Thursday, July 05, 2012

A Young Artist's Guide to Playing for Keeps, Part 22

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

And I’ve been there myself.

From my latest book, Writing is the Basis of All Wealth, here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way: 

1. Make your audience your accomplice. First comes acceptance. That masturbatory art can only matter so much. That it’s hard to be creative alone. And that a crowdsourced approach is usually worthwhile. Second comes surrender. Absolute artistic vulnerability. Letting the audience in on the joke. Giving them permission to become co-creators along with us. Third comes accessibility. Keeping the loop open. Making it easy for the audience to tap into their creative flair. Creating a forum for them to express themselves freely and fully. Fourth comes expansion. Of access, not information. Continually creating a playing field on which people can create, not a smorgasbord from which people can consume. When we do this, when we stop setting off art in a corner and start enlisting the world to help us create, everything changes. The work grows stronger, the experience grows richer and the audience grows more devoted. Everybody wins because everybody plays. Are you sitting in a room alone stroking yourself? 

2. The need for attention is not a low impulse. As a performer, I am not afraid to admit that I demand an audience. When it comes to my readers, viewers, listeners or attendees, the intention is clear: I want you to miss me in your past. I want you to regret not meeting me sooner in your life. And I want you to develop a crush on me that you can’t quite explain. I want you to believe you’re watching a brain working. I want you to see that I am possessed. And I want you to delegate certain chunks of you thinking to me. I want you to get used to me. I want to become a regular part of your daily world. And I want you to make time in your busy life to visit the world I’ve created. That way, for the rest of my career, you’ll give anything I do a shot. Are you at peace with your need for attention? 

3. It’s not a blank page, it’s not a mirror. That’s why we’re so afraid to sit down and write. It’s not the fear that our work will suck. Or that nobody will read it. Or that people will read it, and they won’t care. It’s the fear of confronting our own truth. The fear that, once we stop editing ourselves – even for a moment – we might catch a glimpse of how we really feel about something, and it might contradict what we thought we believed. Forget about writer’s block, cognitive dissonance is the real enemy. What are you afraid to confront? 

4. Creativity is about trying things. First, we listen to our heart. We sit at the feet of that thing that sticks inside of us and says now. And we put it out publicly so we can’t run away from it, and so the world will conspire to help us achieve it. Next, we give ourselves permission. We drop the illusions about what we can and can’t do. And we knock down the inhibitors that stop us from pursuing something dopey, different or whimsical. Then, we chase that idea down. We get experimental without spending money. We fiddle around with things. And we execute small steps that create the freedom to pause, test, reevaluate and adjust. Finally, we listen for what sticks. We watch for what makes us think, Oh my god – that counts? We ask ourselves: I wonder if I can take this further? And we become spawned by the childlike desire to see how far it goes. What are you ready to finally try in your art? 

5. The best artists make art every day. They make stuff and see what happens. They do the work and don’t think much about it. They show up, bare down and push something out into the world that matters to them, no matter what. And if they get heard, great. If they get paid, even greater. But if they get nothing, that’s fine too. As artists, they don’t do it for money or recognition, they do it because it’s their spiritual imperative. They can’t not create like a rock can’t not fall off a cliff. That’s why I publish a blog every day. That’s why I upload nametaglines every day. That’s why I post adventures in nametagging stories every day. They’re not just my daily gifts to the world, they’re contributions to my ongoing body of work. They’re additions to my artistic legacy, building my lifelong portfolio. And with every day that goes by, that reservoir grows bigger. That way, it’s not just art, it’s an asset. And like a forced savings account, when the time comes to make a withdrawal in the future, there will be enough of a surplus to tap into and convert into something highly profitable. But it all starts with the work I do today. What it becomes tomorrow isn’t my concern. Are you willing to let your art find its own legs?

6. We don’t have to work for strangers anymore. Whether we’re performers, publishers, writers, creators or entrepreneurs, there has never been a better time in history to go out and find the audience for what we love, or, better yet, create the audience ourselves. Now, instead of buying tickets for the lottery, instead of shooting for the masses and instead of trying to be all things to all people, we can be something important to a small group of people. We can do what we love, the way we love doing it, for the people we love, who love the way we do it. The hard part is giving ourselves permission to break free from the mediocrity of the masses and pursue the glory of the nooks and crannies. What tribe loves you?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.