Unpack Your Process

Sunday, 7. July 2019 23:40 | Author:

Like working in theatre, working in the art of pyrotechnics is always instructive. This seems to be particularly true when I am occupying a mentoring position. This July 4th was no exception. We were working on a show of significant size and the crew was made up of people with a mix of knowledge and experience. One person had had experience with wireless, computer-driven shows, but was going to shoot her first manual, wired show. It was also the first time I had left a site in the middle of the set-up, so there were many new things going on.

Before I left the site, I talked with the most experienced person on the crew about running the cables from the firing board to the trailers which held the pyrotechnic product, stressing the order in which the cables needed to be laid. We were sure that we understood each other, so I left for a time. I was confident that all would be fine. During the time I was gone, we texted back and forth confirming the cable order and placement. That worker then left to go to another site.

When I arrived back at the site, everything looked great. Only when we began to check the circuitry did I realize that the entire show had been wired backward. I had a small fit, proclaiming quite loudly that wiring was “always, always, always” done a certain way. After I calmed down and assessed the situation for what it really was, I realized that this had become a learning situation for me too.

It turned out that even though the person in charge of placing the cables and I had full agreement about what went where, we were using completely different terminology in referring to the orientation of the trailers. Our perspectives were 180 degrees off. Thus we ended up with wiring that was perfect—from her point of view, and completely backward from mine. It had never occurred to either of us to verify how we were thinking about something as basic as trailer orientation. We both just assumed that we were correct. After all, it wasn’t the first rodeo for either of us. Once I figured that out, everything became clear.

Another thing that became clear was that I had no idea why cables were “always, always, always” attached to trailers in a certain prescribed order. The order of cables had been drilled into me by those who trained me and who had decades of experience. Most of the things they taught me had to do with safety and efficiency, so I just presumed that cable order did too. But faced with my own pronouncement, I realized that the reason was never explained. I did it that way for the weakest of reasons: because that was how I was taught to do it.

Upon examination, I realized that there were indeed reasons to attach cables the same way every time, and there were reasons to wire that same way for this particular site, but those were really after-the-fact realizations that while valid did not provide a rationale for doing it that way in the first place. So far as I can tell, there is no intrinsic reason that cabling the way I had learned is better than any other approach. I had just never thought to question it.

So, I re-learned some things this July 4th that I obviously needed to be reminded of: (1) never assume; (2) successful communication depends on the basic definitions upon which the communication rests; and (3) if you are directing, the result of communication is your responsibility. However, the biggest lesson I learned was a completely new thing: It is useful—at least every once in a while—to unpack your process, and examine why you do what you do.

Category:Communication | Comment (0)

Consider Developing an Inspirational Environment

Sunday, 23. June 2019 21:43 | Author:

Several years ago, I was thinking about modifying one’s environment in order to live an artistic life. Some recent events have me thinking about that again. Some people in the arts have a need to surround themselves completely with an environment that feeds their artistic sensibilities. This causes them to move to places where they consider the arts energy to be very high: New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Paris, London. They feel that in addition to there being a higher likelihood of employment, there is in these places an artistic energy upon which they can feed.

This is the same impulse that encourages some artists to seek the isolation of a retreat, often establishing residence (at least part-time) in less populated areas because they draw their inspiration from an isolated environment with or without other like-minded artists and far fewer “big-city” distractions. This is the urge, for example, that led James Jones to end up in in the small, somewhat isolated town of Marshall, IL.

Some who work in the arts feel they cannot move, either to one of the arts centers of the world or into the wilderness, for any number of reasons. They may love where they live or dislike it intensely but still feel bound to the place. Those people can work to make their residences or work spaces into an environment that supports their art. A man I know loves where he lives, but when Hurricane Harvey put the ground floor of his house underwater, he did not build the house back as it was. Instead, he spent the insurance money and then some on redesigning the entire house to reflect his artistic interests, even down to changing all the of the (undamaged) wall art to pieces that he found more inspirational.

