Post from April, 2011

Change for the Sake of Your Art

Monday, 25. April 2011 0:01

In my last post I paraphrased Barney Davey when he mentioned that how artists promote themselves is constantly changing. Not only must artists constantly evaluate their marketing approach, but we must also continually monitor our working procedures and approaches to making our art, keeping ourselves and our art open to change.

Everywhere you turn, there are advocates for evaluation and change. Hazel Dooney has recently tweeted, “It’s time to reinvent my life and my self again. It’s disconcerting. But then I know that not to do it would be worse.” Virtual Photography Studio suggests that you should strive to be unrecognizable in five years. Seth Godin advises that we need to take control and set or reset our own agendas.

But change is scary. Change can be disorienting. In two recent blog posts, “Keep it Simple (Not Stupid)” and “I As Another,” Dooney explains some specific changes she has made and goes on to discuss why change frightens and disorients us so much: “Change is threatening because it replaces the past with something new. New experiences also change the context of the memories we’ve retained.” In keeping with her declared changes, Dooney announced that she would be closing her blog, which has been active since December, 2006. (I would encourage those who are interested to quickly read her ideas before they disappear; she has much to say about art and the creation and marketing of art.)

No matter how threatening change is, it is a necessity. The alternative is to go stale, to keep producing the old and familiar. While that may be comfortable, it is not creative, it contains no growth. And, like a business, an artist who is not growing is dying. Sharon Weaver writing on Empty Easel maintains that “your art will never improve…until you embrace change.”

So, once again, it seems that we must face the frightening. First it was marketing and sales, and now it’s reinvention. Will baby steps work this time? I think not. I think that in order to make any change that is meaningful, you must jump. You must risk. Oh, you may plan, but the outcome of any significant change is uncertain. However, the rewards are tremendous. I know an actress who was also a singer who is now a singer who also acts. And she is tremendously productive and happy. It came time, she told me, to move on to the next phase of her career. That move was not without risk, but it paid off.

You will find many such stories. I, myself, have recently changed the concentration of my personal photographic practice. I created new approaches and new procedures and developed what were, for me, new forms. I had no idea what was going to happen, whether the change would be successful or I would fall on my nose. There was a lot of learning, preparation, and work involved in this new approach. But my efforts are now beginning to bear fruit, and I am feeling positive. I am still finding my way, but now, at least there is direction, albeit not fully charted.

As Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party” reminds us, some people can be expected to dislike what you do when you reinvent yourself or change directions. But you must ask yourself for whom are you making the change? What are you trying to accomplish? Where are you trying to go? I’m not sure that change for the sake of change is the best choice, but change for the sake of your art or the sake of your self may be one the better choices you can make. Change may not make you popular, but it will feed your artistic soul.

Category:Creativity, Photography | Comments (2) | Author:

Uncomfortable with Self-Promotion? Take Baby Steps

Monday, 18. April 2011 0:05

One of the things there is no shortage of is advice on how to be a “successful” artist. Make no mistake; in this context “successful” means “an artist who sells.” Sometimes it means “an artist who makes his/her living from his/her art.” In any case, it’s all about marketing and sales. And why not? Being a starving artist may sound like a romantic idea, but it’s only that. We can all point to artists who were successes only after they were dead, but is that the model you really want to follow?

The fact is, whether we are painters, photographers, sculptors, ceramicists, or writers, we want people to see our art, and hopefully be impacted by it. So we have two choices: give it away or sell it. The second alternative seems to be the better of the two, at least to me.

We are told that we must self-promote, and the implication is that we should model ourselves after the most financially successful self-promoting artists. We are encouraged to follow the examples of those who promote shamelessly and/or exploit the internet. We are advised to spend every minute that we are not actually producing art interacting on Twitter or Facebook or our blogs and websites or engaging in some other form of marketing and sales.

This can be a difficulty for those of us who do not have art factories or assistants or those of us who do not believe that we are temperamentally suited for marketing. Some would say that we had better find a way to make the time and become suited or resign ourselves to giving our art away, or, like Emily Dickenson or Vivian Maier, having it found and made public after we’re gone.

There is no question that marketing and sales are necessary if we want to succeed in terms of putting our work out there into the world. We must promote our own work and we must figure out ways to become comfortable doing that.

This means researching and exploring the many different venues and approaches to art marketing and sales. Spend some time analyzing tweets, exploring Facebook, reading blogs, examining web sites. You will find that there are innumerable approaches and a variety of styles. And there are more all the time. According to Barney Davey, how artists promote themselves is constantly evolving, and one of the challenges is to try to keep methodology current.

Not every successful artist is a completely shameless self-promoter. Some promote better than others. Study them; see what works and why. See what appeals to you and why. See what fits you and why.

Then try some of those methods out. Take baby steps. Move out of your comfort zone a little at a time. As you build up your courage and your repertoire of possibilities, you can begin to see what works for you. And that, finally, is the most important thing, to find the methods or combination of methods that work for you.

