So you want to make art, live in a Manhattan loft, overwhelm a frazzled assistant and exude erotic intrigue that sizzles like sexual bacon? Good news, doe-eyed dreamers: According to television and movies, the creative life is for you!
But before you treat your Netflix queue like a crash course on life as an artist, take note of a few minor and oft-used cinematic details that may not quite hold up off camera. Here are seven of the most shameless lies about working in the arts that are routinely perpetuated onscreen.
1. You will have to decide whether to sell out — immediately.
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Onscreen: On Girls, Hannah was offered an oh-so-corporate advertorial writing gig at GQ before she'd ever published anything significant. In Rent, Mark sits around for a year with his video camera until he happens to film a riot that ends up on the news, at which point a TV station practically bangs down his door to hire him. This all-art or all-corporate choice is a dichotomy that shows up again and again in the life of the onscreen artist. Sure, it makes for a good story arc, but real life is a lot more messy.
In reality: You might face a decision like this but it likely won't be so black and white. Furthermore, the possibility of being hunted down by corporate America in pursuit of your art won't happen right out of the gate. It's pretty hard to sell out before you've even got something to sell.
2. World-class performers are concentrated in tiny geographic areas.
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Onscreen: Movies and TV would have you believe that talent is just bursting from the seams of neighboring towns in the Midwest. Take a look at Bring It On and Glee, for example. In both, major performance competitions come down to two rival high schools one town away from each other duking it out for the top nationwide prize. It's almost as if no other schools in the country have cheerleading squads or glee clubs. Also, take into consideration the fact that onscreen artists almost all go to pursue their craft in the big city — we're looking at you, Frances Ha, Tootsie, Coyote Ugly, Rent ... the list goes on.
In reality: Not all of the nation's most promising performance talent is concentrated in rural Ohio. Also, moving to New York City post-high school to pursue your artist dream isn't the only path to take. There are many other places to make it in the arts.
3. The secret to making it in the music business is performing with plucky children.
On screen: Fact: On The Brady Bunch, Greg's younger siblings joined him to perform a song he wrote called "Time to Change," about his little brother's onset of puberty. On Full House, aspiring rock star Hunkle Jesse performed with the Beach Boys in Hawaii — but not without his spunky nieces. The musical promise of tykes has made it into movies as well — School of Rock and The Sound of Music both assure audiences that nothing cooks up a musical career quite like the sick vocals of untrained grade-schoolers.
In reality: Kiddie music will only work if your dream gig is landing a track on a "Wee Sing" video. I hate to break it to the Tanner family, but one man's "fun time performing with the Beach Boys" is another man's "that time those kids ruined my Beach Boys concert." Don't give the kids a cameo. Contrary to what pop culture may say, it doesn't spell success.
4. It doesn’t matter how self-indulgent your creative agony is, as long as you wear glasses.
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Onscreen: Plenty of mumblecore flicks have tried to sell us on the charms of artsy, visually impaired narcissists, but no one else comes close to the genre's biggest offender. Have you ever seen a Woody Allen movie? Let me save you some time: A bespectacled beta male experiencing creative malaise spends 90 minutes mousily sputtering about his poor, poor brain. This leads him to mistreat the woman he has miraculously convinced to give him the time of day. His creative crisis eventually leads him to dump Girl Who Is Too Good For Him. But, relax — it's OK! It doesn't matter how you treat people, as long as you're a tortured, intellectual artist. The Allen-type is one that has been mimicked a million times over, glasses and all.
In reality: Glasses and neuroses do not an artist make.
5. Nothing will ever come between you and your love … until that incredible art scholarship.
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Onscreen: An "amazing opportunity in the arts" threatened to yank apart Troy and Gabriella in High School Musical 3, ditto Lily and Marshall on How I Met Your Mother. More recently, Girls wrapped Season 3 with Hannah's acceptance to the Iowa Writers Workshop, again putting a relationship in the balance.
In reality: Hold on for a moment and allow me to laugh at the wide availability of fictional arts funding. If you do get offered a wad of unicorn cash, take it and find solace in the exciting new arms of someone you would have cheated on your main squeeze with anyway.
6. You will 100% live in a unicorn palace in New York.
Onscreen: On Sex and the City, Carrie lived alone in Manhattan as a once-a-week freelancer. In 13 Going on 30, Jenna pays for her spacious 5th Avenue digs with a magazine editor salary. In New Year's Eve, Lea Michele's aspiring singer character's allegedly dingy apartment building has a working elevator. Promo shots for Fox's upcoming Mulaney show a stand-up comic living it up in a swank, renovated pad. It will be the latest carrier of a long, proud tradition of giving characters unrealistically ample dwellings in some of the world's most expensive zip codes.
In reality: Elevators aren't for peasants — Michele's living analogue would be stuck in a fifth-floor walk-up. And sure, there are still plenty of developing artists in New York, but we live in the outer boroughs and will have roommates until we die.
7. Ultimately, you will realize that your life is the best inspiration.
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Onscreen: The best cure for onscreen artist's block is to draw inspiration from all that personal growth the audience just watched happen. That way, they get their creative relief in the form of a successful work based on the very narrative that the audience literally just saw! The Royal Tenenbaums ends with Margot debuting an off-Broadway play about her family. In Rent, not only does Mark make a film of all the footage he's been taking this whole time, but Roger also writes a song about the course of his relationship with Mimi. Heck, this even sort of happens at the end of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure — that is, if you consider their live-action history report a work of artistic merit.
In reality: Somehow, I doubt that the story of a girl aimlessly scrolling through Facebook in Brooklyn is the novel I was born to write. Sometimes, it's better to go out and find amazing stories instead of just waiting for them to happen. In the mean time, who knows? Your life's time-traveling phone booth could be just around the corner!