Another person I know really dislikes the town that she lives in, but feels she needs to stay there. So she has made her home into an artistic sanctuary full of artifacts from which she gets inspiration on a daily basis. She even has certain spots in the house designated for wall art which she changes at irregular intervals in order to keep things fresh. She is currently spending money on the landscaping of her back yard, which she has come to consider an extension of her sanctuary, into a garden that encourages meditation and reflection.

Artists who are place-bound but do not have the funds or inclination to turn their homes into complete artistic environments, might work on a smaller scale. Many artists have an office or studio in which they work. This space can be turned into an artistic environment so that when they are working they can absorb inspiration from the space. It is likely that this will make the work space radically different from the rest of the house or apartment, but that’s really the idea—to modify the environment so that it supports the artist’s work.

Some artists, particularly those living in small rental spaces do not have an entire room in which they work. Rather, they have a small area, a nook, perhaps, which is where they create. Even in tiny spaces, adjustments can be made to provide an inspirational environment, even if it is simply the use of a wall or a board upon which to tape, tack, pin inspirational images and quotes, such as Wendy MacNaughton’s studio wall of inspiration.

We all may not be able to lead a completely artistic lives; some of us may not even want to. We can, however, create environments, no matter how small, that provide creative inspiration.  While we may not immediately embrace such an idea, it is certainly worthy of consideration.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0)

You Have to Be Ready for Inspiration

Sunday, 9. June 2019 23:57 | Author:

Several weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about it being time to write the next blog post. He asked, “Where do you get your inspiration?” I don’t recall my answer, but it was lame, I’m sure. The real answer is that it comes from all sorts of places. Sometimes it’s something I see, or something I hear or something I read. Or it could be any one of those that sets off a chain reaction of thoughts that ends in what might be called inspiration.

Then as I was thinking about inspiration, this week serendipitously brought Austin Kleon’s blog post “It’s not inside you trying to get out, it’s outside you trying to get in,” which posits that inspiration comes from outside. We do not have books, or songs or photographs or paintings or poems inside us. Rather they exist in the universe and come to us for expression. He quotes artists as divers as Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Michael Jackson, and Henry David Thoreau to make his point. Not only do inspirations come from outside, but if we are not receptive, they go elsewhere to find acceptance.

There are at least two implications contained in this idea. The first is that we creatives are not really creators. We don’t originate the ideas, the inspirations. Rather, we in some way prepare ourselves so that we are ready to receive the idea when it comes. Then we snatch it out of the air or ether or wherever it is and write it or paint it or sculpt it or do whatever we do. Cave as much as says this in his advice to a “blocked” songwriter.

The second implication is contained in the first. It is that we as artists must make ourselves ready to seize inspiration when it does arrive. As I have written before, inspiration is not something that we can always count on. Sometimes it comes; sometimes it doesn’t. What is important is that we are ready, which means that we show up, we exercise discipline, we do the work—every day. And that showing up and doing the work readies us for inspiration. As Kleon puts it in one of his blackout poems:

the Muse

is ready to

surprise me

if

i

show   up every day

and

say,

“Wanna hang out?”

Art is, at least in part, about making connections and seeing patterns. The inspiration triggers a set of ideas which ends in our making those connections and seeing those patterns. And if we don’t figure out a way to ready ourselves, then the inspirations fly by unnoticed. Connections don’t get made; patterns don’t get recognized.  We call that “being blocked.” Then we often bear down, which closes us off even more from the universe, and then we really are creatively blocked.

