One of the issues that we will reflect on in class this coming week is the role of art in our society. What function do we serve? How are we seen? How do we contribute? The following quote is another from Seth Godin’s book Linchpin that argues for a broader definition. Do we benefit from encouraging others to see themselves as artists? Or do we dilute the possibilities for ourselves and our work? This question is also discussed in the Economies of Life Essay
The second reading is one that you may have already seen in the Week One blog readings. It is also from Linchpin.
Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
What makes someone an artist? I don’t think is has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.
An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.
That’s why Bob Dylan is an artist, but an anonymous corporate hack who dreams up Pop 40 hits on the other side of the glass is merely a marketer. That’s why Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, is an artist, while a boiler room of telemarketers is simply a scam.
Tom Peters, corporate gadfly and writer, is an artist, even though his readers are businesspeople. He’s an artist because he takes a stand, he takes the work personally, and he doesn’t care if someone disagrees. His art is part of him, and he feels compelled to share it with you because it’s important, not because he expects you to pay him for it.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”
― Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Maybe You Can’t Get Paid for Doing Your Art
The thing is, it’s far easier than ever before to surface your ideas. Far easier to have someone notice your interpersonal skills or your writing or your vision. Which means that people who might have hidden their talents are now finding them noticed.
That blog you’ve built, the one with a lot of traffic–perhaps it can’t be monetized.
That nonprofit you work with, the one where you are able to change lives–perhaps turning it into a career will ruin it.
That passion you have for abstract painting–perhaps making your work commercial enough to sell will squeeze the joy out of it.
When what you do is what you love, you’re able to invest more effort and care and time. That means you’re more likely to win, to gain share, to profit. On the other hand, poets don’t get paid. Even worse, poets who try to get paid end up writing jingles and failing and hating it at the same time.
Today, there are more ways than ever to share your talents and hobbies in public. And if you’re driven, talented, and focused, you may discover that the market loves what you do. That people read your blog or click on your cartoons or listen to your MP3s. But, alas, that doesn’t mean you can monetize it, quit your day job, and spend all day writing songs.
1. In order to monetize your work, you’ll probably corrupt it, taking out the magic, in search of dollars; and
2. Attention doesn’t always equal significant cash flow.
I think it makes sense to make your art your art, to give yourself over to it without regard for commerce.
Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.
A friend who loved music, who wanted to spend his life doing it, got a job doing PR for a record label. He hated doing PR, and eventually realized that simply being in the record business didn’t mean he had anything at all to do with music. Instead of finding a job he could love, he ended up being in proximity to, but nowhere involved with, something he cared about. I wish he had become a committed schoolteacher instead, spending every minute of his spare time making music and sharing it online for free. Instead, he’s a frazzled publicity hound, working twice as many hours for less money and doing no music at all.
Maybe you can’t make money doing what you love (at least what you love right now). But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do to make money (if you choose wisely).
Do your art. But don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy.
(And the twist, because there is always a twist, is that as soon as you focus on your art and leave the money behind, you may discover that this focus turns out to be the secret of actually breaking through and making money.)
From Linchpin by Seth Godin