YOU/Reach out

YOU

The artist as a lone wolf is an old romanticised notion. Yes, you probably need some peace and quiet to come up with your ideas, or to bring them to life, but there is also a world out there that you’re dependant on. The people around you are your audience, your inspiration, your clients, your network. Your communication with them isn’t a broadcast radio, it’s an ongoing and complex dialogue. Increased activity leads to opportunity, but before you start reaching out, it’s good to consider why and how you want to communicate. What you want to gain from the outside world, and what can you give in return? Will you let the demand steer your output or will you let your work determine your audience? Consider what you want your audience to gain or what kind of impact you want your work to have on the world. Deciding where to live can also be an important part of the equation in positioning yourself and your relationship with the world.

I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.
—Albert Einstein

Here’s an experiment: Try to go a whole day without anyone talking to you. It’s pretty hard. Phone calls and texts, emails, social media and advertisements; you are inundated with communication. It’s like drinking from a waterfall. And with each of these messages, you are informed of things someone else already came up with. To give your own thoughts a little space to grow and take form, you need peace and quiet. In a 24/7 society, that means you have to protect your space and time. This will help you to resist outside interference. To not fall back on the comfort from other people’s presence and reassurance. To be able to listen to, and know yourself.

In the excellent book A Technique for Producing Ideas, one of author James Webb Young’s key steps is: “Forget about it.” That is, after working very actively or intensely on something, it’s important to step back from it. Why? Well, scientists have shown that most of our brain activity is unconscious. We simply do not know what’s going on up there. The more we try to focus, the more we distract ourselves from listening to our own subconscious. Or, in technical terms: if we keep feeding our prefrontal cortex consciously, there is no room for the voice of our subconscious. So, “forget about it” does not mean you should abandon your project to go work on something else, or watch TV. It means you should truly give your head some space to do its magic without your active participation. Go for a run, take a shower or meditate. Whatever works for you.

Keep in mind, those are short term solutions for activating solitude and its benefits. However, most artists agree that you need a ritual of real solitude. This could take the form of writing in a journal every day, taking a stroll, or walking the dog. Any activity that you can commit to daily that releases your head from active duty and from other people’s thoughts. You might find that solitude comes quite naturally to you, or only with incredible difficulty. The opposite of solitude is hard for most people, but just as necessary: confrontation. Whereas solitude releases you from other people’s opinions and ideas, as a professional artist and entrepreneur, your work will at some point meet an audience. You will need to get to know this audience and have an idea of what impact your work will have. To get this understanding, you’ll need to confront yourself with people, time and time again.

It can be a challenge to find the right harmony between solitude and confrontation. But you will need to. Make room in your routine for specific moments of ultimate peace and quiet. Make room for specific moments to invite feedback and criticism, to question your surroundings and be a critic yourself.

The importance of being active could be described in basic physics: The more particles there are in a certain environment, the bigger the chance for collision. The more these particles move, the bigger the chance for collision.

Likewise, in your network, the more frequently that people have (recently) heard of you and your work, the bigger the chance that a good opportunity will come along. The more you are active in reaching out to make connections, the bigger the chance for a good opportunity.

Activity leads to opportunities. Remember this very simple rule, and put it into action. Placing your work in your window will add to the number of opportunities. Talking about your work at a party, posting a video on social media, or asking someone a thoughtful question will all work to create opportunities.

HERE ARE A FEW TIPS TO ACTIVATE YOURSELF AND YOUR NETWORK:
  • Create a custom postcard with your work on it, and send it to a potential customer.
  • Create a (small?) artwork to serve as an introduction of yourself, and send it to someone whose interest you want to catch.
  • Ask someone you know to introduce you to a stakeholder you want to connect with.
  • Change your profile and cover picture on social media to images that show your artwork, so anyone you connect with will see your work.
  • Tweet something about your work, tagging a person you want to meet. That person will receive a notification, so keep it interesting and relevant.
  • Make an interesting flyer, like a “REWARD” poster, and hang it in public where your potential customers will see it.
  • When you go to an industry event (like a conference, exhibition, etc.), wear a t-shirt with your message on it.
  • Create a tribute to one of your stakeholders, combining your message with his/her work. Write a poem or song and publish it.
  • Create a blog named after a stakeholder you want to meet, like Xiwanttomeetyou.com, where you blog about all your attempts to meet him/her. Share it.
  • Make an announcement on Facebook that you are looking for places to show your work.
“Nobody knows where I live, nobody asks me about that. It’s not interesting for the orchestra, the musicians, the singers. The only thing that’s interesting is what I do there and then. It can be of course an extra spice to the discussion when somebody finds out that I live among cows and horses in Ostrobothnia.”
Anna Maria Helsing
Conductor, Finland

There are two main reasons for moving somewhere else:
1. To get away from where you are
2. To be somewhere else

Getting away from where you are
We’ve all heard the story of the 30-year-old who still lives with his/her parents. You might know one first hand – it might even be you! The situation doesn’t exactly scream “success”. At least, for most of us, it’s not how we imagine independence.