It’s not really magical, although it may look and sound that way. It may not even be mystical, although some would argue with that. It is simply doing the work that is required to be creative and doing it regularly, putting ourselves in a mental and physical place to be receptive to our own flow of ideas and not thinking so hard in a single direction that we close out other possibilities. Only when we are open can a new idea develop. Then all we have to do is recognize it and do something with it.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0)

Editing: A Completely Different Skill Set

Monday, 27. May 2019 0:34 | Author:

There have been a number of posts in this blog on creativity. This is one more—well sort of. This is about the step after creativity. No matter what art we are engaged in, sooner or later we have to edit. And that’s a completely different skillset from the set that we used to create the artifact in the first place. There have previous posts about editing: one discusses the benefits of editing, another discusses the necessity for editing, and a third discusses the difficulty of editing.

To edit is “to alter, adapt or refine especially to bring about conformity to a standard to suit a particular purpose.” So basically we’re going to refine results of our creativity. In order to do that, we are going to judge our own work and then take action to correct the faults and omissions we find. This is a difficult thing to do, particularly because it’s difficult to get the distance we need to do a really good job on our own work.

So what skills and qualities do we need to do this job?

  1. Objectivity. We must come to the work with “new eyes,” i.e. we have to look at the work as though we have never seen it before. When we are in edit mode, we are looking at the work the way we think a very discerning audience might. Once we are in that place, we can begin to see what might impact that audience in what ways. So we begin to learn what we might leave out and add to make the work stronger.
  2. Ruthlessness. To actually start cutting away and adding in we must be without fear and without remorse. Every piece that we eliminate or modify is something that we made, and while it may have a great deal of merit on its own, it must be removed for the overall good of the piece. It takes strength to excise perfectly good material, but we must trust ourselves that the impact of the edited piece will justify the surgery.
  3. Knowledge of purpose, plan, message. In order to make such a judgement, we must first be aware of what the piece of work is trying to accomplish. Only by having this goal foremost in mind can we assess whether the artifact succeeds or fails in achieving that purpose. A firm separation from the artist must be maintained to insure valid judgement.
  4. A set of standards by which to judge. In addition to the goal of the piece, we need to be aware of our own standards about what makes art good. This can be something as simple as adherence to the principles of design or some more complex set of standards that has to do with our sense of aesthetics and ultimately what we think about the nature of art.
  5. A willingness to check the tiniest of details. We not only have to look at large issues like message and adherence to standards, we have to be able to drill down into the work to see how very small details affect the larger work. It is at this point when we really begin to understand what must be changed to improve the piece, or what needs to be left out entirely, or what must be enhanced.
  6. A means of judging the overall impact. Now that we have standards and some notion of the purpose of the piece and have looked at the details, we need to take a bird’s eye view to see how everything works together to create overall impact, and, more importantly, how pruning can improve that impact.

As you can see, this is not even close to the skill set for creativity. But if we are to be successful as working artists, we must develop this set of qualities and skills as well as the creative ones. Just as we develop our creative work flow, we must develop our judgement and willingness to edit ruthlessly to better our imaginative output.  Better editing will facilitate better work.

Category:Creativity, Productivity, Quality | Comment (0)

Entertainers and Political (Re)Action

Monday, 13. May 2019 0:52 | Author:

There is a lot of film production in Georgia, so much, in fact, that it is sometimes called “The Hollywood of the South.” During 2018 455 productions were filmed there, resulting in 92,000 jobs and “$2.7 billion in direct spending.” One of the reasons for this is the state’s generous tax incentives for film production companies. I personally know actors who have moved to Georgia because of the availability of work there.

But this past week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed HB 481: Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act into law. Also known as the “heartbeat bill,” the law bans abortion “at any stage of pregnancy after the detection of ‘embryonic or fetal cardiac activity,’” and “effectively criminalizes…any woman who seeks an abortion or even one who miscarries in the state.” Opponents of the law have been quick to point out what they consider its flaws. Reaction from at least part of the film community has been swift, with five production companies announcing that they won’t film in Georgia until the law is overturned. Actress Alyssa Milano has said that if the law stands, she will not return to Netflix’s Insatiable for a third season unless the filming moves to a different state. Milano was among those who opposed the bill early, joining 49 other actors saying they would boycott the state if the bill became law.

