Seeking Arts Career Advice? Be Careful

Over the last six months, I have purchased two books and enrolled in one online seminar, all designed to help me better my photographic career.  Both the books and the seminar came highly recommended by various magazines and blogs.

Unfortunately, none of them lived up to their promise. One of the books offered advice that most practicing photographers already know. It has a nice layout and some pretty good images, and it attempted some interesting concepts. But the writer, perhaps unsure of his audience, reduced the concepts and their application to convoluted inanities. I tried a few chapters only to find that same approach throughout the book. Needless to say, I did not continue.

The second book that I attempted had information that was better; however, the writer had made the presumption that his readership was only marginally intelligent. Constantly on the edge of talking down to his readers, he over-explained everything. There was never any doubt about what he was trying to say, but he said it in the most simplistic terms possible, which, regrettably, got in the way of what good information the book contained.

The online seminar was superior to either book in that it neither talked down to the participants nor was so vague or simple that it had no meaning. And there were multiple presenters, which introduced some variety. There were occasional pieces of information that, properly applied, could be quite useful, but a good portion of the information was recycled, so I’m not sure that I really got my money’s worth.

These three instances are what Mat Gleason calls the advice industry. Gleason, in an excellent article entitled “Twelve Art World Habits to Ditch in 2012,” says:

You gotta do this, and you gotta do that, and most of all you have to buy the art advice book on how you can make it on your own as an artist by doing all of this stuff on your own. Advice is now an industry. Just make the art and sell it for whatever it takes to get it out of the studio and make more. Don’t buy the book. It is probably rehashed if not flat-out plagiarized from the other books. There is no blueprint for a masterpiece and there is no blueprint for a successful art career.

And he is right. You can find people to tell you how to market your art, how to sell your art, how to find a niche, how to modify your art to fit the market. You can, in fact get advice on any aspect of your art career. The problem is that a lot of it is simplistic, vague, overdone, out-of-date, non-applicable, or recycled.

There are some writers who offer worth-while advice. I find that they fall into two distinct categories. The first group is made up of those are likely to make you mad by telling you things that you don’t want to hear or things you haven’t thought of yet or things you thought of but were afraid to attempt. They are not trying to sell you this or that system to insure your success. They are presenting opinions that you are free to adopt or reject, and they provide their reasoning, so you can make an informed decision. These are the Seth Godins and Julia Camerons and Mat Gleasons, and Hazel Dooneys, to mention a few.

The other good advice comes in the form of very specific information presented with the reasons and the results. These are how-to’s that can be quite useful in areas where your technique is weak, regardless of the level at which you are working. (Most photographers recognize Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski  as this type of advisor.) Once you master the presented procedures, you are free to use them as you will.

It’s the people in between that you have to worry about—those who comprise the “advice industry.” They are happy to advise you on any aspect of your art—for a price. So before you buy this or that that guarantees to make you “successful,” do your research. You may find out that the information you are seeking is already available for free, or that there are better choices, or there are no magical answers.


Date: Monday, 9. January 2012 0:00
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Education, Marketing, Photography

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