It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a design studio, a student at the Academy or working retail by day and creating art by night — a day only has 24 hours. If then you want to make something out of your life, time management is imperative.
While all of the people who work a 9-5 job have time management enforced into their lives by their workplace, those of us who are self employed don’t have a boss to tell us when to work and when to have our lunch break. And with no HR person breathing down our neck and telling us what to do and when to do it, we have to do this ourselves.
From calculating taxes, checking contracts, planning meetings to learning about our craft and following some sort of news platform so we actually know what’s happening in our field. Oh, and making art, right?! Sometimes freedom can be quite constraining.
But where in this incredibly dense equation of the-things-we-should-be-doing and having-no-time-to-do-them should we squeeze in the most important job of all — marketing?
Not as cool as being a bohemian artist, not as rewarding as making a sale or signing a new licensing deal but probably much more important than everything else mentioned, marketing our work is the only functional way to propagate our ideas into the world.
And today’s world is already quite full — full of people like us, doing things that are similar to ours — so saying we need to have a strong game would be an understatement.
But while many of us think we need to be creating Hollywood-like movies about what we do or making some blown-up statements on how our work will “change the world as we know it”, it really could and should be much simpler:
Make your art simple to understand by making your process transparent.
Not by showing boring two hour videos of us mixing paints and priming our canvases, but by maybe sitting down in-between the drying coats of paint and speaking about our work. We should be documenting our process — not by defending our right to have one, but by explaining our motivations with simple language and a good story.
Give those who are interested in your work a glimpse into your mind and your process. Document how you clean your brushes (or how you never do), why you use a certain brand or type of canvas (even if it’s because it’s the cheapest — sincerity is gold) or show pictures and write about the books you like to read.
There is always time for a short piece of content.
When you don’t have time to set-up a video camera; why not take out your phone and make a short handheld IGTV video or Facebook video or even a story on any topic that you like — connected with your art or maybe even just about what makes you tick. Lots of content on the platforms you feel comfortable with is the best way to go if you can’t afford to run ads on Facebook or Instagram.
Your work, life or personality aren’t boring, and they surely aren’t unimportant!
Some people religiously reread a few books that are special to them every year (something I could never do), and the intentions and the drive behind doing so are actually fascinating to people like me, who after finishing a book usually toss it away and find another one to read.
My point is; even the minuscule things that we do in our lives can be immensely interesting to some people and in reality, usually exactly these minuscule parts of our personalities give others the ability to connect with us on a personal level.
You don’t become best buddies with someone just because they like art as much as you do, because liking art is too broad of a subject to be relatable. You get close because of having or liking the same kind of artists and their works and only if both of you understand them in approximately the same way.
To get there, both need to first share their personal aspirations towards a certain topic, and be sincere about it. Otherwise it’s like opening your Facebook news feed and looking at vaguely interesting ads about pant tubes — you kinda like them, but just couldn’t care less about them being there.
In the end, we shouldn’t just be painting pictures on canvases and Fabriano paper, we should be painting mental images onto the minds of our followers and soon-to-be-followers. Only so can we ever succeed in expanding our reach to the people who really care and genuinely like our work.
Art is obviously emotional and as such its value is determined absolutely subjectively. The big question though is how, because even though ambivalent, subjectivity can still give us a lot of various starting points to think about our target audience.
How people recognise a good story in objects and experiences differs from person to person — that’s why it’s subjective — but usually we can find basic guidelines that can help us define this perception. The main idea behind this exercise is to find what is most important for each person, that we are trying to understand.
What are their needs? What do they wish for? Do these wishes and needs have a certain urgency? Do they provide pain or discomfort for them and can our art elevate or even completely fix their issues?
Even though art is seen as the complete opposite of utilitarian — especially is we look at contemporary art — it could not be further from the truth. If nothing else, the baseline of what art can do is to catch attention. To intrigue and incite curiosity about itself in those that experience it.
