pay for things like entry fees, travel and accommodation. I’m not a speedy application writer either, so it can easily take me up to a week to finish something more involved. Time that I often think could be much better spent on creative work - writing new music, for example!
But then without the opportunity to show or develop that creative work further, where do I put it? I want to share what I do - that’s one of the primary reasons why I returned to performance. So at the moment if I want to continue to support myself as an artist I must keep juggling all these things: making the new work, applying for the funding and opportunities to get it heard, and learning to be more philosophical about the disappointments and setbacks along the way.