July 23, 2015

Creative Capital, or the unbearable lightness of marketing

Over the weekend, I spent two long days in a glass-walled conference room at TechTown, receiving the rundown on professionalizing an art practice by a Creative Capital dream team comprised of Colleen Keegan, Dread Scott, Jackie Battenfield, Aaron Landsman, Paul Rucker, and Hasan Elahi. I learned a lot, and felt icky and uncomfortable a lot, and have come out the other side stretched as a person, and disabused of a few notions that I can see are holding me back from being a professional artist and writer.

The first is the idea that if I could just get a big enough break, someone would do all this marketing and promo for me. My main applicable takeaway from the weekend is, child, if you are not going to advocate for your work, no one else will. Makes sense, when you think about it. Even when you are rich and successful–whatever those words mean to you–and able to hire people to take on various aspects of your professional practice that you’d rather not deal with, you still need to be the one with the vision and the direction. Otherwise you are just spinning your wheels, or going to end up with a just-add-water solution (“let’s try social media!”) that doesn’t reflect your values.

I get it. We don’t like thinking about art and money. We don’t like connecting financial success with our personal practice of self-expression, lest it tarnish or impact the purity of our creative process. But really, to act as though it doesn’t tarnish or impact my writing process when I have to work three other jobs to support myself is ridiculous. To struggle along with a set of means that compromise my time and resources in tons of ways, merely to justify the ostensible end of an art practice without limits…is incredibly limiting. Maybe this is especially clear to me because the only thing standing between me spending that weekend doing paid landscaping work in 100-degree heat index weather is getting the Kresge Fellowship. So, despite not really liking PowerPoint or conference rooms–I will take air conditioning and free cookies over stinging nettles and sweating balls ANY DAY. I took notes, I listened. I made the conscious decision to think of this stuff as merely information–not something I was committing to, or had to take outside the room, if I didn’t want to. But contempt prior to investigation is putting a limit on yourself without even knowing what you’re missing.

And you know? A lot of it made sense. At least, enough of the suggestions and tools we discussed are things I have successfully applied in my own life and practice, that I am willing to entertain adopting a few of the ones that are less intuitive to me. See where it takes me. Anyway, there is still a lot to think about it. But I would encourage any artists interested in getting some information to come to the open sessions that KAID puts on as part of the program throughout the year. The next one is “Protecting Your Practice” from 6:00-8:00 on Thursday, August 27th.

You might learn something! Or you might walk away saying, “Screw this.” But I think even the ability to say, “Screw this, specifically,” is more powerful than, “Eh…screw that vague thing I don’t really understand.”

But maybe that’s just me.

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