I was in my art class the other day, and I asked my teacher what was the difference between someone like Michelangelo who rocked the world with his art, and all the rest of us who take classes and make piddly pictures that only our friends and family would kindly rave about. I figured the answer would be something about God-given genius or uncommon talent or even alien-injected expertise. But no.
What she said, definitively and without hesitation:
Dammit. You mean we actually have to work at this stuff?!? We can’t just blow it off and say we have no talent, as an excuse why we aren’t famous millionaires yet? Sigh. Well, that doesn’t get any of us off the hook, does it. Basically, we can all be amazingly successful at our passions if we just practice. So why don’t we do it?
Well, there could be lots of reasons. Practicing is hard, practicing is boring. No one listens to or watches you practice and tells you how wonderful you are while you’re doing it (most of the time). It’s something you must painfully do alone. Argh. Think of when you used to take piano lessons, and your mom made you practice for 20 minutes a day while she shut the door to wash dishes, and how much you hated it (thanks Mom).
Not to mention, in order to get really good at something, you have to practice the tedious bits.
I know, I know, we all just want to be able to get on the guitar and immediately whip out the Star Spangled Banner à la Jimi Hendrix. Unfortunately, you have to practice some chords first. Maybe even some – sigh – scales.
Or what about writing? Writing is my current creative medium, and yet I don’t always do it. Sometimes it’s a real push for me to get this blog post out every week (I know, I know…). Why? Because I want it to be awesome every.single.time. I want those of you who read it to feel totally moved or laugh out loud or share it with everyone you know after you’ve finished because it was so stimulating. But what if it’s a crappy post? What if I don’t have any new ideas? What if what I’m thinking about today is something you’ve read a billion times before? Well…. then sometimes I just don’t write. I expect it to be brilliant and inspiring and fresh and hilarious all the time. I expect it to be perfect every time I put it out there.
Problem is, this blog is often my practice room. And our practice room is where the mistakes are made, the shitty compositions are hashed out, and where we do the same things over and over and over again, in order to get it right. And for me, I don’t always want you to see that. But hey, you get to see it anyway! Like today for example…
Besides, there are always more interesting things to do than practice! Crikes, think of all the television waiting for you today. What about all the friends you need to call? And the errands that need running, the kids that need chauffeuring, the lawn that needs mowing, the wine that needs to be drunk… the list goes on. It’s like exercise – we just keep on finding excuses not to do it, even though we know it will lead to our success.
We don’t like to practice because we don’t want to hear (or see) our own beginner crap. We don’t want to hear our bad notes, read our rambling paragraphs, look at our terribly disproportional portraits. We don’t want to be bad at whatever we love doing.
Moreover, we don’t want to be discouraged by our own neophyte dreadfulness.
You know how it is… if you don’t practice, you don’t get any better. And if you love doing something, you want to get better. Eventually, you want to get good enough to share your work. Probably make a little (or a lot of) money at it. Right? A few years ago, my passion was making sculpted cakes. But if I’d stopped making cakes after my first one:
I would never have made it to be on the Ultimate Cake Off TV show.
Okay so you’ve been practicing. But still no one is knocking down your door to throw money at you for your work. Why ever NOT??
Well, the difference between success and failure doesn’t end with practice, unfortunately. I really really really wish it did, but alas, no. There is more work to be done.
So let’s say you get good enough at your passion to be less terrified of showing it to the world. Or, at least you’re arrogant enough about your work that you’ll share it even if it’s awful. One way or another, you’re ready to let other people in on your secret.
So, you start showing people your paintings, put a blog out on the internet (hey!), start uploading your music to You Tube. You might even get a gig at a dive bar, or have some people sign up to your email list (hey!) or get a showing at a local gallery.
It’s all progress.
But what if you’ve been doing that for a while, and that’s about as far as it’s gotten? You haven’t been signed to a record deal, a book publisher hasn’t come calling to buy your book (HEY.), and no one other than your mother seems to want to buy your pictures. What’s going on??
Well a lot of people like to shout at me that it’s about MARKETING. That your stuff doesn’t go viral because they haven’t yet seen you all over the place, so you’ve got to use the latest marketing scheme to get your stuff out to the world. Facebook advertising, Instagram, You Tube, Tweeting, opt-in gifts – whatever other ridiculous new system some smartypants has come up with to lure people into buying what you’re selling. Never mind that most of these contrivances make you want to throw up, you’ve GOT TO DO THEM because some marketing genius told you that is what works.
Well, I call bullshit. It might work in the short term to get more people to find you, but there’s something else going on underneath, if no one is calling you up or hanging on the edge of their seats to know about your next offering or availability, until your next marketing blitz.
I mean, let’s face it – Beethoven didn’t have radio or tv, never mind Facebook or You Tube, and somehow we all know his name.
The other day I spent a very pleasant afternoon here in Payson doing what is called a “studio tour” with a couple of my favorite friends. The studio tour was an organized circuit of local artists, who opened their homes to let ordinary folk like us inside to view their art and (ideally) buy something. It was a lot of fun, and I got some interesting insight into the world of hopeful (and seriously talented) local artists.
