Expert advice: Building and sustaining a creative career

B. Jeffrey Madoff is the founder of Madoff Productions, based in New York City. He is also on the faculty at Parsons School for Design.
B. Jeffrey Madoff is the founder of Madoff Productions, based in New York City. He is also on the faculty at Parsons School for Design.

There is both professional and personal risk involved with aspiring for a creative career. Parsons School of Design faculty member and teacher of his self-designed course “Creativity: Making a Living With Your Ideas,” B. Jeffrey Madoff says: “Anyone pursuing a creative career should realize it’s a job. A fun job. However, discipline is essential and like an athlete, dancer or musician, practice and challenge yourself constantly to get better.”

How do you approach building a creative career with your students?
As a teacher, my job is to provoke, entertain, disrupt and educate. I crack jokes, make outrageous things up, call on students randomly to include everyone in the discussion and most importantly, create an environment where the students will feel safe so they will not be afraid to speak up.

What would you say to someone who believes they have failed at making a creative career work?
It’s important to define what failure is for you. If a person has failed in their pursuit, it’s important to understand why. Failure can be a terrific learning experience. Failure to me, is not trying. As long as I keep trying and keep learning, I haven’t failed.

What are some motivational tips for people wanting to get a creative career underway?
Motivation is why you do something: for money, fame, approval, and satisfaction. It’s up to the person to keep themselves motivated by what they hope to get out of what they do. One can be supported and encouraged by others, but the motivation has to come from within. Creativity to me is a passion to affect change. Passion is internal. Follow your passion.

Are there ways to take a current career and make it creative?
Frank Zappa defined music as “any sound you can control.” It’s all about how you look at what you do and how you act on it. Music, painting, boxing, mathematics; everything can be creative or drudgery. A creative person discovers the ways to make what they do interesting.

Starting a creative career requires these things:

  • The clarity to determine where and how one wants to apply their creative efforts.
  • An awareness of the distinctive difference they can bring to that pursuit and the ability to articulate that difference to the gatekeeper you need to get through, e.g. investors, employers, consumers, etc.
  • The knowledge that there is a market for what it is they want to create.
  • Not being paralyzed by the fear of risk or failure because if you are afraid of either you will never do anything interesting.
  • Thick enough skin to persevere through the inevitable rejection and criticism you’ll receive.
  • The realization that whatever you create it is separate from you. Criticism and rejection shouldn’t be taken personally.


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