Your surroundings have a big influence on your actions. And the environment where you grew up —where you were nurtured, protected and supported—will likely affect your behaviour throughout your life. Imagine moving to a totally different city, like New York or Rome or Beijing, and just how much you would suddenly have to rely on your own abilities. Success would certainly feel like it was of your own making.

A lot of us (especially those from villages) struggle to shake the image we have of ourselves if we stay in the same place. The people we know have come to see us a certain way, and it’s all too easy to behave accordingly. A fresh start in a different place can offer the opportunity to create a new perspective of yourself.

Getting to the promised land
The second reason to move is to get closer to what you are looking for. If you live in a small village in Drenthe, Dalarna, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern or Almeria, you might crave a little more action. A bigger city provides more opportunities to meet people, more companies to work for, and easier access to supplies, culture and potential collaborators. On the other hand, if you live in a big city, you might crave more peace and quiet to do your work. As mentioned in the chapter on solitude, it is important to be able to find headspace away from other people and day-to-day distractions, in order to do your work. In short, there is no single ‘best’ place that works for everyone.

Just remember this: where you live is a choice (unless it’s a prison). If you feel a certain place, whether a countryside retreat or an international adventure, might give you the inspiration and opportunities you need… Go for it! No matter what happens, or whether or not it lives up to your expectations, you will take something away from the valuable experience of following your heart.

“You have to live in
the place where you
think it will happen,
you have to find your
tribe!”
Marlies Dekkers
Fashion Designer, The Netherlands
Without deviation from the norm progress is not possible.
—Frank Zappa, Musician, composer, activist and filmmaker, USA

Should I make something the audience likes, or should I make something I like? Artists have always struggled with this question. You can bet that the Egyptians sketching hieroglyphs in the pyramids were already toiling with this dilemma. When there’s no food on the table, the answer is easy. When there’s a vengeful, vainglorious king who has commissioned his portrait, the answer is easy. But if you’re a 21st century artist with tools, freedom and comfort, the answer becomes a lot harder.

Let’s start with simply trying to understand your goals; Say you want to be an artist for a living. This means that you need to make work that connects with AN audience. Without an audience, there’s no demand, there’s no money, there’s no work. You are not an artist for a living. You are literally an amateur. To be a professional, your work has to connect with an audience, which of course is not the same thing as producing what they ask you to!

Asking the audience what they want is tricky business. Carmaker Henry Ford supposedly said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford then changed the world not with faster horses, but with his Model T automobile. Similarly, in the ‘80s, people were polled about the demand for mobile phones. Most people at that time couldn’t see the need for having your phone with you all the time.

So where does this leave you? You have to make something for people that they don’t know what they want. Yet.

Your job is to find latent needs. Dormant needs. And then to translate those needs into a new language that nobody has ever heard, but understands easily once its spoken.
This makes your intuition your most valuable tool. Soak up your surroundings, absorb the work of others. Experiment and sample the results. Then, let your taste guide you.

Even if a customer comes to you with a clear assignment, you still need to bring those unique qualities that make your work truly yours. And of course, don’t forget to keep challenging yourself: If you keep painting the same portrait, even the vain king will get bored. Surprise your customer, exceed their expectations. If can anticipate your customer’s needs and solve them before being asked, you might even land your next assignment before you’ve finished the first.

“I am a firm believer in the philosophy of Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come. In other words, it is not just in the making and creating of the work, but the distribution of it. Do you have something to say? Do you care about your subject? Can you communicate relevance? If so, an audience awaits.”
Donald Weber
Photographer and Educator, Canada

Some parts of being an artist give you a clear measurement of success: You make music, people dance… job done. You paint pictures, people stare at them long enough… job done. But if we zoom out a little, there are some bigger matters at stake that are rather harder to measure. How do you see your role as an artist in society? Are you in it to entertain? Are you there to pose questions? Is your role to confront? Or provoke change?

Each of these types of artist has a part to play, but regardless of which one you consider the most important, your personal worldview will give your work its strength. If you believe we should take drastic measures to stop climate change, does that show up in your work? If you feel minorities’ rights are a big concern, will you use your art to influence a positive change?

To build your impact and influence, first determine the topics or issues that truly speak to you. Seek out the things that genuinely affect you and are true to your character—your audience will feel your personal commitment, far more than if you are playing with a topic for the sake of being ‘socially minded’.

NEXT, DETERMINE WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AS AN ARTIST:
  • I just want to create my work and get it out there
  • I want people to be touched by my work
  • I want commercial success
  • I want acknowledgement and to create new opportunities for myself
  • I want to make change beyond my work

Then, find like-minded people to help build and amplify your message. Look beyond your discipline to collaborate on a common or shared goal, based on how you see your role.
Then, work together to create artwork that will engage an audience.