At one of the stops, I overheard one of the painters say lamentably, and not as quietly as he probably hoped, that he “just wished someone would buy a painting”. We all had a measured look at his work, and it was good. It really was. He had clearly been practicing. He was getting people to see his work. But none of us were motivated to buy any of it. And while I don’t have a budget for paintings right now, my friends certainly do. So why weren’t they moved to purchase?
Truthfully, even if I did have a budget for paintings, I wouldn’t have bought anything that I saw. In fact, there was even a raffle where you could buy tickets for a dollar each, and then for a piece of art you liked (that was entered into the raffle), you could put your tickets in their jar and hopefully win that piece of art. I told myself that if I saw a piece of art I wanted to have, I would buy a whole slew of tickets and put them all in the same jar, thereby seriously increasing my odds of winning that piece.
And yet there was not a single piece of art for which I was motivated to buy even one ticket. Why?
I can’t speak for my friends, but I’ll speak for myself: very little of it was unique. It was well executed, but not unique. There was one artist who was absolutely spectacular, but unfortunately for me he does Southwestern Indian/Cowboy art, and that’s not my style. But if he did a style that fit my taste, I would have clamored to buy his stuff. If he did colorful flower gardens with little animals hiding in them, I would have found the money.
And from what I understand, he was the only truly successful artist in the tour that we had visited thus far (I could be wrong, but that was my perception).
But the overarching problem with most of the art that I saw, from paintings to fabric art to sculptures to scratchboard to jewelry, was that none of it was really different.[Except for this one necklace that I adored, but couldn’t bring myself to impulse buy. I put it in the back of my mind and promised myself that I would buy it after a month if I still wanted it. And then my beautiful friend Bobbie bought it for me anyway. I’m wearing it right now and I’m not taking it off. She is soooo kind and generous. Thank you Bobbie!! I love my necklace!]
Most of the paintings I saw were of things I had seen a zillion times before: animals indigenous to the area, southwestern scenes, some portraits, landscapes, flowers, fruit. I even saw some flawless pottery, but it looked a lot like pottery that my grandmother used to make, except she wasn’t very good. These were good, far better than what my grandmother made…. but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Nothing unique.
And then a couple of days later, I went to THIS artist’s house:
This artist can be found at http://jaggedtouchstudio.com/ She’s wonderful!
and huzzah! bought three prints. I wanted to buy a big one on canvas, but it was out of my price range – for now. But I loved her stuff, and bought it immediately. I’m going to hang my three prints in my bedroom so I can look at them every day! I loved her uniqueness as well as her style. What beautiful color, and such inspiring imagery and words. Just perfect for me. Now I want to create art like that!
And I’ll tell you this, there isn’t anyone in this area making art like this. She is unique.
Update: this is an update to this post – I can’t believe I didn’t mention this artist:
Her name is Lena Navarro, and I LOVED her stuff. OMG utterly mind-blowing. This image doesn’t do a tenth of justice to the beauty of her work in person. You can find her here: http://navarroartgallery.com. But her paintings were $1500 so I couldn’t possibly afford that right now, but I did put some tickets in her jar. 😉 Her stuff was definitely unique.
But that’s the problem for most of us, if we’re not getting very far – we’re emulating what is already out there. We’re covering other people’s songs, we’re painting the same things other people paint, we’re writing the same stuff other people are writing. Hollywood is even remaking or sequelizing (yes, it’s a word) all the same old movies.
We’re still just practicing, instead of creating.
And we’re wondering why no one is panting to pay us to do our thing.
Why was Harry Potter so successful? Because we hadn’t seen a book like that before. Even Fifty Shades of Grey, while appallingly written, was something most people hadn’t been exposed to in recent history (anyone heard of Story of O? Try that one. You’ll faint.). As for movies? Hollywood hasn’t put out anything original since… I can’t even remember. Which probably explains why I haven’t been to the movies since Skyfall, and that’s only because I LOVE James Bond movies. Daniel Craig is a pretty big lure too.
Why was the iPhone so incredible? Because no one had seen anything like it before. Same with the Prius, although God knows I’ve never driven anything so awful, but it was the first hybrid people could afford.
If you want to be noticed, and ultimately what one considers “successful”, you have to be different, while still being pleasing to the eye or ear (somebody needs to talk to Toyota). It’s not enough to be really good at your craft – you have to exhibit a creativity and a satisfaction of desire that people can’t experience with anyone else but YOU.
I know I’m still figuring out what my unique style is, at the same time as perfecting my writing and coaching skills. It’s a work in progress. I’m certainly not there yet, but I will keep at it until I hit my own personal jackpot. When I get really good, and I discover what makes me different and yet desperately appealing.
And I know you’ll be there with your wallets open. 😉
How about you? Are you good? Are you different? But more importantly, are you good and different?
Because good work always gets found. And different work always gets bought. 😉