Isn’t that what we’re all after?

Image by Anthony Tran

“I just wanna be popular.”

I blurted it out without even thinking. The group of creatives I was with that morning laughed and even I chuckled a bit, but it was an honest answer. Popularity is a goal.

Maybe that sounds vain. Maybe I really don’t care how it sounds. The unfiltered truth is that to reach the goals I set for myself as a writer takes a level of popularity. It takes more than my immediate network knowing who I am.

Popularity has this high school, Mean Girls rep to it and hearing someone express their desire to be popular gets the exact same reaction I did. It’s like this absurd, childish fantasy that should never be uttered past the age of 10. Not if you hope to glean any sense of dignity.

But for creatives, this shouldn’t be a bad word. Being popular shouldn’t be something we raise our noses at. It should motivate us. It should be something we strive for and, to be honest, it’s already what we’re striving for. Every time we make our work public, nothing would make us happier than more views, more likes, more claps, more attention. Am I right?

Popular is a relative term

I know we immediately go to Hollywood and think of our favourite celebrities and how obscene their lives must be, but that’s just one form of popularity.

Editor in Chief of UPPERCASE Magazine, Janine Vangool, has 5,000 paying subscribers. That may not be Vogue numbers but she’s certainly popular enough to make a living off of her art. Would we laugh at her 10 years ago when she set out to turn her love for design and craft into a career? She’s made it. She’s popular.

She’s also inspiring. We all should be so lucky as to have thousands of people who like our art enough to pay for it. That’s the dream, isn’t it? And if your answer is yes, then why the aversion to popularity?

Sell out syndrome and false modesty

These are the two worst enemies of any artist. The idea that creating pieces that appeal to a mass audience somehow makes you a sellout is just dumb. It’s a mindset that tries to box our potential or dim our light. Don’t self-inflict those kinds of wounds into your thoughts. Push for more people to like your work. Push to become more popular.

And when you’re pushing, be proud of it. As more and more people acknowledge the brilliance of your work, don’t pretend your work isn’t brilliant. Accept the praise. Encourage those people to tell more people. Our ability to survive as artists depend on this.

Is it you or is it your art?

I think this is the point of contention for many artists. Some creators are good at what they do but great at promoting who they are. They understand that art is a packaged deal — art and artist — and whichever one people buy into is fine.

Some artists just aren’t OK with this. They want the art to sell itself and aren’t willing to sell themselves. And if they are willing, often they’re not comfortable. They want their route to popularity to be lead by the merit of their work, not the makeup of their personality.

Unfortunately, that’s not the game. Especially today. Intimacy and exposure are forms of currency. The more you let people in, the more you expose not just about your work, but about yourself, the more popular you’re likely to become.

Back to reality

This is the reality. You have more platforms than ever to be popular. Use them. You’re an artist. Don’t worry about what people might say about you promoting what you do. The only thing you should worry about is maintaining your integrity. Don’t lose yourself, use yourself.