Others have taken a different tactics. Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams have agreed to shoot an HBO horror drama in Georgia, but plan to donate their fees to help fight the law. Larger studios seem to be waiting for the law to be challenged in court.

Although those same large studios threatened to boycott Georgia over anti-LGBTQ legislation three years ago and essentially forced then-Governor Nathan Deal to veto the legislation, such political, economic action is a bit unusual for entertainment artists. The number of publically-involved celebrities is low, thus articles entitled “16 Celebs Who Make Their Political Leanings Crystal Clear,” “11 Most Politically Active Celebs,” “22 Celebrities Who have Become Political Activists,” “20 actors who weren’t afraid to get political in 2018” and “Seven of the most politically active celebrities in Trump era.” Most people in the entertainment industry seem to keep their politics private.

The question is should they? Some think that voicing political beliefs will impact their careers; indeed, actor James Woods claims to have been blacklisted for his conservative politics. Or should those in entertainment weigh in publically on political, social, and economic issues? In these days when many professionals in the entertainment world have huge Twitter and Instagram followings, and are thus obvious influencers, are they obligated to use that celebrity to influence the political thinking of their followers? Or should they wade into politics, economics, and social issues only when it’s very important to them? (And this law certainly qualifies as important, at least to any woman working in the state of Georgia, since she will be subject to it.) Or should they leave the public politics alone and just concentrate on their art and their image?

Only the entertainers themselves can answer these questions. At the end of the day, those in the entertainment industry are in the same position as anyone else. They can let the world know what they think or not, knowing that if they do voice their opinions, there may be reaction or even backlash. But like anyone else, they are impacted by laws that govern the places where they work, which, in turn, gives them the right to speak out if they feel such laws are wrong.

Category:Uncategorized | Comment (0)

Let Them See Your Vision

Sunday, 28. April 2019 23:06 | Author:

Artists working in the style of other artists is a fairly common practice that I have written about before, specifically about the uses of imitation and artistic theft (also here). Imitation and artistic theft are usually considered ways to develop as an artist: we imitate a style to learn from it or we take from here and there and make a new thing out of it. Perhaps the resulting work is derivative, but it also has some originality in it. So I was surprised and more than a little dismayed to discover how widespread the practice of copying theatre productions as closely as possible with little-to-no new input is.

The internet has made it really easy to find out what the hot shows are and to see enough of them to reproduce the style, the set, the costumes, and at least some of the choreography. What some directors are now doing is gathering that information about show that is currently popular and then attempting to produce that same experience on their home stages. This happened, for example, after the 2013 revival of Pippin, which was based on a circus metaphor. As soon as the show became available for non-professional production, circus-based Pippins popped up all over the place. Many productions attempted to reproduce the world of the circus that had been seen on Broadway; others just took the circus metaphor and production style. It was as if there were no other way to produce this particular show.

And this happens again and again. So what we are beginning to see in non-professional and academic theatre is copy-cat theatre. Very often the first move of the director or designer or choreographer is to the internet to see how others have done the show—so they can reproduce that. Some directors will go to New York to review shows, again to see how they’re done. Perhaps it’s an attempt to cash in on the national reputation of this or that show. Or perhaps it’s the result of artistic insecurity. Or perhaps it just a time-saver; everybody is incredibly busy. No matter the reason, it’s still reproducing someone else’s vision.

The same thing happens in other arts. “That film was terribly successful, so let’s make one like that,” or “that movie was successful; let’s make a sequel.” But in film, even if it’s a copy-cat film, it’s not an attempt at exact reproduction. And the same is true in other arts. If an artist paints too much like another, more successful artist, it’s called at best homage and at worst plagiarism.

