Tag archive for » Austin Kleon «

Followup: What’s Next?

Monday, 31. July 2017 0:37

The last post was about that depression that seems to happen regularly to artists when they finish a project. Originally, I suggested that the best cure seemed to be jumping into another, even frivolous, project to pull oneself out of the doldrums. But then it occurred that if one is depressed, the last thing s/he might be able to do is to come up with a new project, no matter how lightweight it might be.

As I was pondering this I ran across a blog post by Austin Kleon entitled “Want to be an artist? Watch Groundhog Day” (If you are not receiving Kleon’s newsletter or reading his blog posts on your news feed, you should be.)  In the post, Kleon argues that the creative journey is much like that of Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day.

His point is one that has been made here before: “The creative journey is not one in which at the end you wake up in some mythical, happy, foreign land. The creative journey is one in which you wake up every day, like Phil, with more work to do.” And Kleon makes his point quite forcefully.

Along the way, he includes a quote from Ian Svenonius’ book, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group: “[Art], however, is different. You will never know exactly what you must do, it will never be enough… no matter what change you achieve, you will most likely see no dividend from it. And even after you have achieved greatness, the [tiny number of people] who even noticed will ask, ‘What next?’”

This is the question that we always find ourselves asking after the end of a project, and in the depression we’re feeling, the answers are hard to see. New projects do not usually just jump up and introduce themselves at our bidding. So what to do?

My suggestion is absurdly simple, but for some reason, the idea has eluded me until very recently: make a list of potential projects—not just a list of projects you could do or might be interested in doing, but projects that you really want to do, given the time and opportunity.

If your experience is like mine, you might find that the ideas for new projects come when you are the busiest on a another project. Make notes on them for future reference. And when I say notes, I mean just that—not just a list of project ideas, but some sort of document about each idea with enough detail to allow you to remember what you were thinking in full. So now, instead of just scribbling the idea on a post-it note, which subsequently became illegible or lost, I now make a Word document for each idea and keep those documents in their own folder on Dropbox. Some files contain only a single sentence or phrase; others have multi-page outlines of projects—whatever time and the level of development permit.

This folder provides a place that I can go whenever I am between projects to insure that I keep working, when I have additional developmental ideas, when I need to do the “something small every day” that Kleon advocates. I can open a project, refine it, edit it, add to it, develop it—a little at a time. Some of these potentials grow into projects; some get abandoned when I realize they are unworkable. Still others morph into a project different from the one I had originally envisioned.

It may not be a perfect system, but it works for me. You may want to give it a try.

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

Give It Away

Monday, 5. May 2014 0:31

Almost all artists come to the point in their artistic development when they feel that they should no longer work for free. Yes, it’s all about the process, but we begin to want a tangible return on our investment of time and materials. But then we have another issue: how to find a paying audience for our work. Since artists seldom have neither the training nor the inclination to be good salespersons, it becomes a problem.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Austin Kleon in his new book Show Your Work, suggests that solution to getting our work out and ultimately selling it is not only to share it, but to do so freely and tell whoever will listen how we made it. His rationale is that if we can engage potential collectors through the story of how we create what we create and provide examples, there is a higher likelihood of selling it.

Hazel Dooney has said much the same thing. She publishes much of her work on the internet to generate conversation and, instead of copyrighting it, releasing it with a Creative Commons license. She too has written about the idea of giving work away. She will even go so far as to release high-res images of her work and agree to sign them if collectors will print them and send them to her (paying postage both ways, of course).

At the other end of the spectrum is an artist I know who will not even store his images on a cloud drive for fear that someone will steal them. He would not dream of establishing a web site showing his work. Because he has no media presence, very few people have ever heard of him, and, although his work is quite good, he sells very little—no one knows that he exists.

If we are concerned about the image itself or the idea, perhaps we don’t want to give it away. If, however, what we sell are original pieces, then sharing a copy may not be such a bad idea, particularly a low-res version. How else will potential collectors decide whether they want this or that piece? It’s not like anyone will be able to take that low-res internet image, blow it up to display size, and print it at a level of quality that could compete with our originals. And there are other advantages to sharing our work. We can create a tribe, a following, a group of people who like what we do an who are anxious to buy our next book, painting, original signed photograph, sculpture, those who will want to see our next movie or play or listen to our latest piece of music. That can’t happen unless they have a way to know about it in the first place.

And then there is this thing about sharing working procedures. Even the most secretive of us can have our work reverse-engineered. Once an idea escapes into the universe, anyone can give it a try. If we withhold process and procedure, it won’t stop those who want to copy; it will just slow them down a little. Why not explain what we’ve done and encourage others to try it out as well? Even using the same methodology, no one will be able to reproduce our work—simply because it’s our work and sprang from our brains. Even using our techniques, others will have to create what springs from their own brains. And knowing our secrets does not necessarily make the implementation easy. Some techniques, as we know, require years of practice before they can be mastered.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about sharing our work is overcoming our fear that our work will be “out there” and out of our control. There are ways that we can protect ourselves, but that is a topic for another time. The potential upside far outweighs the downside. Sure, someone might turn our art into a screensaver, but whoever then sees it may want an original for the living room or to give to a friend, and he/she would never have known about our art unless we had given a little of it away.

