The tortured soul, the free spirit, the slacker, the ever-inspired creator… these are all versions of the artist that live in people’s minds, but how an artist actually goes about the creation process and sustains their lifestyle comes into question.
I sat down with Youcef Beghdadi, a writer/director, and Anthony Aramouni, a singer/songwriter, to discuss the existing ideas about being an artist and how these ideas fit in with their lives as Montreal-based artists.
On the work / art balance:
Anthony: The struggle here is putting yourself in the mindset that whatever you do is for you, when you have some time to yourself. At first it’s always weird to go from a regular daytime job to creating something or working on something you’ve created, but after a while it’s just how it is and you have to accept that it’s part of your start. There’s no going around it unless someone pays me enough to survive, but that’s not gonna happen.
Youcef: The comfort is that you can see it with your eyes. You can say, work at this job and make an okay living, and that’s an easy way out. To say no to something I can touch like money, and decide to work less to have more time for my craft, even though that doesn’t give me money at all, is the hard way out, but it’s worth it.
A: It takes a lot of time as well, like I do at least 30, 35 hours a week and it’s a lot of energy. When you’re done for the day, you have to find and create your own energy. This is when everything comes into play, like exercising, surrounding yourself with people that are doing the same thing and never forgetting that this is the struggle, and if you don’t fight for what you want, you won’t get it. No one’s waiting for you to create anything.
On motivation and inspiration:
Y: In film, the team is very important, as well as discipline. There’s no structure – we don’t have offices, we have our homes, or cafés or wherever, so you have to create a routine and work ethic around the lack of structure. Me and Anthony created a chart of rules called The Fundamentals, which is like a reminder for us. If, for 10 days, things are slow or one of us is down, we go back the the Fundamentals and get back on track.
A: This is how you move forward, cause you understand how the mind works and how we’re all products of our own minds. It’s easy to be excited about the future when things are going well, and it’s easy to be negative when things are not. But you need to find a balance where you do celebrate the small successes and then put them behind you and look for something else to work towards.
Y: One thing that we demystified and understood after a year of failures and trying, is that motivation is not fuel. We replace motivation with discipline. That’s the real fuel, the routine, the discipline, the reminders. Even though I’m in movies and he’s in music, it’s the same for both of us. It’s us against our own traps that we fall into easily. We can’t rely on motivation.
A: Nothing happens in life without discipline, without real work, without putting in the hours and questioning what you’re doing this for. I always ask myself, what am I doing to still allow myself to be called an artist?
On art being worth it:
Y: If you’re at any stage of creation, it’s worth it. Whether it’s starting to write the screenplay, or planning it, shooting it, postproduction, showing it to people… during all those stages, I’m thinking, ‘this is so cool.’ But the only moment when I know it’s all worth it, is when I think of what type of person I could have been if I had chosen something else, only I didn’t. I see everything I said no to, and then I’m happy that I didn’t go for those things. Cause that would be the easy way out for me. So you look at the struggle and then look at your comfort zone, and then you see that the comfort zone is not you.
A: For me, it comes down to how I feel. I feel better when I’m inspired. I think people around me are happier when I’m not stuck in something else. So for me, the small motivation comes from being surrounded by the right people because they see you in a certain way, and you want to live up to that expectation. You surround yourself with people that are better than you so you have to work hard to continue being who you want to be.
On school vs. real world experience:
A: The things we struggle with can be, in part, taught in school. They can’t teach you how to feel about things, but they teach you how to think. I studied sociology, which was very interesting, so I’m glad I did that. But I’m happy that at some point in my life I started writing music, looking back, because it changed my life. So real life experience becomes you.
Y: I had the fantasy of going to film school, not to learn, but just to feel like I belonged somewhere. I stayed 2 weeks. I went, and I just wanted to be around people that love movies as much as I do, like a teenager trying to get validation. So when I didn’t get the feeling I was looking for, I just left. With working on film on my own, I didn’t have time to learn everything, so the goal for me was to meet someone with equipment, someone who could do editing, and so on. What I knew for sure was that I had the ability to inspire people and tell people how I see cinema, and hopefully make my enthusiasm theirs.
On Montreal as an artist’s city:
A: It’s exactly where you want to be if you want to create. Everyone’s creating and it’s all accepted. It’s all good work so you’re proud to be in this city doing what you do and meeting the people you meet.
Y: No one is surprised when I say I make movies; no one is more surprised than they should be. Cause everyone knows someone who’s doing something like that. People get it.