Usually what happens is a painter or sculptor or photographer will follow a style or trend. This allows the artist to become part of the trend, which is useful commercially, but retain his/her own vision within that trend. Indeed, Creative Live Blog just this week published an article entitled “7 New Wedding & Portrait Photography Trends for 2019.” The article cites some examples, then distills the trend to generalities and suggests some ways photographers might participate in the trend. And no doubt some photographers will read this article and follow some of the paths, but to do so successfully, they will have to insert their own vision.

And inserting our own vision is what all of us as artists need to do. Those of us who became artists because we wanted to put our vision out into the world have no trouble with this. However, others of us came to work in the arts for other reasons; we are the ones who need to allow ourselves to go beyond copying, regardless of our insecurities or time constraints. We need to let our audiences see our own visions.

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0)

You’re Always Auditioning

Monday, 15. April 2019 0:08 | Author:

Auditions suck. Just ask any actor. For that matter, ask any director. The problem from an acting point of view is to demonstrate that you are the best choice to perform a given role with—if it’s a generous audition—a couple of prepared monologues and a cold read against people you’ve never met. In just a few minutes you have somehow convince a director that after you’ve learned the lines and had some time to work on the character, you will be able to bring this character to life on the stage. It’s an impossible task. And it’s just as bad from the director’s point of view.

This is why directors use other means to help them make their casting decisions. Some even use casting directors, who also use methodologies in addition to the actual audition. Directors will call other directors and their friends to find out about potential actors. They go to shows and observe the actors, how they work, how they perform, what they might be capable of. They network. They invite actors they think might be able to do the job to come in. They interview. Then they hold an audition, sometimes to see if what they thought was true really is true.

Directors are in the judging business; it’s what they do. And they mostly do it all the time. The wise actor learns, hopefully sooner rather than later, that s/he is always auditioning.  Audition time is not limited to the time the actor is actively auditioning.

Here are a couple of stories to illustrate. A good while back an actor I know went to an audition. She is a bubbly out-going person and a man walked by as she was getting out of her car. They had a brief conversation about the difficulty of finding parking spaces. Then they met again in the elevator that she was taking to the interview/audition. Again they had a brief up-beat conversation. They both got off at the same floor but went in different directions. She checked in for the interview, waited a few moments and was ushered into the interview room. Behind the desk sat the man with whom she had just made friends. Her formal audition went well, perhaps because she had already auditioned and didn’t know it. She got the job.

The other story didn’t turn out quite as well. We were casting a musical; when I say we, I mean I was the director; additionally there was the musical director and the choreographer. We were doing an open callback, which is to say that all those called back were in the room. There was one actor we had pretty much decided would be the second lead, but we wanted the callback to confirm that decision. The actor that we had in mind was in the room when we got there, as were a number of other actors. As we got settled, we noticed that the actor we had in mind was not only overly loud and boisterous for the situation, but he was displaying an inordinate amount of egocentricity. His behavior was offensive and unacceptable. Each of us decided individually (we discovered later—we did not discuss it at the time) that we would rather not put up with that behavior and attitude for the rehearsal period. Fortunately, there was another actor there whose callback was excellent; he was the actor who got the role.

Behavior and attitude before and after the actual audition matter. In fact they matter all the time. It’s something actors need to know.  And it’s not just in the theatre that this happens. Wedding photographers, for example, are auditioning every time they meet potential clients.  Even when they are shooting, a potential client is watching and judging—deciding if this is the person they want to do their wedding. Graphic artists are always auditioning for the next project. Painters are always auditioning for the next commission or the next show or both at the same time. Writers audition for readership for their next book. Both stage and film directors are always auditioning for producers. No one escapes.

Like stage directors, people who seek creative services ask others; they watch, they evaluate—before they ever get around to calling for an appointment.

Not only actors, but every creative person who sells his/her work is always auditioning; there is no down time. It is something that we all need to be aware of—all the time.

Category:Marketing, Theatre | Comment (0)

Chunk It

Sunday, 31. March 2019 23:32 | Author:

A couple of weeks ago I took on a new project. This brings the total of personal projects to seven plus my day job which has its own set of projects. That may not be a lot for you, but it’s a significant number for me, particularly because the new project is a very different project with challenges different from my normal run of projects and thus demands a different kind of attention to actually get it done.

