Friday, September 26, 2014

No Artist is an Island

Whether you are an artist, performer, musician or writer it is often a struggle to nurture and establish a sustainable career in your chosen art form. Over the last 5 years I have worked with a range of individuals who are seeking to make a living from their work. Like many ventures this is not always easy and more and more I am convinced that it is about delegation and investment rather than going it alone.

Of course there are examples of individuals who have hit the big time and often this is put down to timing, the environment and pure luck...the right place at the right time. Although, I am not really a believer in luck. I tend to think that by focusing on a clear direction and putting steps in place, it can lead you to your own luck.

In a recent article in Cut Common Magazine, James Morrison wrote of the challenges of having and maintaining a career as a musician. In response to the question...Do you feel musicians are very business minded?, he responded with...

No, not at all. In fact, I must write a thesis on it one day, because I’ve made quite an informal study of it over the years: the better the musician, the worse they are at business. They’re different ways of thinking. What makes a great musician to some degree is taking a chance to be artistically creative. But the kind of thinking that leads to inspiring performances is exactly the sort of thing that will lead to financial ruin. What you need, and what I’ve been lucky to do, is to find people who are of the other ilk – who are interested in your career and music and love what you do, but who have a business mind – and partner with them. When you’re starting out in school, you don’t need a manager or an accountant. But once your career starts to move, one of the mistakes I think people make is that they stay solo and try and look after things themselves. But music is not a one-person business – a good financial manager is worth their weight in gold.
The other challenge of course, is not losing your creative spirit, integrity and passion in the search for financial security. This isn't a new challenge, but one worth reflecting on throughout the journey to ensure your direction aligns with the authenticity of the work you are creating.
People make art for all sorts of reasons; commercial, creative, spiritual, political and others. I guess it's about working out what our own individual requirement and balance is, to ensure the end product matches the person and the desired outcome.
I often reflect on the three elements that I have observed in successful artists; integrity, authenticity and tenacity. This is about staying true to your art practice, not being seduced by the latest fad and working bloody hard. In combination this seems to create a depth which at some point resonates with audiences, art lovers, galleries and commentators.

There is no golden goose and I certainly don't know all the answers, but I am interested in the conversation and how we can better support creative makers. My concern is the continued competitive nature of funding applications trying to access a diminishing pool of money. Avenues such as crowd funding serve a purpose, but they are certainly not the answer. I will write more extensively about this in a future blog.

In my own business I am developing a team; recognising that alone I am much weaker than if I gather individuals with key skills. No entrepreneurs operate alone. I am reminded of the work of Dr Ernesto Sirolli who talks of three crucial factors that are required to make a venture successful; the creative product, the marketing of the product and the financial management. I think this is quite true for creative makers. They are often fantastic at making their work, but need the other ingredients to take it to where they want to be.

It is disappointing in resources produced for artists that there is little reference to the idea of building teams or working with others to develop their business. My most recent library addition, Art inc. by Lisa Congdon (Chronicle Books, 2014) is unfortunately no different, with 170+ pages informing artists how they can build their career. Chapters cover business management, promotion, IT knowledge, distribution and selling work. While there is useful information on presenting and packing artwork and other tips that are important for the artist, I question the assumption that one individual is not only expected to be able to undertake, but excel in all of these areas.
So the challenge is how to nurture an environment that supports a collective approach, rather than expecting an individual artist, musician, performer or writer to know and do it all alone. 

Ironically, as I am writing this, Ben Howard is singing the lines 'no man (or for our sake...artist) is an island' from the song Black Flies, off his album, Every Kingdom. How appropriate. The journey and research continues...

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