Friday, January 19, 2024

Q&A with Erica Ginsberg



Erica Ginsberg is the author of the new book Creative Resilience: Reclaiming Your Power as an Artist. A documentary filmmaker, she cofounded the nonprofit group Docs in Progress. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.


Q: What inspired you to write Creative Resilience, and how would you define the concept?


A: Through my work with several documentary film organizations dedicated to nurturing filmmakers and providing them with community, I have also seen artists at their most vulnerable and also who are afraid to admit any vulnerability. At times, I have also been both of those types of artists.


Originally I had thought of writing a book about how to approach the ups and downs of making a documentary, but I soon realized two things.


First, I wasn’t interested in writing a “how to make a documentary” book that delved into how to set up a camera, edit, or raise funds. There are plenty of materials out there about that. I was much more interested in how to navigate the process of making a film.


Secondly, I soon realized that so many of these ups and downs are not specific to documentary or to filmmaking, but really apply to any kind of creative pursuit.


At its core, Creative Resilience is not about how to make art or make a living from art. It is about how to make the process of making art less daunting.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: The book involved several levels of research. As I explored each theme, I wanted to have some reference materials that could support some various takes on those themes.


In some cases, I found obscure academic papers that explored concepts like passion and the pluses and minuses of being a multi-disciplinary artist. In other cases, I found relevance in popular psychology articles and presentations.


I wanted to include quotes from well-known artists, but I also wanted to share the perspectives of everyday artists whose experiences might have more resonance to those who would read the book.


Once I established a framework and a first draft of the book, I sought out artists to interview. A few were people I knew, and a few were people referred by friends or colleagues. I ultimately interviewed 11 of these artists about the topics and integrated their stories into the book.


In many ways, I approached the book as I would a documentary, balancing research with being open to discovery through the process of that research.


Sometimes the interviews would remind me that there was a theme I hadn’t even considered writing about that should be in the book, so I tried to be open to that.


For example, the chapter on artist support was not something I originally planned to write about since, on first glance, it seems to be about something adjacent to art, but the last two interviews I did made me think this really was something important to write about because those who are both artists and arts managers or arts educators use creativity just as much in both pursuits.


Instead of viewing these professions as being jobs for those who can’t make a living from art itself, we should really think of this work as an art form itself.


Q: The book's subtitle is "Reclaiming Your Power as an Artist." Can you say more about that, and about the power involved?


A: A lot of what I do in the book is think about language and particularly how we can reframe language that tends to have particular connotations.


Can spite be good? Are amateur artists no lesser in quality than those who make a living from their work? Do you either have confidence or you don’t? Is passion overhyped?


By focusing on language, I give those reading the book the opportunity to step back from what they think it takes to call themselves artists.


Ultimately I want artists to hold the power to ways to accept and traverse the challenges of the process rather than trying to avoid or overcome those challenges.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


A: I find myself not only the author but also the reader for the book. When I am facing my own challenges in the creative process, I sometimes re-read a chapter to remind myself of my own journey through the realities of the process.


Since the book has come out, it has been a joy to hear how it resonates with other artists and even those who may not call themselves creative.


I have tried to write it in ways that might appeal to different kinds of readers. Whether you read it start to finish, cherry-pick particular chapters of relevance, do the suggested exercises, discuss it in a book club, class, or workshop, or use it as a reference for moments when you may be facing a crisis of confidence, I hope it will make readers find some aha moments for their own creative process and creative lives.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: While the book is out now as an eBook and paperback, the next step will be to produce an audiobook. As someone who does my share of commuting and long drives on vacations, I know that audiobooks have been part of my own process of building knowledge and engaging with both nonfiction and fiction.


I am also putting together both in-person and virtual events where the book and some of its key concepts can be a jumping-off point for more interactive discussions.


I also put a documentary film on hold during the pandemic and plan to return to it. It’s called California USA and is an exploration of the American Dream from the perspective of people living in small towns across the United States whose only commonality is that they share the name California.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: That there is no single path to becoming an artist, and no magic prescription for navigating the challenges of creating art. While everyone I spoke with felt the calling to make art at a fairly young age, they all followed different journeys to becoming artists—journeys full of excitement and mundanity, straight lines and side quests, and constant questioning.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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