The question of how to move forward on all these projects at once naturally arises. Multitasking would be the immediate answer of many. Unfortunately, multitasking is mythology—at least for me. I find that if I try to do more than one thing at a time, everything seems to take longer and the work on each task is less than it could be. But dutifully I went to the internet to see if perhaps I was missing something. It turns out that multitasking really is a myth. Look it up. And it turns out that my experiences with attempted multitasking are supported by nearly every study on that topic. Study after study shows that attempted multitasking really takes more time and results in lowered productivity; one study even suggested that multitasking was actually bad for brains.

If not multitasking, what? Handling the projects sequentially would seem be a good choice, particularly as it facilitates flow and appeals to my obsessive personality; however, because of the nature of the projects and various deadlines, this is not feasible. The question then becomes how to move forward on all projects in a somewhat efficient manner.

The answer is to chunk it, it being time. Basically it just means spending significant time on each project successively. Hardly a new idea, but one that seems to work.

For me, this idea evolved into a two-step procedure: (1) Review each project every day to refresh and determine the next step in whatever process is involved. This brief review also allows the subconscious the opportunity to consider the project and work on it while I’m eating lunch. (2) Select a project and a chunk of time and do nothing else for that amount of time. (I’m not using a timer, but the thought occurred to me.) Presetting an amount of time to work on the project allows full concentration for that chunk of time, which, in turn, allows the development of flow and the minimization of distractions. Limiting the time also allows moving from one project to another in the same evening. Obviously, the longer the time spent on a single project, the better, but this becomes an individual choice. Chunks could be so large that one would take up the entire project time for one day; the next day could then be used for a different project, and so on.

There is an alternative to presetting the amount of time allotted for each project. When I review projects, I look for the next step. The completion of that next step then becomes my target. I then work on that project until that target is achieved or until that step becomes a failure; only then do I move on to the next project.

It’s a new system—to me anyway, but so far it’s working well. Will it work for you? It might. Give it a try; chunk it.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0)

Art and Money

Sunday, 17. March 2019 23:38 | Author:

There’s no money in art. Everybody know it: conservatives, liberals, moderates of every strip and hue. Everybody. That’s the number one reason that parents give for discouraging their children from pursuing the arts. They are sure their kids will starve, because it’s common knowledge that there’s no money in the arts.

Except, it’s not true.

Recently two reports were released that challenged this conventional wisdom.  One was 2019 State of the Arts Report for the State of Texas and covered the year 2017. The other was data released by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and covered the year 2015. These reports went a long way toward refuting the common mythology concerning art and money.

The BEA/NEA data shows that the arts sector contributed more to the US economy than the construction, transportation and warehousing, travel and tourism, mining and extraction, utilities or agricultural sectors, $763.6 billion to be precise. There are only two sectors that contribute more: retail trade and healthcare and social assistance. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The key findings were these:

  • That $763.6 billion constituted 4.2 percent of the GDP.
  • The arts sector involves 4.9 million workers who earned $372 billion in total compensation
  • The arts added “four time more to the U.S. economy than the agricultural sector and $200 billion more than transportation or warehousing.”
  • The arts had a $20 billion trade surplus.
  • Between 2012 and 2015 the arts had an “average growth rate of 2.6 percent, slightly higher than 2.4 percent for the nation’s overall economy.” The growth rate was 4.9 percent between 2014 and 2015.

Texas, unlike some other states, is not mentioned in the BEA/NEA report. However, Texans have their own state-level report. Here are the key findings from that report:

  • The arts industry in Texas generated $5.59 billion in 2017.
  • That amount generated “nearly $350 million in tax revenue.”
  • “Houston and Dallas each generated nearly $1 billion.”
  • “Austin and San Antonio each generated more than $350 million.”
  • The “arts-and-culture industry” has grown 15.5 percent during the last 10 years.
  • The arts sector of the Texas economy employs “nearly 800,000” people.
  • Arts jobs are projected to grow by 17 percent by 2026

And this in a state that “is 41st in arts funding among all U.S. states.

