[Click the link to listen/download to the Audio Version of this post, read by Lisa. / Opens in a new tab.]
The image above is what I’m looking at on my desk right now.
My miniature (travel-sized!) prosperity Buddha and a fortune cookie from my collection.
They are holding the space for writing, for working on stuff that I’m actually really, really, really afraid to put into the world so publicly.
There’s no good segway from that image to today’s topic, so I’ll just jump in.
How Do You Know If You’re An Artist?
Whatever society we live in, at whatever time, the words art and artist will be interpreted based on a lot of other people’s ideas and opinions and cultural biases.
Pretty much every artist I know struggles with their professional identity: Am I an artist? Like, a real artist. What makes a real artist? Do I qualify? Can I dare call myself an artist?
Note: these types of questions do not plague engineers or lawyers or chefs or plumbers or accountants or farmers or hair dressers.
No one even agrees on what constitutes Art.
Which makes our task easier.
Define yourself on your own terms.
Decide what artfulness means to you.
Do the art that calls you most deeply.
It might not seem like “art” as defined by the people around us.
Especially if they are not, themselves artists who are trying to figure out what their art is.
Keep reading if you want to find out why this is stuck in my craw right now. Otherwise, that was pretty much my point.
I’m rambling about this because while I write and publish here online, I do not think of myself as a blogger.
This isn’t a blog. Sometimes I forget. And then I have to remind myself again.
What I’m doing here is writing about my experience as an artist.
The process of creativity is messy, uncertain, and holds my full attention at all times. My process and yours hold equal fascination. This is my most favorite subject: the how and why of what we make.
The resulting art that comes out of all of this process is an artifact of the experience.
At least that’s how I look at the art I make.
I care about the journey more than the destination.
Although, since I’m on deadline right now to get Sketchbooks finalized for publication, I’m a little bit worried about arriving at that particular destination on schedule.
Which I have dealt with primarily by rearranging the furniture and suddenly needing to perfect the art of giving myself a pedicure. (The former screwed up the latter, as I did the pedicure first.)
Like so many of you, I struggled with the identity around the title “artist”. But not until I got older and was convinced by well-meaning, concerned people (not artists) that art wasn’t a practical way to get the bills paid and that artist wasn’t a really believable job title.
Like so many of you, I was born knowing I had to paint, had to write, and to live some kind of life of adventure that didn’t look like the lives I saw being lived (in not-so-quiet desperation) around me.
Up until I was about eight years old, I knew I was an artist. I strongly felt that art was the thing I came here (to this life) to do.
I’m glad I know that again, that I’m an artist.
Because I find that when I’m most bogged down by the things of this world (like earning a living as an artist, for example), I’m bogged down because I am trying to be less artist-like and more business-like.
I know this is a terrible sort of paradox I’m presenting. Bear with me.
When I first started publishing my work online in 2002, I simply wanted an easy way to share my own sketchbooks and visual journals and creative process with the students in my workshops. In the workshops (then all taught in person), the emphasis was on their work. I wanted a place where they could view my work on their own time, only if they were interested.
Over the years, others got wind of my “blog”, which I never thought of as a blog. But, whatever.
There were nice benefits of a wider readership. More people learned about my workshops. I got to meet kindred spirits online who were doing similar stuff in their corner of the universe. An acquisitions editors called me out of the blue and asked me if I ever considered writing books. Why…yes. Many more good things happened as a result of daring to be visible and put my stuff online. But I never did it as a “marketing strategy”.
There is a little more irony to this story because for ten years I did have a boutique Internet marketing and design firm for green and socially conscious enterprises. So I knew and practiced online marketing, but not for my own art.
Many bloggers are struggling with their identities, too. Who is my niche audience? How do I consistently produce epic shit that people want to read? How do I increase my subscribers and comments and Google ranking?
Sometimes, when I forget that I’m not a blogger, I struggle with all of that, too.
Especially since I’m not doing the design and marketing thing anymore, and my income stream is directly tied to selling my art. So I’ve been thinking about “marketing” more. But then I get a bit hamstrung with it all.
It’s like when you are doing creative process work, like what I teach in the Creative + Practice course, but want it to have some kind of tangible, product-oriented outcome. Process and product don’t go together so neatly. Not the way we would like.
How Do You Market Yourself (Online) As An Artist?
It often feels like writing and publishing online is shouting out into a great void of more and more content and less and less attention span. I wonder: is anybody listening? Who cares? Maybe I should get more savvy about marketing my blog. Oh, wait. This was never about blogging.
But since showing up here and over-sharing is an extension of my art (or possibly the ultimate procrastinating activity) then I can let go of the struggle/pressure to have something blog worthy to say.
And just share what’s on my heart and mind.
Which is what I’m looking for when I read other artists who publish (blog?) online.
I’m sort of just revving up on this topic, but before I go on, I’m curious to hear from some of you:
What do you find compelling about the artists you follow? Why do you read them? Or look at their sites / blogs?
What is valuable there to you that keeps you wanting more? That makes you eager for their next post?
Or want more of what they offer?
What gives you the confidence to buy their work, if they have any on their site for sale?
A Working Thesis. Let’s make it up together.
I’m suspecting that what we want from our artists (and their so-called blogs) is different than what well-meaning marketing folks (professional marketing bloggers) are telling us we should be doing. Or not doing.
I don’t think there’s a formula.
I don’t think all of the online marketing advice that applies to bloggers applies to artists.
I expect that some things work well for some artists. And others…not so much.
Marketing online for artists? I’m more confused than ever about all of this.
I don’t know, and that’s why I’m asking for you to help me wrestle with these questions.
I do know that dropping the identity as a blogger is wildly freeing, and makes me eager to see what else will happen if I just keep doing my art here.