How to turn your creativity into a (way of) living

Over the past years I had the chance to work closely with highly talented and creative people. It is a unique feeling to work on concepts and materialize ideas, in so creatively dense environments where you get to see the act of creation as it happens, where you get to observe the very moment it takes birth, in various forms, through various mediums.

At the same time it is also sad. Sad to see all that talent being limited by the constraints imposed by an employer or by the constraints of your life that one way or another ended up going down that road where you spend more time on things that you don’t love, or you love less if you prefer, and less on things you love, or you love more.

In fact, in such environments, some great outcomes of ingenuity are happening on the side — during those few minutes of a break, those few minutes commuting squeezed on the tube, those few minutes you managed to escape the hustle of the everyday life. Products of ingenuity that travel as far as to meet the eyes of their own creators or maybe manage to reach a small group of people — call them colleagues that sit around you, call them facebook friends or instagram followers. And I have always been wondering — what if those people would get the chance to devote all that talent to the things they love the most. How amazing things they could potentially create. What a great impact they could potentially make in the world.

So, this post is dedicated to all those artists or creators of any kind that I have met, and the ones that I haven’t, that feel trapped one way or another and seek a way to devote themselves to what they love most. I will try to layout both the necessity and the way to achieve it.

Respect yourself, value your work

In a lot of artists’ minds, art is priceless. In a deep philosophical argument, it might as well be. But it comes quite often that artists misinterpret that statement. So, not a few of them tend to refuse to put a price tag in the work they create.

Which if happens, then it is terribly wrong. Indeed, art is intellectual property. By creating art, you are creating value. If that value fails to be monetized then the artist fails to reach his potential, due to lack of time, since he is trying to earn a living in other ways, or lack of adequate resources, or simply lack of motivation. In fact, the moment the value of art gets monetized, the art gets justified and without that justification the artist usually fails to find direction.

Before laying out some simple steps to achieve that monetization, it is important to understand that this is not only a matter of necessity but it is also a matter of responsibility.

In dreams begin responsibility

I perceive myself as part of a whole — call it society, humanity, world — you name it. And I want to believe that you perceive yourself likewise. In this context, it is quite obvious that everyone of us should provide something back to the society, to that “whole”. Even more, we should all strive to improve the world we live in.

So, what if you can create things that others cannot? What if your mind can generate ideas that others cannot? What if you can dream of a world that others cannot? Is it just been left on your own pure desire to materialize those things, to spread those ideas, to pursue those dreams? Or is there a great deal of responsibility that stems exactly from the uniqueness of those unique abilities?

I strongly believe that a great idea or a unique ability brings along great responsibility. You cannot let yourself be part of the herd and let it wander aimlessly if you believe you can lead it towards a brighter road. I believe that every individual carries unique skills and it is his responsibility to share them with others in order to achieve accomplishments that expand beyond any kind of singularity. Eventually, it is by pursuing our unique individual abilities that we progress as human race.

Patrons of the past and the present

The idea described just above seems to have been expressed quite clearly a few centuries ago. Owning great art was critical in one’s social image in the societies of that era and patronage was a common trend, mainly for the aristocrats of the time.

In fact, patrons played a critical role in elevating the intellectual and cultural influence of leading cities throughout history with most prominent example the patrons during Renaissance in Italy. It is not an exaggeration to say that patronage was responsible for the creation of not simply great artists, but for the formation of whole cities of great cultural influence, like Florence.

Today, even though patronage hasn’t eclipsed completely, the one-to-one relationship between the artist and the patron has been transformed in a three-way model. The consumer of the art, or the art lover if you may, doesn’t contact the artist directly, but instead through an intermediate, which in most cases is a global company — music production companies or prominent galleries are just a couple of examples. The end result is the percentage of the money which a consumer pays that end up in the artist is as little as around 5%. If you are not an artist but a consumer reading this, just imagine those times that you bought any kind of art with the intention to primarily support the artist — well, you didn’t quite succeed doing so…

I believe that by shifting the artist and art lover relationship to a direct one-to-one model, we could potentially lift both the quality and the quantity of artistic/creative production.

