A few months back, Seattle based artist Clayton Weller, wrote a piece addressing what he feels is a self-limiting outlook held by many artists that theatre is dying and there is no money out there. He confesses to having embraced the same outlook until he worked for a start up company.
Now he advocates for every artist to work for a start up in order to adopt their more nimble outlook. (my emphasis)
When you say the word “business” to someone, especially an artist, they automatically assume you’re talking about something stuffy, rigid, uncompromising, and [insert horrible adjective].
You say “business” but they hear “bureaucracy.” THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING!…
To eschew something because it can be done poorly, is a disservice to yourself, and might rival einsteins famous definition of insanity (look it up plebes!).
Talking directly to people, iterating ideas before execution, creating a feedback loop with measurable data; it all makes perfect sense.
By doing this you create a real connection with your customer (audience) and develop a product (art) people will not only tolerate, but will clamor for. In terms that an artist would use: your art becomes relevant.
That’s a big deal.
The average artist does NONE of these things. Not only that, they intentionally avoid them. They lock themselves away to pursue their secret “vision.” When they receive negative criticism, they blame their audience (customer). WHAT?!?
For me this addresses some age old debates about artists being more business minded and selling out vs. thinking you know what audiences/customers should like. (the most negative extremes of the spectrum)
Obviously, I like his point about not dismissing options because other people don’t do it well.
I think the complicating factor is the fear is that you too won’t do it well and the process will dominate your time and take you away from your creative work. Or worse, make you resent your creative work for making it necessary to become involved in the business side. For some it may not be a wholly irrational fear.
Still, I think regardless of your fears and regardless of your views about what constitutes selling out and remaining true to your art, the feedback loop Weller mentions is a useful process.
Failure and missteps are things you will face, especially when you are working in the arts. Proper feedback can help minimize this over time. If nothing else, the process can help you identify the proper people to solicit for feedback.
If you start a flow chart from the simple proposition that you want to support yourself with your art. You can ask, do people say nice things about my art? If the answer is yes but they don’t pay for it, you either need to find other people to get feedback from or figure out a different way to monetize your art from the people giving you feedback.
Likewise, if there are a lot of people who criticize your work, but still won’t buy it after you make the changes to the areas in which they say you fell short, then you may need to find other people to solicit feedback from.
Obviously it isn’t as completely clear cut as that. The problem may lie in your execution not being very good. My point is that you can’t depend entirely on your family and friends or trolls for feedback. It is necessary to identify people with the level of discernment you seek whose feedback you can trust and work from there.
You just need to recognize and own the potential implications of appealing to 1,000 versus 100,000. You can make a lot of money from those 1,000, but you need to be producing to a certain standard. Meeting the expectations of 1,000 can be just as burdensome as that of 100,000.