“Nobody’s reading your blog because of your art. They’re reading your blog because the person you are inspires them. They’re not reading your blog because they’re thinking of buying your paintings, they’re reading your blog because the way you approach your work inspires them. It sets an example for them. It stands for something that resonates with them. It leads them to somewhere that they also want to go.”
Cartoonist Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void wrote that in a recent blog post.
And after reading it a few times, his philosophy got me thinking about what we, as artists, are all about.
Because it’s not just the art – it’s the identity of the person who creates the art.
The challenge is establishing a credible artistic identity in a crowded marketplace.
1. Build a public timeline of credibility. More content earns more credibility and equalizes the core of your identity. For example: If you’re a photographer, upload your photo shoots regularly. If you’re a cartoonist, post a new strip daily. If you’re a writer, update your blog daily. If you’re an actor, share video clips regularly. If you’re a comedian, upload audio clips from every live show you do.
Also, consider posting your travel schedule, tour dates, public events or community appearances in a prominent location on your website. This not only proves your legitimacy, but also invites fans and audience members to come out and see you live. Are you creating an art project or contribute daily to your ongoing body of work?
2. Build a strategy to leverage free. The greatest barrier to success as a creative professional isn’t incompetence – it’s anonymity. It doesn’t matter how amazing your art is. If people aren’t exposed to it regularly, it doesn’t exist. And your artistic identity – credible as it may be – may as well not exist.
Lesson learned: If you’re not giving away (some part of) your art, for free, every single day, you’re either stupid or high on paint fumes. The more you give away for free, the wealthier you will be. If you haven’t already, spend a Saturday afternoon building your strategy to leverage free.
Personally, I’ve adhered to my own free strategy for eight years. And it’s the single smartest marketing move I ever made an artist. Ever. Seth Godin, bestselling author of Linchpin, was right: Artists say, “Here.” What did you give away for free today?
3. Create your own interpretation. Pablo Neruda wrote a poem called, “You are the result of yourself.” When I first read it, the architecture of my heart changed forever. Seriously. I’ve been more moved by a piece of poetry in my life. In fact, I was so inspired by Neruda’s poem, that I decided to write my own interpretation of the same philosophy. My piece was called, What Every Leader Needs to Know about Making a Name for Herself.
What I discovered was that by offering my own version of another artists’ work, I earned credibility. First, because I honored my influences instead of plagiarizing them. And secondly, because I took something that was already famous and created my own unique version of it.
Remember: Reacting against other artists is part of what leads you to find your own creative voice. What famous work of art could you revisit, reimagine or rework?
4. Everyday is the answer. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron reminds us that the creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps. Her suggestion: Commit to laying a certain amount of track, every single day. Personally, my quota is four hours of writing a day. Minimum. Usually, I double that.
Whether you commit to hours or words or notes or pages, stick to it daily. After all, creativity isn’t just something you do on weekends. Do it daily or risk sucking. Remember: Everyday you don’t practice; you’re one day away from being amazing. What did you create today?
5. Find your audience and engage with them daily. Credibility is earned though human contact. Fortunately, social media and other web-based applications have made this easier than ever. Now you can solicit instant feedback from your readers, viewers, buyers and audience members within minutes, even seconds.
My suggestion: Ask them questions. Find out what their struggles are. Speak straight to the heart of human experience. Then let your art reflect what you’ve learned about your audience. You’ll connect on a deeper level with the people who pay your bills. Personally, I just listen to what people say they suck at, then write about it.
But only if you’re willing to make yourself e-pproachable. Only if you respond to emails, tweets and other online messages quickly and sincerely. How easy are you to reach?
6. Go pro or go back to waiting tables. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is the single most important book on creativity ever written. I read it every August. I buy copies for my creative colleagues. I recommend it to everybody. And the highlight of the book is when he defines what it means to go pro:
The professional respects his craft.
The professional understands delayed gratification.
The professional’s work has style; it is distinctively his own.
The professional doesn’t let the actions of others define his reality.
The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She just does her work.
The professional eliminates chaos from his world so he can banish it from his mind so the muse can enter and not soil her gown.
The professional is acutely aware of all the intangibles that go into inspiration, and out of respect for them, he lets them work.
The professional shows up every day, shows up no matter what, masters his technique and exposes himself to the judgment of the real world.
The professional doesn’t let his signature grandstand for him. His style serves the material. He does not impose it as a means to drawing attention to himself.
The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.
Lesson learned: A credible artistic identity is the mark of a true professional. Are you still an amateur?
7. Memorialize your method. Creativity isn’t just about what you make – it’s about how you make it. As such: Credibility is a function of process, not just product. Your challenge is to communicate your unique method of creation in a three-dimensional way.
For example, you could hire a film crew to follow you around for a day. With the footage, you could compile a series of two-minute mini-documentaries. Then post them on the “About me” page of your website. Or, what if you shot time-lapse photography of your current painting project? You could share the photos on Flickr or create a slide show for your clients.
The point is: People pay for how. Show them. How are you publicizing your unique artistic how?
8. Visually substantiate your grunt work. In 2010, I started posting a series of time-lapse writing videos, pared down from four hours down to seven minutes. This depicts the naked truth of my creative process. And it helps my audience appreciate the true value of what my unique brain brings to the table.
Your challenge is to take the intangible effort behind your art and make it as inescapable as possible – while still remaining delightfully ambiguous. After all, you work tirelessly and privately on the process. May as well capture it and share it with the people who pay for the product.
Remember: If your fans love your work, they’ll love the grunt work behind the work too. How can you make the invisible inescapable?
ULTIMATELY: Being an artist isn’t (just) about the art.
It’s about the unique life you choose to lead that informs and inspires the art.
That’s how you compete in a crowded marketplace.
Either that, or you could just walk around Times Square half-naked playing a guitar.
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Have you established a credible artistic identity?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
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