The 3 simple steps to generate your patrons

1. Market your work and build an audience

In most people’s minds marketing is a term directly associated with financial benefit. But while financial benefit is one, and usually the most desired, outcome of the marketing process, marketing itself does not mean that nor it necessarily aims to that. Marketing is the process of making people aware of your product. So, if you create something and there are people interested in it, you still need to find those people and make them aware of your work.

You may use the social media — instagram, facebook, twitter, soundcloud, youtube or whatever else to share your work. And the critical point here is to share your work not only to your friends but to try to find everyone that might be interested. You might actually need to hustle to reach out to people. This might mean that your instagram profile has to be public, that posting your work on your facebook wall is not enough and you may create a page as well or that you have to use relevant hashtags on twitter and so on.

You may have a more direct contact with people — try to exhibit your work in cafes and galleries, or give small private or public concerts, or arrange a reading evening according to what is relevant to the work you produce.

Whichever way you may choose, and I honestly believe you should go for both ways, the goal is to find those people, those communities who are just like you and engage with them and become a part of them. You need to expose yourself and you need to get used in exposing yourself. And you will have the chance to showcase your work — to spread and share. And the people that are interested in what you do they will start following you and they will start forming your audience.

2. Create a website and build a mailing list

Once you have an audience, you need to have a place to direct them when they want to find you. The quickest, cheapest and most efficient way to achieve that is by creating a website. This website needs to have only three, very simple and very important functions.

  1. To showcase your work: a main page with your work
  2. To introduce yourself: an about page where you provide them information about yourself
  3. To provide an opt-in function: a mailing list signup form where they can join and you can follow up informing them with new pieces of your work or whatever else you may think is appropriate

I think it would be good to add one note here. By having your own website, you have your own “land” on the web. If your online presence relies only on social network platforms, then you exist as long as these platforms exist and your presence is always filtered by their rules and constraints.

3. Let your fans become your patrons

Once you have built your audience and there is a communication stream, then it’s about time to ask, or actually let, your followers to pay you — in other words, to become your patrons.

When it comes to the pure technical aspect, you will have to do some work to set up the e-commerce on your website and other details, but once you manage to have a website and you have built an audience then you will probably overcome this step easier than you might think now.

But still, if you want a shortcut by avoiding getting your hands dirty with the web, you can have a look at Patreon, a website that takes the core ideas of websites like kickstarter and indiegogo and adapts them into a platform tailored for artists and creators of any kind.

Patreon

Here, I would like to clarify that I don’t have any relation, financial or other, with Patreon. I just think that it is a nice initiative and probably the best alternative to having your own website, which I do believe should be the way to go.

How many patrons do you need?

I will borrow the term “true fans” and the whole idea of this paragraph by Kevin Kelly’s “1000 True Fans” article written back in 2008. A true fan is not someone that simply likes your work. Instead, a true fan is someone that really loves you and your work. He comments on your posts, he shares your work, he is willing to travel 100 or, who knows, maybe 1000 miles to see you performing, he is showing his appreciation in several other ways and of course he is willing to support you financially, to become your patron.

So, let’s do some simple maths. If you manage to have 1000 true fans that are willing to support you financially with an average of £100 per year, that would make a £100k salary for you. Pretty decent I guess. In a world of 7+ billion, it might not be that hard to find them.

For the sake of making it a bit more real, as well as promoting two companies I adore, I want to add a bit of my attitude on this. I personally love contemporary dance (unfortunately I am not a dancer myself) and I am currently saving some money in order to support Hofesh Shechter Company, which I have seen performing three times and one of those shows I consider among the greatest works I have ever seen. I also hope that I will be able to make a contribution to Jacob Jonas that I haven’t got the chance to see them live yet — I simply follow them on instagram and I find most of their posts there not only wonderful but also inspirational. And honestly, I am looking forward to contributing to them.

I hope you will soon start adopting this model which will allow you to produce some great work and, why not, enter my radar and be my next artist to support!