Post from April, 2016

A New Paradigm: the Creative Entrepreneur

Monday, 18. April 2016 1:40

In his article The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur” in The Atlantic, William Deresiewicz makes a statement that echoes one in the last post: “Everybody understands by now that nobody can count on a job.” That established, he goes on to say that the new paradigm for those in the arts is the “creative entrepreneur.”

Deresiewicz  details the previous paradigms for art:

  1. Artisans who were master makers and who were financed by patrons. This paradigm existed in one form or another until the late 18th/early 19th
  2. The solitary genius became the paradigm for artists during the Romantic period. This view of the artist also brought us “Art for art’s sake” and Gesamtkunstwerk. The artist was a cultural aristocrat, a rock star of the period, not bound by rules that governed other mortals. It’s an idea that that still has some currency.
  3. The artist as professional appeared in the mid-20th By that time, art had become something of a religion and “in America especially, art, like all religions as they age, became institutionalized.” This, of course, led to museums, opera, ballet, and theatre companies, arts councils, funding bodies, educational programs. Artists acquired the trappings of professionalism: professional degrees, professional positions (usually in higher education), awards, fellowships, credentials.

Deresiewicz says something that artists are loathe to admit: the paradigm of the artist is based on the market of the period. And the market has changed considerably since the middle of the 20th century. In the early 21st century the most successful marketing is done by entrepreneurs using the internet and the cell phone—bypassing 20th century institutions and marketing directly to consumers. It has happened with commodity merchandise, music, video, gaming, and now art. “Audience” has become “customer base. “

There are a number of implications to this model which Deresiewicz points out. I find that I cannot agree with all of his conclusions, particularly the most dismal, but I appreciate his bringing them to our attention (and will discuss them in the next post).

The real problem is the artist’s application of this information. If he/she is no longer institutionalized and can no longer can count on a job, entrepreneurship is the best available alternative. Each artist must do what Hazel Dooney was advocating several years ago: bypass gatekeeping institutions and market directly to his/her audience.

The push toward entrepreneurship demands that artist know something about marketing, thus the “proliferation of dual M.B.A./M.F.A programs.” Coupled with the idea that we, in our careers, will have five or six jobs perhaps in multiple fields, artistic entrepreneurship strongly suggests that the artist must be literate in multiple platforms. And this is just within the art world. (The always-suspect “day job” is not considered here.)

This sort of thing is already going on, of course. An Equity actor I know, in addition to acting, is an author and a poet, and teaches—mostly workshops, some connected with cultural arts organizations and some self-booked. He also does anime voice acting and has done set construction from time to time. He works primarily in the arts, but in very different aspects of the arts.

Likewise, photographers often expand their practices to include not only weddings, but also senior photography, infant photography, portraits, boudoir, industrial, headshots, even pet portraiture, all of which used to be strict specializations.

Artists of all stripes are marketing and selling on the internet, either through their own web sites of through one of the hundreds of arts market websites such as Etsy, RedBubble, and FineArtsAmerica.

While I’m not sure that I like the term “creative entrepreneur,” the idea does seem to be appropriate to the world in which we live. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to deal with it. And in dealing with it, we can either fight the paradigm or embrace it. I rather suspect that our survival as artists depends on our embracing it. Just how we interact with this new way of doing things, however, can be just as individual as our art.

 

Category:Audience, Marketing | Comment (0) | Author:

To Hell with a Backup Plan

Monday, 4. April 2016 1:06

The last post discussed finding one’s real passion. It naturally follows that once found, that passion should, and in some cases must, be pursued.  But there is a fear that to do so might lead to a difficult life or even to unemployment. So students beginning their study of theatre, particularly acting (and I assume all arts), often begin looking for a backup plan immediately. Not only are parents concerned for the future security of their children, but the students themselves have come to recognize that to be successful in the arts business is difficult. Sadly, that difficulty seems to be a deterrent.

This leads me to three thoughts. The first is that if a person is seeking employment security in 21st century America, that person is living in a fantasy world. Ask any petroleum engineer in Houston; that was an unbelievably secure occupation until the bottom fell out of petroleum prices and hundreds were laid off. Teaching, particularly K-12, used to be one of the most secure jobs in the country; no longer. No one who gets an MBA has a backup plan, but sometimes he/she doesn’t get employed. The arts are no different.

My second thought is a question: why would a person waste his/her time and money studying a profession if he/she thought leaving that profession for another would be a good choice in the future? It would be far more economical in terms of finances, energy, and time to abandon that path immediately and put one’s energies into a more rewarding endeavor.

My third thought is a piece of advice: forget the arts; go do the backup plan. My rationale is that if a person, at the very beginning of his/her journey into the arts is considering a less-difficult path, then that person probably does not have the requisite determination (passion) to succeed in the arts. There will be far less frustration and heartache following the easier route. If, on the other hand, a person is truly passionate about his/her art, the ultimate frustration will be not following that passion.

Instead of working on a backup plan, a student would better use his/her time doing two things: (1) doubling-down on the time spent working on the chosen art. If a person is of the opinion that his/her chosen art is going to be a difficult one in which to make a living, it only stands to reason that the more knowledgeable and skilled will have a better chance of succeeding.  There are no guarantees of course, but more knowledge and skill always improve the odds.

(2) The time that would have been spent working on the backup plan would be better used figuring out how to manage pursuing one’s passion. And this is really the heart of the matter: what is important to a person about his/her art? Is it the doing of it or the making a living at it? If the former, then the way may be different from those seeking to make a living at art. Courtney Lomelo, a working actor in Houston has said, “I have another career during the day that is far from the Arts. . . my day job IS my side job. I like it and it affords me comfort and not to have to worry or take acting jobs that don’t resonate with me just because I need to eat. I can focus more on my craft than ever. I can do it unabashedly without being torn between survival and craft.” That may not work for everyone, but might for some.

There are all sorts of ways for pursuing one’s passion. Spend a little time figuring out which one works for you and go toward that goal with all you have. Make the plan for your passion your main plan and your only plan. To hell with a backup plan.

[This is my second post on the topic of backup plans. The first is here.]

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