It should be obvious that the impact of the arts at both the state and national level is tremendous. In fact, Robert L. Lynch, the CEO and president of Americans for the Arts, has said “The U.S. [BEA’s] research makes clear that, if you care about jobs and the economy and infrastructure, you need to care about the arts. Strategic investment in our arts and cultural organizations is not an extra, it’s a path to prosperity.” The BEA/NEA data is illustrated in a series of charts and tables and is broken down by states.

And the value of the arts is not just dollars. Research indicates that in Texas “students enrolled in arts courses attend school more regularly, have a 15% higher pass rate on standardized tests, are more likely to stay in school, graduate, and attend college.” Data also shows that “art in hospital settings can reduce patient anxiety, pain, length of stay, and readmissions.

So the next time you hear someone say that arts are a waste of time and energy and that no one can possible make a living in the arts, point that person to the data that tell us that the opposite is true. The arts have a huge impact on American life and economy. The arts matter—in more ways than we realize.

Category:Uncategorized | Comment (0)

Want to Be Famous? Make Some Friends

Sunday, 3. March 2019 23:03 | Author:

We’ve all heard the saying “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” It turns out that in the case of artists, it’s not what you know or who you know; it’s how many who’s you know. In a 2018 study of abstract artists’ fame, Paul Ingram and Mitali Banerjee determined that cosmopolitan social networking was a better indicator of fame than either creativity or originality. Essentially, the study found that artists generally labeled “abstract” were famous in direct proportion to the size of their circle of friendship, with more fame attributed to those whose groups of friends were multinational.

A thorough discussion of this study by Casey Lesser can be found at artsy.net. In this article, Lesser posits that not only were diverse networks important as indicators of fame, but that they were also a “source of creativity” and had the additional benefit of providing the artist with a “cosmopolitan identity.”

Much of the data for this study originated with a 2012 exhibition about the birth of abstraction at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. MoMA has provided an interactive diagram of who knew whom that clearly makes the point that the most connected artists—in this case Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky—were the most famous.

And lest we think that this study represents an anomaly, remember that Emily Dickinson did not become famous until relatives who had much wider social networks worked to get her poems published. It is also notable that people who are famous in one art can let it be known that they are involved in another art and instantly be more famous in that second field than many who have worked in the field for a lifetime, but who have had much smaller networks of friends and acquaintances. For example, Jim Carrey and Jonathan Winters are two comedian/actors who have become almost as famous for their paintings as for their performing.

So what does that mean to us?  It means, simply, that all the hype about establishing a diverse social network isn’t hype, it’s the path to recognition. Of course, there is no indication as to whether today’s social networks, e.g. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, et al constitute networks of “friends” as the term is used in this study, i.e. a group of people who actually know each other. One would guess that the more active one is in any given forum, the more likely s/he is to be able to call it a real group of friends.

Please note also that the more diverse the group of friends, the more likely it is to indicate potential recognition. Also, internationality counts.

In concrete terms, this means that we must “meet new people and network across professional industries in order to open [ourselves] up to career opportunities and advancement….We won’t become famous in a vacuum and should seek to diversify our social circles.” And although we may not want to be movie-star famous, we probably do want to have our work seen and known. That, in itself, is a kind of fame. To achieve that we must not only maintain social networks, but we probably need to curate our followers and followings, so that we come to actually know those with whom we interact.

And we must not forget personal, in-person networking, which is probably the most potent form of networking going. If Ingram and Banerjee’s study is to be believed, in order to have our work known to the world we must enlarge our circle of friends. Today would be a good day to start.

Category:Audience, Creativity, Social Media | Comment (0)

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