#ArtistTherapy: Filling a Niche & Expectation

"I create [insert material/genre], but I'm expected to create this..." A few weeks ago, I sat down to catch up with a musician/composer friend I met at a writers conference a few years back. During our chat, both of us being female, African American artists, expectation of what we create arose. My friend is a tremendously talented singer & songwriter and she is writing songs that would fit more in the "folk" realm. But, sadly, being African American this is not what is "expected" of her. Just like I get stares when I tell people my favorite genre of music is "alternative" or "rock." The expectation is that I "should" presumably enjoy hip hop, rap or R&B primarily.

My writing doesn't always deal with race. Not every story, essay, article, or blog post will specifically and indefinitely refer to the "struggle" of people of color. But that isn't to say that my work will never reference it either. If racism, sexism, or any -ism is relevant to the larger story I want to tell, you bet your a** it will appear and hopefully enlighten and entertain.

There's been and will continue to be discussion on the race issue. And perhaps this is the post that finally brings this to light. I have friends struggling selling pieces because the race issue isn't pertinent enough or because it makes those of other races feel "guilty" or because it brings up a history that people already "know" about but can't truly comprehend in this digital age. There's a struggle to create what you want to create because there are gatekeepers with expectations that your work should be "more" this or "less" that and it may not at all fit in with your perception or overall vision for the work.

The stories I am working on about an interracial family do not all stem from racism. For some characters it is a very real aspect of their day to day having grown up before and during the Civil Rights movement. For other characters it's more about identity which may be attributed to race but is not the sole proponent. For some pieces its all about familial relationships, strained and suffering. For some it's about romantic ones. But in the end, for me, not every piece I write will be filled with characters that are stereotypically this or going through a constant "struggle" of being a particular race. I want to create people who are real, living beings and not seen as other but seen as like. And it is in this vain that it can be hard to stay true to your art when the niche to be filled is something that's been done and has proven profitable, something that is assumed, something that is not at all like what you planned your piece to be but the expectation of what a specific group of peoples life is like.

For my friend it's been hard for her to break out when she's not pop, she's folk, she's voice and guitar and minimal. Yet the expectation & what is popular is that she should be Rihanna or Nikki Minaj or whomever is the flavor of the month and will sell. These artists and what they create is not her. And she emphasized this to me. She is not overly aware of her Blackness, but believe me we are aware. And perhaps because of this day and age we do not have it in us to speak to that specificity at this particular time and want to speak more to the point of being someone who has been heartbroken, insecure, distracted, not where they thought they'd be, scared, in love, and so on. These universal ties that can bring us closer to others across the board would be more helpful than ever pigeonholing ourselves over expectations. People are tired of books about homosexuals coming out but what about ones about homosexuals living life? What about books of ethnic characters being superheroes? What about music by the likes of POD a Latino band playing Christian/Hard rock? What about not fitting into a niche and creating one that fits you?

It all comes back to the whole idea of persistence, and also the larger scope of there being a demand. But you have to create to fill a demand that isn't even there. So make what you love. Make what fits in with who you are. And forget what others are creating or what the expectation is. It's about being true to yourself and your art at the end of the day because you are the sole representative for it in whatever form it comes in.