Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Business of Being An Artist

(This particular post can be applied to any kind of art, it's getting placed in the dance blog for convenience.)

2015, for me, has the subtitle of "the year of getting down to business proper."  (I have no doubt that it will acquire many more as it ages.) So it's probably no surprise that articles and discussions about the difficulty of being an artist and trying to do business at the same time are catching my eye. There's a particular line of "oh, but I just really want to focus on MY ART, I'm not any good at the other stuff."

This is nothing new.  I've been hearing it for years in the dance community. "I am/so-and-so is/such a lovely dancer/teacher, but no one has heard of me/them - and it's because I/they focus on my/their art, and it's not fair. Marketing/business takes precious hours away from my true love and vocation."  Which is then paired with the implication that anyone else who is making it, isn't as TRUE an artist, they're just better business people (sometimes this is unspoken, sometimes not).  (Because of course blaming/disparaging someone else for their apparent success makes your own lack-there-of easier to justify, right?)

And you know, I understand, really I do.  I'd love to just work in my studio all day long, while having my art completely support me without having to do anything besides make it.  Such a lovely fantasy.

So keep that in mind when I say: SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP.


You spent a long time mastering your art/craft, yes? And probably (aka should) still put more time now into expanding it via workshops/classes/etc. There were certainly times where you lacked the proper skill/knowledge to accomplish certain movements perfectly, work with a particular media, write the perfect prose. Yes, you may have possessed inherent talent (aka, doodling on the living room walls when you were 3), but it had to be honed and developed.  Countless hours were spent investing in your craft, and not all of them were enjoyable. And you're lying if you say they were.  (If I have to make one more graduated black to white chart in charcoal again with 12 variations in between...)  Face it, at some point in your journey, probably dozens of points, you sucked and you were frustrated, but you kept going.

The hard truth is that business skills fall into the same category.  And they are not separate from your art, they're integral to it.  Marketing and networking doesn't come easy to introverts, but you can learn to do it well, or at least well enough.  (Fake it until you make it.) Like everything else, it just takes practice, and you're going to suck at it for a while.

And while having someone who solely does all of those business aspects for you would be fantastic  - no one is going to sell your work (and essentially YOU) for you, unless you believe in yourself and your work first.  Meaning you have to get it out there in the first place - which takes working on some of those biz skills. It's not going to happen overnight.  There are very few (if any) true "overnight successes."  All of the artists/performers/musicians I know who you hear about, they've been at it for a while.  There is rarely ever one "big break" that makes it all happen. It's more of a juggernaut effect - but you have to get the ball rolling first.

There is also a lot that can learned in acquiring those business skills that can advance your art in other ways.  When you start to consider your audience (or potential audience), how it's being received/perceived, and what is working - that information can all be used to help you pinpoint your own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore you can become even better at your art than you can producing in a vacuum.

Now, if the opportunity comes to me to have a go-getting agent and/or numerous financially supportive patrons, I'm not going to balk at having to handle less of the load (Hi! Write me!).  But I will recognize that it happened because I busted my ass in the first place and muddled through the sucking stages.

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