Art has to be interesting. It can be either “avant-garde” or challenging, but at the same time it can be personal and quaint; there is no “standard” that defines what interesting is, except that whatever it is we are creating should stand out in the context of everything around it.
An apple on the ground of an orchard is about as interesting as a grain of sand on a beach, but that very apple, placed in a vineyard will catch people’s attention, because they ordinarily wouldn’t have expected it to be there. The same goes for art; anything we do should aim to be exceptional, compared to the environment it resides in.
But this doesn’t mean that we need to run naked in the streets while reciting the Yellowist manifesto, because there are much more subtle ways to stand out, and truly great art is always made in a subtle, but disruptive way. Think about all the one hit wonders in the music industry — they might have been successful with one song, but after the initial boom, they slowly fade into the background.
Their problem is, that they have been trying to impress and communicate to the kind of people that need constant novelty and excitement to give them their attention. And because they focused on people that needed cheap thrills, they themselves become one in the end.
Only those that build their novelty and intrigue with a long timeline in mind and cultivate the attention of the people as a friend or acquaintance, not a passing circus or magician, are able to find true success with their creative business.
Because, while a magician may be able to entice and amuse us for a few hours, after we’ve seen the show, there’s really no point in going back another time. We’ve seen all of her tricks, laughed at all of the jokes and it just wouldn’t have the same novel effect on us as it did the first time.
But comparing it to our favourite book, that we have reread a thousand times, or our favourite TV show, that we know by heart and still binge watch from time to time, these objects and experiences never seem to really get dull.
Quite the opposite, they get better and better over time.
QUALITY AND QUANTITY
A lot of people today speak of quantity as the defining factor in getting your message into the world — with Gary Vaynerchuk being at the forefront of this movement.
But I think we do need to take a closer look at this model.
I still think quantity plays an enormous role in content production — especially as the amount of blog posts, podcasts and images on the web is increasing exponentially — but there is one important truth that many of us may overlook in this conquest of trying to reach the eyes and ears of the masses.
Quality is king and quantity is his servant.
I get why the amount of information is being pushed as the most important factor; too many of us focus endlessly on tweaking and re-editing our content, too many of us spend hours making our images, texts and videos “perfect” and thus miss a lot of opportunities of growth and consequently reach.
The 80/20 rule still applies to everything in the universe; 80% of effect is produced by 20% of our effort. Of course, we shouldn’t confuse this with the idea that we only have to do 20% of the work and get 80% of the rewards.
We still need to do all of the work. And regardless of how much “all of the work” actually is — 5 min or 5 years of input, it doesn’t really matter — the effect is always more or less the same; most of what we do will not bear any fruits, but a fraction will. And that fraction will create the most effect.
Here the real argument for quality begins to take shape; if 100% of what I did was only average or “merely” good, the effects of it will embody the same kind of qualitative force. Good things lead to good results, average work produces average products and services, but excellence, excellence can’t but create exceptionality.
In order for any one of us to reach excellence, we have to first begin our path with average tools, common techniques and boring (and many times tedious) practice. But after such a rhythm has been established, after the almost masochistic pleasures of repetition and rigorous practice become part of our being, I believe all of us need to again venture further into the unknown.
And this means reevaluating everything we have been doing up to this point. A child may have enormous dependence on his training wheels when learning how to ride his bike, but after they succeed in mastering balance, speed and manoeuvring, the support has to be taken away, exposing the reality that all they have done up to that point was mere practice for the real thing.
In the end, all we do — regardless of whether we write, sing, paint or dance — we do so as a form of diary, a succession of traces that we leave upon the world. It doesn’t matter if our creations ever get exposed to the public; even those of us that never publish our creations and keep our diaries, paintings and songs to ourselves , we inevitably all do the same.
We create marks upon the world, knowingly or not, by accident or in order to be remembered. Regardless though of why we do what we do, I believe one thing is for certain.
Such marks should be born out of the highest efforts that we can endure, if not to grow, at least to know that whatever we did mattered, perhaps to some, or maybe none, but always to ourselves.