We used to romanticise the image of the struggling artist. We believed that the creative flame didn’t require adulation for fuel. That poverty confers an authenticity upon experience.
The logic of late capitalism doesn’t allow for such arguments. Creative currency is no longer measured in the capitalised essences (Truth, Spirit, Genius), but in attention. There is a huge pressure on creatives to dissolve the boundaries between themselves and their audiences. In this new mediation, likes, follows, donations to Kickstarter accounts are themselves the medium of success.
The first feat for any aspiring creative is finding an audience. The second is finding the material means to live a creative life. But the paramount success, the only criterion in the end, is achieving an honest and constructive relationship with your work.
Speaking about his early days as a director, Thabang Moleya recounts the difficult process of establishing this kind of connection to his craft: “It hasn’t been an easy journey but in time I have learned how to better handle my challenges and obstacles in life and realise that they are there to make me a better person and ultimately a better story teller.”
Being able to find satisfaction in your work and meeting the criteria for excellence that you’ve set yourself is itself a form of success. But this is transitory. To accept success is to become complacent, which is the enemy of innovation and creative inspiration. This means constantly setting new goals, and not allowing temporary satisfaction to impair the ability to always see the world anew.
Success, then, is something that also needs to be constantly redefined, as it can become an obstacle. This is difficult, of course, because success is like a warm soft place after the hardships endured getting there. But complacency breeds mediocrity. “If you’re uncomfortable and you’re stretching yourself, it is probably a good thing,” Xolisa Dyeshana the executive creative director at advertising agency Joe Public says. Success is a chimera, but no less important for it. It is our conception of ourselves as a success, and an examination of what that entails, that defines the way we work – not the success itself.
Joseph Campbell, the renowned American academic and author coined the phrase “follow your bliss”. This pithy expression is a challenge to always do what you love, and thereby find meaning in what you do. “I have the best job ever,” Comedian Kagiso Lediga jokes in a stand-up skit, “I sleep all day and then come out here and this is ‘work’”. Within the creative economy, if you don’t love what you do the margin for fooling yourself into thinking that you do is slim. Creatives have to be honest and they have to be passionate; the old cliché that can be substituted for ‘meaning’ or the more enigmatic ‘bliss’. Campbell elaborated that “if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living”. He says to “follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” And this is exactly what local entrepreneur Mandla Sibeko attributes his exceptional success to. “From the beginning,” he explains, “I have based my business premise on investing in my passions.”
This challenge calls for bravery, and for the aspirant to be bold, take risks and create opportunities where there were none. “I wanted to be the alternative to what everyone understood in the music world and the ideas of what a musician in this country should be,” says Nakhne Touré, the young multiple SAMA award nominee. But most of all this challenge demands honesty, and choosing to pursue success based on a personal set of criteria. Lebogang Rasethaba, a South African filmmaker, says that working with great people and creating a platform for other people through your own efforts is his definition of success, rather than the films themselves.
Ultimately, the only conception of success that has any validity – for the creative, and for us all – is a conception that disregards others’ definitions of success and is wary of superficial comparisons. The art of success has to be self-formulated, and it has to be continuously challenged and redefined.
In a series of interviews, articles and videos, Glenfiddich, the world’s most awarded single malt whisky, will be speaking to seven forward thinkers in art and culture to discuss their careers, notions of success, breakthrough moments, and what they predict for the future of their industries.