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Life and Art

I have recently been listening to Crispin Freeman's fantastic podcast Voice Acting Mastery. In "Episode 44: Do you think like an artist?" (https://www.voiceactingmastery.com/vam-044-do-you-think-like-an-artist) Crispin emphasizes that the best voice actors are those who consistently focus on what they can bring to a project, as opposed to those who ask how working on a project will benefit themselves.


I come from a technical background. I've studied and worked in the fields of Computer Science, Math, Physics, Computational Linguistics, and Statistical Machine Learning. Then in 2018, I shocked my wife by suddenly wanting to take time off from my technical job to build art. I've now spent a year building Curl, a mobile video game, while also dabbling in Voice Over work now and then.


While from the outside it might appear that my tastes have radically changed, from the inside I see one continuous line. The common thread in all my professional work is a desire to contribute something meaningful to my field. In other words, I am an artist. Sometimes a technical artist, sometimes a creative artist, but always a contributor.


When I undertook my Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon I did so because I believed I could move the needle in some small area of Natural Language Processing (And my thesis advocating the importance of paradigms in morphology did just that.) When I joined Amazon, I did so to contribute my all to whatever grand scheme Amazon had behind the scenes (that turned out to be Alexa.) And when I started Curl, I did so because I could see the unique and exciting mobile game that wanted to come out, ready to dazzle and delight players.


In contrast, some of the lowest points of my career have been the times where I have not been focused on giving to my field, but instead have tried to find what I can take for myself. These low times have come in two flavors: The Me Me Times and The Rejections.


Me Me Times have come when I've stopped believing in the mission of an organization and yet continued to associate with that organization because doing so might just benefit me. These selfish periods have been some of the most unhappy and stressful of my life.


Then there are The Rejections. Every artist faces rejection. I've faced rejection in interviews. I've faced rejection and censure on the job. It is all too easy to let a rejection sting. Voice Actors face frequent direct rejection. A seasoned guest on Crispin Freeman's podcast turned rejection on its head (https://www.voiceactingmastery.com/2011/12). Jack Angel, a voice actor with credits in many cartoons from the 80's, refuses to believe there is any rejection. Instead there is only selection. A TV show only needs one voice actor for any particular character. If 10 people try out, only one actor can be selected no matter how good the other 9 are.


But in truth, selection is the model for every business. At any organization, there is only space for x experts in natural language processing or statistical machine learning, only space for so many graphical artists, only space for so many programmers. Sometimes the piece of themselves that the (technical) artist has to offer is not what the project needs. This doesn't mean the artist is a failure. Instead, not being selected provides the opportunity to not waste time on a project that wasn't for them anyway and to instead find the job that they are suited for.


So. Onward. Go find that project that you can contribute to as an artist!

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Christian Monson

Bracken Fern LLC

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