Category:Audience, Marketing, Social Media | Comments (1) | Autor:

Where Are You Going?

Monday, 30. December 2013 0:14

Last week’s post included the sentence, “Few of us end where we were aiming when we set out, and we may find that we’re really glad that we learned to sing somewhere along the way.” Since writing that, I’ve thought about it and decided that maybe it deserves some more discussion.

The fact is that most of us do not end where we were aiming when we set out. This is an idea that can be taken at least two different ways, both of which are, I think, valid. In one sense we do not end at the target we set when we set out on our life or professional journey. In another sense, the work that we create often does not end where we planned for it to go.

In both cases, many of us end up at a place that is far superior to our original target.

The process of making art requires that we leave room for discovery and serendipity as we follow where the process takes us. For example, writer Austin Kleon started making the trailer for his new book with all sorts of plans; however, he soon discovered that there was much to be eliminated and even more to be modified. He says, “I like the idea to change as I’m working.Even if you have to throw half your work out, it’ll lead you to something better.….Let your “mistakes” during the process actually feed back into the idea. Absorb the mistakes into the piece.” The work that results from such an approach has a tendency to be more organic than work that is totally and completely preplanned.

An approach such as Kleon’s, however, does not mean that planning should be dismissed. Many artists, Kleon included, begin with a very firm plan in mind. The trick is to be adaptable and to allow ourselves to be open to new ideas and pathways as they arise.

This is true of our careers as well. The blog Brain Pickings quotes Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbs: “The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It’s a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you’ll probably take a few.

Again, planning is not to be dismissed. My constant advice to students is for them to decide where they are going. Of course, like almost everyone else, the vast majority will end up somewhere different, but the selection of a target and the movement toward it is hugely important. Otherwise, they have a tendency to go nowhere, in almost every sense of the phrase. Once a goal is targeted, movement starts, and those detours that Watterson mentions happen along the way. Like the accidents in making art, they often lead to more and better opportunities for satisfying work.

Some people do end up where they started to go, and good for them—so long as the work is satisfying. Most of us, however, end in a very different place than the one we imagined when we first started out. Again, the test is not whether we got to our original target, but whether where we got to is fulfilling.

Likewise, if the art that we make is exactly what we imagined when we started, good for us. If, however, we incorporate mistakes and let he idea change as we proceed, then good for us as well. What matters, after all, whether in our professional journey or in making art, is not the initial impetus or whether we stayed on track, but what the journey taught us. It’s called process, and it takes us where it will. We can only benefit.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Autor:

Dark Night of the Soul

Sunday, 13. January 2013 22:33

In his superb book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative (which you should purchase immediately if you haven’t already—yes, it’s that good) , Austin Kleon has a graphic entitled “The Life of a Project,” which he attributes to his friend, Maureen McHugh, and which you can view in her blog.

For those who don’t need a graphic representation, here are the main stages that McHugh sees in the life of a creative project (as lightly edited by Kleon):

  • This is the best idea EVER!
  • Ok, this is harder than I thought.
  • This is gonna take some work.
  • This sucks—and it’s boring.
  • (Dark Night of the Soul).
  • It will be good to finish because I’ll learn something for next time.
  • It’s done and it sucks, but not as bad as I thought.

If you don’t recognize the sequence, you are probably not one who does a lot of creative projects. As I think about it, I don’t remember very many projects that did not follow this exact pattern or something very close to it—at least the projects I cared about. And it doesn’t seem to matter which medium you’re working in or how experienced you are. This is the pattern that occurs. And the Dark Night of the Soul happens predictably every time, and every time we don’t see it coming. It takes us off guard and scares the hell out of us.

And since most artists are riddled with self-doubt anyway (Something I have discussed previously here, here and here and probably some other places as well), we find ourselves talking and thinking to ourselves: “I’ll never get this to come together.” “What if I’ve lost my mojo?” “What if I never had any mojo to begin with?” “It’s true; I’ve just faked it up til now and have just been lucky.” “I really have no idea what I’m doing and never have.” “I really need to find another line of work.” And on and on. We beat ourselves up every time. It’s like we have no memory of other projects and of having had these exact feelings before.

And so we suffer, and for a time self-doubt takes over. Then, if we’re lucky, we remember who we are and why we do what we do, and we move forward. Sometimes that amounts to the simple recognition that there will be an opening night, or a gallery show, or a commission to be satisfied, and we forge ahead—and move on to the two final steps.

Some regard this self-doubt as a weakness; others regard it as perfectly natural and normal. I agree with the latter group and would go a step further and say that it’s necessary. Brian D. Cohen in “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” explains this position:

But I believe that powerful and enduring art results from the interchange of conviction and doubt, a process of urging something into existence and then questioning its validity. Doubt and uncertainty, with accompanying self-questioning, discomfort, and setbacks, feel unproductive, yet only by passing through this state will anything ultimately worthwhile emerge. Doubt on its own doesn’t get you anywhere. Conviction, the belief in what you do, gives art its authenticity and motive power; doubt, its durability and integrity.

What we have to remember is that if we really care about what we’re doing, the Dark Night of the Soul is going to happen. If we persevere, we will get through it. It’s something we must endure, and, if we are to believe Cohen, appreciate. Without it, we would create less meaningful work, less significant work, and who among us wants that?

 

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comments (1) | Autor:

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