This Post Did Not Emerge Fully Formed Like Athena From My Skull

A topic I frequently like to write about is the misconception that artistic inspiration is the result of a lightning bolt moment rather than the product of long term effort.

In the past, the examples I have given have focused on how creative people subscribe to this notion. However, Howard Sherman retweeted an article today that pointed out how society at large reinforces this belief.

In the article Rebecca Atkinson-Lord draws attention to the language used when describing playwright Katherine Soper’s winning the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting. Like many people in the arts, Soper has a second job she works in order to provide financial support for her writing efforts. Many media outlets described her as a “shop assistant,” “perfume seller,” and “first time writer.” (She is a trained playwright and this isn’t her first effort.)

Atkinson-Lord writes,

By perpetuating this myth of the ‘Big Break’, our media culture teaches those outside the arts world that to be a successful artist is easy, that there’s no need to aim for excellence, no need to push yourself harder, to educate yourself and develop key skills to be the very best you can be. It makes the arts look easy. And easy is cheap.

In turn that undermines the case for proper funding of the arts – if anyone can make excellent art, then there’s no need to pay artists competitively or fund its development. Presenting Katherine as (just) a shop assistant also conceals the stark reality that most theatre makers have to do ‘money jobs’ to survive while disguising the systemic flaws in how the arts are funded and theatre makers are employed.

She goes on to note that the headlines also make subtle class assumptions about a shop assistant’s capability to create award winning art work and certainly that is another factor at play here.

According to the article, Soper mentioned on social media that included her second job in her bio as a way to emphasize that artists are balancing multiple roles. It appears that got turned around a bit on her.

While media channels really need to be more responsible about researching and honestly reporting on a creative person’s existence and career before their big break, it isn’t likely to happen. The romance of the humble origins in a garage is just too compelling a story, even if it isn’t true.

birth athena

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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