“Why Make Art?
Because you must. The new connected economy demands on it and will reward you for nothing else.” – Seth Godin
I read Seth Godin’s book, The Icarus Deception, recently, and it helped to put some observations I have made, but wasn’t quite bright enough to articulate, into perspective about the modern economy.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t love Godin’s writing style—it’s kind of choppy for my taste. Which is not to say it isn’t worth the read. It most certainly is, and I’ll probably revisit it too because I have a sneaking suspicion there’s much more to learn from it. My take aways from the book are pretty basic.
Which, by the way, is sort of what this blog is about. It’s not a book report, but more like a synthesis of observations I’ve made from Godin’s book, and other sources, of how the world has changed (for the better) if you’re inclined to take a creative approach to life and entrepreneurship.
I wanted to start by giving credit to Seth Godin because his book really is worth checking out if you’re in the business of selling your art to make a living, and also because, even though I’m not specifically setting out to summarize the concepts there, I’m sure much of what I’m going to talk about is represented in the book. And speaking of books, last week I used the “holy trinity” analogy . . . which I think comes from a certain good book. So I thought I’d stick with that number for this week, but I’m changing the reference point from religion to old school hip hop. It’s true what DeLaSoul said—that three is, in fact, the magic number—so let’s keep it going.
One last caveat before I begin . . . and it’s actually one my wife points out to me all the time. At this point in the game, still three months from putting my first book up for sale, I haven’t actually sold a damn thing. So not only am I not an expert on these things, I’m not even really in the game yet. If selling art is the game, I’m still on the sidelines stretching. But, I have been to all the practices and I’ve even read the playbook.
Okay, I’m beginning to regret the metaphor, so let’s just move on. Here’s the big three for selling art in the modern economy, the way I see it.
- Making Connections. Maybe it’s because people spend so much of their time online these days, or maybe it’s just a kind of universal truth that’s always been there. But whatever the reason, people value—and are willing to pay for—anything that allows them to bond with another person or thing. There’s a spark that happens when you listen to a certain piece of music, or stand in front of a piece of art, or identify with a character in a video or a book. But not just with those things. When you buy a piece of clothing or a musical instrument that comes from a person or even a company with a mission you believe in—that you connect to. That spark is a connection, and it’s valuable.
I realize I’m being vague here, and if I were more than just a late-blooming writer I might be able to further articulate it, but I think you know what I mean. Think about what you’re willing to spend your money on. Would you prefer to give it to a faceless corporation, or is it better to give your hard earned cash to a person or a company that represents something that resonates with you?
What Seth Godin would argue is that, first, “art” is so much broader than pictures and music and books and such—that creativity can and should apply to all walks of life, from engineering challenges to health care, and countless other human endeavors, in addition to the stuff we think of as traditional art. And secondly, in the modern economy that connects “artists” directly to potential consumers, making that connection will be the key to success.
And even though that last sentence is a perfect segue to the second thing I want to talk about, let me inject a little bit of a personal anecdote here on the subject of making connections. I have seen the concept in action in my own business, even in the early stages. As a matter of habit, I send out at least a couple “outreach” emails per week. Every message I write is brand new and from the heart. I don’t do form letters or even copy/paste an especially good line from one piece to the next. Which takes longer, and definitely hurts more when my introductions go unanswered, as many of them do. But when I do hear back from someone, the connection feels warm, authentic, and with some nurturing, hopefully it will last.
[Look at that! I got back to authenticity anyway!]
- Authenticity. It seems pretty clear, not just from my own reading and experience, but from studies as well, that authenticity is the real gold standard in the modern connection economy. People want to know that the person behind the camera (or in front of the camera), or behind the keyboard, or behind the clothes, or the handmade percussion triangles, or the recycled skateboard shelves or whatever it is . . . they want to know that that person is real. Flesh and blood and flawed, just like the rest of us.
This is great news for a creative entrepreneur, because although we strive for perfection, we never get there and we’re cool with that. We know that making art is a real, human endeavor that carries all our imperfections with it.
You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be real. Again, maybe it comes back to the virtual nature of so much of our interactions these days—I don’t know for sure. But what I do know is any venture that I’m going to succeed at is one that values authenticity, for the simple fact that to pretend to be something I’m not is a sure-fire way to degrade my quality of life. And if I was looking to degrade my quality of life, I’d still be working my day job.
- Staying Regular. No, I’m not talking about biological functions . . . but you could think about it in those terms if you wanted to. What I mean is—and what Godin and many other writers in the creative entrepreneurship space talk about—is the importance of producing new material consistently. This is a key to the new game.
As an essentially “self published” author, the new landscape of publishing works well for me in this regard. I can write a new novel, work with colleagues and friends I trust to have it edited, formatted, and designed, and put it out inside of a year. And I can do this every year because all the elements are within my control. Even if something drastic changes—say Amazon stops allowing unknown writers like me to sell our books on their site—since the internet is the great equalizer, I can just go direct to readers.
But I can’t just put out one or two books and call it good, because the modern economy doesn’t just have an appetite for connection and authenticity. It also wants fresh material. New stuff that’s smart and honest and real.
And this leads, I think, to one of the central ideas that Godin and others talk about. In many ways, the new connection economy is better. It means you don’t have to plug into a whole industrialized soul sucking corporate grind, if you don’t want to. Which is great. But it doesn’t mean you can slack. In fact, you probably have to work harder than many people did when they were punching a clock. But if you’re making connections, if you are authentic, and if you are producing on the regular—maybe it won’t feel so much like work.