Category:Audience, Communication, Social Media | Comments (2) | Author:

Breaking Out of that Non-Productive Funk

Sunday, 10. April 2011 23:00

The other afternoon I was having coffee with a friend and began to talk about a creative problem that I was having. I could not get much done. I found myself piddling with the work instead of really being productive, and I realized that the problem was becoming a pattern. All of which made me unhappy, but I seemed unable to break out of it.

It’s a problem that most creative people have from time to time. It’s not exactly writer’s block; it’s more like a stall in the creative process, a non-productive funk. My guess is that it’s brought about by our old friend, insecurity.  We all—well, most of us—have moments when we doubt our own work. We wonder whether we are, to paraphrase Stuart Smalley, good enough or smart enough or whether people like our art.

That kind of insecurity plagues highly successful artists as well as the lesser-known. Dean Koontz has said that he is subject to “ceaseless self-doubt that sits like a demonic imp on my shoulder from the moment I begin the first sentence until long after I finish the last, informing me in a whisper – occasionally in a stentorian rant – that I am composing this story with less success than any three-legged toad might experience if it attempted to herd sheep.Nichole Kidman is beset by paralyzing fear: Every time I star in a film, I think I cannot act. I’ve tried to pull out of almost every one I’ve done because of sheer terror.

In those moments of self-doubt, it’s easy to lose the path to productivity. We begin to second-guess ourselves. We quit believing in ourselves. Then it’s easy to piddle, to procrastinate, to mark time while we appear to be working, to pretend to be moving forward when we know within ourselves that we are not.

So what are we to do? How do we find the path again? How do we break out of the whirlpool of non-productivity? My friend suggested that I needed more stimulation. It was a thought that had never occurred to me. But it was enough to set me thinking about finding a way out of my creative funk and into a more productive mode.

And so I thought about it. And, as serendipity would have it, I came across a couple of other ideas. Seth Godin, for example, said “There will always be someone telling you that you’re not hip enough, famous enough, edgy enough or whatever enough….Shun the non-believers” And I would add, “especially when the non-believer is yourself.”

But how do you do that? Perhaps my friend was right. Perhaps I did need more stimulation. So I explored ways to get more, not necessarily artistic inspiration, but stimulation in general. I introduced more variety into my routine. And that was just enough to begin to lead me to a solution. And that I think is the solution—not necessarily additional stimulation; you may be over-stimulated already. The key is to do something different, anything different, to break your pattern, so you can be free to consider your situation from a different perspective.

Once you’ve found that different perspective, the whole problem not only looks different, but feels different. In my case, I was able to look at the situation far more objectively and discover that, in addition to added stimulation, a different approach to my working procedure was necessary. It wasn’t a big change, but it made a huge difference.

What the key might be for you I have no idea. But I would be willing to bet that it will become apparent once you begin to do something different. Try it and see.



Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

Imitation May Not Be Completely Useless, But It Is Cheap

Sunday, 3. April 2011 23:56

In an acting book report that I heard recently, a student paraphrased the author, “Don’t imitate; create.” He went on to elaborate and to clarify the differences between pretending and doing, explaining that the author was talking about honesty in acting. What he said about acting also applies to art in general. It’s a topic I have discussed before, but it’s one that keeps coming up. Today I am not as concerned about the honesty part as I am about the imitation part.

The creation part may be questionable to some. Creation implies originality, and a number of people say that nothing is original, that we are forced to remix and remodel old ideas. That may be, but no one, it seems, is particularly fond of imitation. Picasso reportedly said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal,” which pundits have modified into the often used, “Steal; don’t imitate.” Or perhaps all of this is just a paraphrase of T.S. Eliot’s observation: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.…

The question that remains is if originality really is beyond reach, why is imitation scorned? The answer is simply that imitation is an admission that whatever you are copying is worth more than anything you could do yourself. Imitation is not just stealing; it is merely mimicking. Imitation is cheap.

This is not to say that all imitation is a terrible thing. Often, as a learning exercise, art students are asked to make a painting or a photograph or a drawing in the style of a famous artist, or at least a distinctive one. But even in such an exercise, outright copying is generally frowned upon. The poor student will copy the masterwork slavishly, trying to reproduce exactly what the older artist has done. The better student will look at the work of the established artist, and maybe others by the same artist and create something that incorporates the artistic concepts of the master artist but is still the student’s own work. These latter students learn the intimacies of the master artist without giving up their own identities.

Even participating in a learning exercise, the second group of students would be doing what some would call “original” work. It is work that is decidedly based on earlier work, but not blindly mimicked, not imitated. It is an application that teaches the successful students more about the style and content of another’s work through thought and analysis than they could ever learn by simply reproducing that artist’s work. But there the value of imitation ends.

Even if everything that you make is a remix or a remodeling or mash-up of the ideas of others, at least it will be your remix or your remodeling or your mash-up. It will reflect your approach, your effort, you. And in that sense it will be original, or at the very least authentic. It will be real.

What the Bhagavad Gita says about living life can be applied equally to making art: “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of someone else’s life with perfection.” It is better to make your own authentic art imperfectly, regardless of where you get the ideas, than to make a perfect imitation of someone else’s art.

And perfection, as we all know, is highly overrated.

Category:Creativity, Education, Originality | Comments (1) | Author: