Artist or…Eeeek! Marketer?

I’ve been keeping a journal, and besides just writing about what I did each day, I allow it to be a record of my thoughts (kind of like this blog, which I wouldn’t be able to sustain without the help of my well-trained mind-monkeys.) This post started its life as a journal entry about something I’ve been wrestling with as an artist. If you have ever worked or attempted to work as a creative professional, you can probably relate to many of the sentiments that I share here.

That word “marketer” and “marketing” grate on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. I don’t consider myself a marketer, a businessman, or even an entrepreneur. I’m just an artist. Art is what I love. And if I could, I’d be completely content to spend all of my time creating my art, and never have to worry about the hassle of “marketing myself.”

And if I think of someone as a marketer or salesman, my first inclination is to run. If I were to do a free association test with the word “marketer,” I’d probably reply with words like “scam,” “informercial,” or “ShamWow.”

However, since I’ve been pondering on this issue, I’ve realized that just like everything else in life, the right path is the balanced one, which lies between the two opposites.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight.

I don’t believe in marketing; I just believe in communicating.

In fact, art, when broken down to its simplest form is communication. Art is the communication of the soul. That’s why I don’t like to think of myself as those other words. The M-word to me is too superficial a form of communication. Art is real communication. Communication about what really matters.

However, as an artist, I must not only communicate through fiction, nonfiction, films, and animations. After I have created all those (and while I am creating those), I must also share my work. Otherwise, the message could stop with just me. And as much as I learn and grow from creating my work, I want it to be of some use to other people, as well. In fact, one of the things that gives me the greatest satisfaction as an artist is when someone else is benefited or touched by my work.

Ergo, I must divide up my time. I must spend some of it only on art. I must lock myself in a room and communicate with no one else except my own inner self. I must traverse the dark and murky underworld of the unconscious in search of gems to polish and cultivate. Blood, sweat, and tears transmuted into beauty. This is art. This is what people are unwilling to pay 99 cents for.

Other times I must not create anything, but go out and create connections with and communicate with people. I must share my work. I must tell the world about the deepest, innermost secrets of my soul. Because anything less than this is not true art. (And therefore wouldn’t be worth 99 cents.)

And I guess making blog posts might be something of a combination of the two, creating and communicating.

I wasn’t going to do this, but I’ll interject this personal story so that you can know the travails of an artist. This story illustrates keenly the dilemma of being both artist and marketer.

In April of 2011 I went to Brazil for a few months, and while there devoted myself to documenting the plight of the Chariot Men, a group of people who are in danger of losing their way of sustaining themselves. I was dead set on making a documentary film to show the world what was happening here in Brazil. Quite simply, 8,000 families were being ‘swept under the rug’ so to speak by the Brazilian government. I spent over 3 months of my life every day and about $15,000 of my own savings to support this massive undertaking. However, I needed more time and resources to finish the film and do it justice. So I set up crowdfunding campaigns in the U.S. and Brazil to help fund the effort. If you’re not familiar with crowdfunding, it’s a way to allow people in your network to pitch in some money to help fund your project in return for some perk or prize that you set up. The idea is that if dozens or even hundreds of people contribute, they won’t need to contribute very much individually, and together, they can fund a big project. Kickstarter is an example of a crowdfunding site.

I had exactly two people contribute: my brother Miles and the Seattle documentary filmmaker Dan McComb. (You guys are awesome, by the way.)

Now, like I said, I’m not a marketer. My passion and talents lies in the art itself. I’m sure I did everything bass-ackwards in terms of setting up and ‘marketing’ this campaign. However, what shocked me the most was that people who I thought were close friends (and family), who supported and believed in what I was doing, were unwilling to even make a nominal contribution of $10. I’m not saying this to point the finger or to set myself up as better than anyone else. I share this experience with you because it taught me a sad truth: People undervalue what really matters and overvalue what doesn’t. I blame it on a broken paradigm handed down to us from society. I very well may have made the same mistake in the past. But I’d like to think that if I had a friend who was pursuing some cause even half as worthy as helping tell the story of an injustice being done by a government to a poverty-stricken people, I would definitely chip in something.

The purpose of this blog is not to dwell on failures or tell sad stories. But to me it wasn’t a failure. It was a valuable lesson.

Yin and Yang

Back to the balancing act we artists must make between the creation of our art and the sharing of it. I like the Oriental philosophy of Yin and Yang, because it creates a very simple and actionable paradigm in my head. Yin is the dark, the concealed, the hidden, the regenerative. Yang is the light, the manifest, the open, the revealed. I must spend an equal amount of time in both modes. Aye, therein lies the rub.

Though challenging, this combination of art and communication allows us to connect with people on a much deeper level. If I was just a communicator and not an artist, sure I could just go out and connect, but the people I connected with wouldn’t really know me. They wouldn’t know me in the same way as if they had experienced one of my works. Since I’ve read several books by Orson Scott Card, I feel I know him better than if I hadn’t read his work. When I connect with Steven Pressfield on his blog, it makes a big difference that I’ve read his books. And of course, if I didn’t have a message to share, what the f$&% am I doing communicating anyways? Communication without any real message is, well…Facebook.

So there is the challenge to all artists and creators: to balance Creation and Communication. It’s hard enough to do what 99% of the people are unwilling to do: create. But then on top of that, we must go out and tell other people about our creations. The life of a creator is an uphill battle. But, since I’ve chosen to live a life of meaning, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What challenges have you had in trying to both create and communicate about your work to other people?

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8 comments

  1. It’s more or less what I recently wrote about. A lot of self-published writers on the internet right now are no better than salesmen peddling their wares. They only care about sharing blurbs written about their work, summaries and sales and discounts. They never care to give back something to readers, whether it’s a simple greeting, a thoughtful quote or an interesting link.

    You have to act LIKE a marketer/salesman to get your book across to the right people, but that doesn’t mean you have to get your head in the game like that with everyone you meet. You have to know when to turn it on and off, when to promote yourself and when to spend time with your audience.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you have to give something back. I’m going to focus more on giving. I like how Chris Guillebeau (Art of Nonconformity) gives away a bunch of free stuff on his web site (which is actually very useful) and he said that less than 5% of the people who go to his web site actually buy stuff from him and he’s fine with that. I’d rather be someone who creates and gives a lot to the community than someone who is just trying to take take take.

      You are another fine example of someone who is always giving, with your free flash fiction and serial fiction on your web site, and great articles.

      Thanks for the comment, Joe!

    2. Well said, Joe. Becoming the marketer is just a hat the artist must wear…on occasion, but certainly not all the time. Thanks for the insight.

      1. No problem. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Hi Daniel. Great post. I think my most challenging moments are when family members relegate my work to hobby. Many will not read my work because (I think) they feel it encourages something that is going nowhere.

    1. I can completely relate to you on this one. I think every artist has to go through this. It’s ironic that the people who support us the least are quite often those who love us the most. It’s because because they love us they feel they have to protect us. But ultimately the only way to achieve anything in life is by taking risks.

      Jesus said “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” I feel this applies 100% to artists, or anyone trying to change their life and do something higher and nobler. For example, don’t count on your friends on Facebook being very supportive of your change. They already have a conception of who you are. People resist change. It’s too much work for them to change their mental image of you. So I’ve found that while there are some that I’ve been friends with for years who support and encourage me (to which I am very grateful), I don’t depend on my existing network. I’ve found more success with branching out and connecting with new people through blogging, writing, etc.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Keep it coming! 🙂

  3. I love this post, Daniel. Communicating is such the better word here. Honest communication is the best form of marketing anyway. That is where true fans come from. One of my philosophies is that which I learned from AA: Attraction not Promotion. Honest communication attracts. Marketing promotes.

    Oh, and of course you kept me laughing. Love the comment about ShamWow. Best informercial ever. If I had a son, I was going to name him Vince.

    1. Thanks Ryan. One thing I wanted to put in this post but forgot to was that in many of the books I read, such as “Steal Like an Artist” and “You Are a Writer,” the authors share the same advice: Create stuff and then share it with other people. So basically Create and Communicate. If you focus on those two things, you can’t go wrong.

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