A Voice in the Arena: Selfish Motives of a Contract Artist by Dr. Chad Foster

A Voice in the Arena: Selfish Motives of a Contract Artist   

by Chad Foster, DDS, MS, editorial director

There’s a metaphor I think about from time to time that I think relates well to our profession. When we think of artists—particularly in the classical and Renaissance eras—it’s easy to romanticize them as more than just common people with common needs. We might imagine they lived lives of pure passion and inspiration, untouched by the demands of everyday life, but in actuality most of them were people who were just trying to make a living by peddling their talents.

Practically speaking, they were contract artists: Art was a means that allowed them to eat and pay the bills. By leveraging their reputation, their salesmanship and their body of work, these artists could contract with dealers, businesses, politicians, churches and wealthy individuals for projects that often weren’t of their own choosing. In these instances, I imagine the artists still carried a level of love for the art being made, even when it was likely being created without their full creative license; ultimately, the client held a degree of limitation over the artist’s scope or expression.

I also imagine, however, that some contracted projects would come before the artists that were different. For even the working class or everyday artist, certain opportunities must have not just been a means to make money but also fell fully in line with their personal and unique pure artistic expression. It’s fun to imagine how that flow of creativity mainlining from its place of restraint must have felt during those projects, when the money, the energy and the time investment were irrelevant. Those projects, regardless of contract or employer, belonged to the artist— they were personal.

I feel that in my own way in my practice, and it’s a major part of my love for orthodontics.

The cases that carry you through
Let me preface the point I’m about to make by saying that generally speaking, I enjoy the unique challenges of every case I work on. I also love helping people from all walks of life make a meaningful change in their lives, regardless of the specifics of the case. That being said, only a small percentage of cases light me up fully in a way that slows down time and turns down the volume on everything around me.

The thought that comes through my head when my treatment coordinator hands me one of those record layouts before going into a consult is, “This one is for me—this one is mine.” These are the cases that rent space within me over the course of the two-year treatment for much longer than a dozen or so brief chairside encounters. I gratefully allow myself to be fascinated, taught and even haunted by them. For this contract artist, they are truly my art.

Interestingly, though, I find they also serve a greater purpose than just my own selfish motives. I’ve found it true that through the taxing process of treating certain challenging cases to the highest aims that I can attain, something extra is gained above and beyond the hit to my artistic desire. Without fail, those 5% of my cases stick to me like sap that can’t be rinsed off.

The lessons learned in the cases I fretted and fussed over like a helicopter parent take hold and produce a “bleed-over” effect: They bleed off the canvas of my obsession onto other contract projects. Things learned in those cases can no longer be ignored, even when they show up in less-significant forms in cases that might not strike me as ones I would bleed for. In that way, the 5% of projects that are “mine” not only selfishly serve my passion but also elevate my performance in all of the other projects that come before me.

Without this 5%, I’d still enjoy being an orthodontist, but I would not as much carry my trade with me as integral to who I am. It wouldn’t offer the same level of self-expression and self-realization. I hope you too can feel this metaphor, and hopefully have even more than 5% of cases that connect with you in this way!

There is so much beauty available to us in what we do clinically. For me, it starts with being a student and finding inspiration that wakes up artistic curiosity. If you don’t find a consistent level of passion and curiosity in what you’re doing clinically, I highly recommend committing to a path of continuous education in the areas of clinical orthodontics you’ve found most interesting.

If nothing in your clinical processes has changed much in the past few years, I’m not criticizing your work—which very well could be superior to my own in many ways—but check your creative pulse! If you are not feeling a visceral connection to your art in at least a small percentage of your cases, seek to change that. Enjoy the fruits of the contract work while also fulfilling your selfish artistic motives.

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