by: Angela Cross
As an artist, you’ve probably felt unappreciated at some point in your career.
Heck, even calling your art a ‘career’ might sound silly to you!
It’s a common 20th-century misconception that popularity equals value. It can feel like you just can’t build a following unless you already have one, which is a frustrating catch-22 that leads many great artists to burnout. I think that the creative community is becoming wiser and that the 21st-century artist mindset offers a more holistic approach to generating a sustainable creative career.
Your art’s value is intrinsic to itself;
not defined by how much money you can make.
For example, Johann Sebastian Bach is considered one of the most important musicians in the entire history of human music making. But it wasn’t Bach that created this timeless appreciation for his work, it was another composer named Mendelsohn about 80 years after Bach’s death. So, was Bach’s music less valuable when he was alive, then after his death because it became more popular?
His music had nothing in it that wasn’t present during his lifetime, but Mendelsohn’s public performances of Bach’s work throughout Germany, coupled with rising nationalism, made this obscure German composer a sensation. So Bach, who was considered a fine performer, but an average composer became a larger than life musical icon that is revered hundreds of years later.
Another great example is iconic American author, Henry David Thoreau. During his life, Thoreau was an unsuccessful author having published two books that cost him more than they earned. His most famous work, Walden Pond, was written while the broke author was crashing on the poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s woodland property.
Again, we have an example of great art not meeting the public in a way that created success for the artist. Though Thoreau didn’t get to enjoy this fact in his lifetime, Walden Pond is now a quintessential piece of American literature. Examples like this abound in history with creative artists like Van Gogh, Kafka, Vermeer, and Edgar Allen Poe– all unappreciated during their lifetime.
So, you see, your art is valuable whether or not it’s paying rent. So, it is very important to start any public outreach effort by having a sense of appreciation for your own work, and not feeling small or unworthy because your paintings haven’t sold yet.
To get your work out there, and actually start selling, here are 3 often forgotten ways to start generating authentically engaged fans.
Have you heard of tithing? Maybe you tithe 10% of your income to your favorite charity or your church. Tithing is a beautiful spiritual, and emotional practice of generosity.
As an artist, you might put more money into your art than your art puts into you. To change this pattern, begin an artistic tithe. Think about how many people you could reach, if you gave 10% of your creative work as a gift to worthy organizations.
I’m not talking about posting on Facebook that you’re giving away a free print… your art is never free; it always costs you time and energy. So, think about people and organizations that could really benefit from your talent, and make it a point to give at least 10% of your creative work, and/or time.
When it comes to online promotion, everybody is talking, and fewer people are listening. By becoming a great fan for other artists, you naturally learn to make content that is easy for people to relate to and interact with. Also, try to learn about as many less prominent artists as possible.
It’s easy to be a fan of Alex Grey or Dolly Parton–their superstardom has a life of its own, and being a fan pulls you into something much bigger than yourself. What could happen if that energy of ‘fandom’ went into newer, unknown artists?
What if more artists made it a point to discover, support, and fall in love with other up and coming creators? Not only will you likely gain fans, collaborations, and gratitude- but also, you’ll also probably learn something new. Never underestimate what a small purchase or a few words of encouragement can mean to an artist, musician, or writer who is just getting started.
Your art and your product are not the same thing! Some of the most poignant, and remarkable artwork that exists right now generates no money and is virtually unknown.
Great art is its own excuse for being, but it’s also important to be able to put food on the table. This is why you must take the time to distinguish your art from your product.
For instance, I can write a song that is beautiful and touching, but it’s not a product until I format it for fan sales by distributing through channels like iTunes. Something beautiful, or eye catching isn’t what drives sales. In order to have people ‘get’ your art, you must spend time thinking about your audience, and their wants and needs.
It sounds simple, but it can be a long-term commitment to get it right.
“If eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most people are stretched thin living busy lives and usually reserve their time, energy, and money to a few key things. Your music may be amazing, but why should someone buy it? What do their lives look like, and how can your graphic novel fit into their values, habits, and desires?
As technology expands, artists have more tools to format their creative work in a way that will directly impact other people’s lives in a positive way. Ask yourself a few key questions (listed below) and brainstorm with a friend—chances are you will find some creative ideas that may surprise you.
Also, be bold in asking other people for advice, and opinions about the questions above. The more assumptions you make, the more likely you are to miss your target audience.
Of course, these 3 tips will not help you generate appreciation around your art if you’re not growing as a human being, and expanding your public profile through consistent outreach. Usually, artists slack on this because they feel discouraged by the lack of fan engagement. So, if you feel like nobody cares about what you create–you’re wrong. You just haven’t found your audience yet.
There are 7 billion people on the planet; the odds are in your favor that there are at least a few thousand people that will be moved by what you do. Your responsibility is to think about their needs and communicate your art in such a way that your fans and potential collaborators can find you.
Of course, there’s so much more to converting strangers to fans, and fans to patrons- but these 3 ideas have gotten me from square 1 to… whatever square I’m on now!
As an independent musician, I could really benefit from your input. How do you generate fans? Have you had any particularly successful social media strategies? Are there certain things you do to keep your work relevant to the public? Please share with us in the comments below!
You can do it, never give up and remember that appreciation of your work starts with you.
Angela Cross is an audio alchemist, a painter of sounds, and a lover of life. She also plays most instruments you've heard of a handful you haven't, and also produces digital soundscapes from her solar-powered studio deep in the Pacific Northwest countryside. She often collaborates with producers and artists around the world, as well as with her 2 giant mountain puppies, Jean-Luc and Galilea. She can be reached through the mental aether, as well as various social media channels AngelaMarieCross.com
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