Thursday, April 07, 2011

Behind the Brandtag, Part 2: Lessons Learned from Shipping Art That Matters

“It’s not about the art – it’s about the person you become as you create the art.”

That mantra rules my life.

As an artist.
As an entrepreneur.
As an evolving human being.

Especially this week, as I celebrate the launch of brandtag.

This project is the most exciting, most risky and most remarkable work of art I’ve ever executed.

Much of my inspiration for this project can be attributed to Gaping Void, namely, Hugh Macleod’s cube grenade. To him I owe a debt of gratitude.

AND THE BEST PART IS: After fifteen months of hard and frustrating work, I’ve discovered dozens of cool things.

Today we’re going to explore part two (part one here!) of lessons learned during the process:
1. Mainstream is lame stream. Art isn’t a game of kickball. Thanks to the beauty of the Internet, artists no longer have to wait around to get picked to play. Instead, they just pick themselves. They create their own market by finding the tiny handful of people who are likely to buy.

My suggestion: Divorce your ego from the illusion that market size matters. It doesn’t. Instead of buying tickets for the starving artist lottery, go out and find the market for what you love. Forget about appealing to the masses and focus on kicking the asses of the tribe who loves you.

It’s easier, cheaper and significantly less frustrating than trying to make everybody like you. Remember: The only permission slip that matters is the one you sign for yourself. Have you voluntarily opted out of the mainstream?

2. Discovery is the dividend of displacement. The origin of the first brandtag comes from Tokyo. I remember the experience vividly: My stomach was full of sushi, my creativity was firing on all cylinders, and there was a minor earthquake during breakfast. Not a bad morning.

But that was the first time it truly occurred to me: Contribution is critical to my constitution as a human being.

And on that day, something inside me changed. I don’t know what. But my work was never the same after that. That’s when I started writing about mattering. Both how to matter and what to do when you feel like you don’t matter. Through that experience, brandtag was born.

And that’s why I had no doubt in my mind that the first limited edition series would be about mattering. It’s simply too important of an idea not to celebrate. I wonder what you could discover if you displaced yourself across the country. Maybe you’ll stumble into the idea that changes everything. When was the last time you took a trip across the world all by yourself?

3. Sing in your own voice. Each limited edition brandtag is autographed in nametag style. Interestingly, when I took the prints to my framer, her comment was, “Wait, you’re just signing the nametag and that's it? But in the art world, that's not enough.”

To which I replied, “In my world, it is.”

Feedback is highly overrated. It rarely reflects who you are as an artist. More often than not, it just projects the insecure concerns and character flaws of the person giving it.

My suggestion: Develop deeper trust in your own instincts. Unless feedback comes from the small group of who truly matter most, it’s nothing but a confusing, discouraging, stressful waste of time and tears. Don’t spend too much time living in other people’s worlds. It leads you away from your own voice.

Remember: Life’s too short to create art in response to demands of the market. How much longer will you allow feedback to bounce you around like a pinball?

4. Joinability builds profitability. The greatest artists aren’t icons people bow down to; they’re ideas people can latch onto. For that reason, your customers – that is, your viewers, readers, patrons, fans and listeners – are buying more than just your product. They’re also buying your person, your philosophy, your process and the problem you solve.

That’s why quality can’t be your sole signature. People need to buy the story you’re telling, too. After all, they respond to what you believe – not just what you create.

Your challenge is to persuade people to make time in their busy schedules to visit the world you’ve created. Without that, your work will never endure. Because good brands are bought – great brands are joined. Otherwise people are just giving you money. What meaning do people create for themselves in response to your story?

5. Listen to unintentional music. About a month ago, my dad stopped by to help me hang the very first brandtag in my library. Once the frame was straight, we stepped back to have a look. And that’s when he said something that changed everything:

“Scott, I think I found a typo.”

Get the hell outta here. My stomach dropped to the floor. At first, I thought he was kidding. But upon closer inspection, we actually found a misspelled word in the lower right hand corner. If you look closely, you’ll notice the word “values” was accidentally spelled “vaules.”

And I thought: You sonuvabitch. I can’t believe I missed that. Goddammit.

Almost in tears, I called my girlfriend immediately. And I told her about the typo. But instead of lamenting about the imperfection, she came up with an idea that saved the day:

“Scott, you should leave the typo in there.”

Yeah. That’s a great idea. After all, this entire brandtag project is about approachability and humanity. And what’s more imperfect than that? So we did. We left the typo in. And from now on, every brandtag will have one.

It’s the snag in the Persian rug. The wabi-sabi. The crack that lets the light get through. And the reminder that success isn’t perfection. How imperfect are you willing to be? 

6. Finished is the new perfect. In a recent interview, Ira Glass made a brilliant comment on the creative process: “Your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is a killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.” That’s a tough pill to swallow: Knowing that not everything you make will feel like a masterpiece.

In fact, I remember getting to that point with brandtag. The obsessive-compulsive part of me wanted to keep editing, revising, updating and improving the final piece. But the impatient part of me said: Just ship the damn thing. Declare it done. The hay is in the barn.

Without this crucial moment, you trap yourself in the infinite regression of better. And it’s more convenient to be a victim of resistance than to risk executing what matters.

My suggestion: Stop ironing out the wrinkles nobody is going to notice. By fixating on improvement, you’re missing what you already are. When will you realize that you’re the only person waiting to get everything right?

REMEMBER: It’s not about the art; it’s about the person you become as you create the art.

Stop waiting for permission.

Go execute something that matters.

How risky is the work you ship?

For the list called, "10 Unmistakable Motivators of Human Engagement," send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.
Now booking for 2011-2012!

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!