(last updated on April 29, 2014)
SUMMARY: In our recent Collective meeting, I gained insight into the difference between Art and Craft, which helped me to understand how to separate my passion from what I need to sell. It’s a slightly-different model than “follow your bliss” or “do what your passion is” in that it seems more implementable.
Last night we had our monthly “Collective” meeting, which is an informal group of creative people I know in the area. It started when I noticed that several of my friends seemed to have a similar “energy”, and so I started bringing them together in a group to see what would happen. After a couple of years of this, I think the commonality stems from the following characteristics:
- We have a desire to make and create things
- We have a desire to share our knowledge with other people
- We have great empathy for others going through the creative struggle
- We love to see other people do great things
- We value open communication and transparency
- We enjoy the unique and quirky over the mainstream and mundane
- We want to base our life on what we cherish and value the most
- We want to make the dream our reality
- We would prefer to be our own boss
It’s a good group of people. Last night, I noticed that just about all of us are facing the same problems: How do we make our artistic lifestyles self-sustaining? We’ve all individually gotten off our butts and made things happen, but the fog of uncertainty bedevils us. As we caught up with each other’s activities, I noticed four common themes:
- We each feel we’re doing the right thing in our writing/design/photography/music/whatever.
- We think that people like what we’re doing.
- We don’t know how to make a living from this, and it is frustrating
- We have been told or suspect from time-to-time that we’re not being smart about our pursuit, and if we don’t figure it out soon we’ll have to give up
There are numerous books that tell you what the right mindset is, but it’s very difficult to get nuts and bolts instruction, tailored to our unique collection of assumptions and experiences, to make that mindset pay off. This is one reason why I like Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week, because he not only has an extremely results-oriented mindset, he’ll walk you right up to the URL of the website that sells the parts that you need to implement your own extreme life plan. Other books of this kind tend to gloss that over.
In general, I think there are three kinds of help you can get from an expert:
- Storytelling, Description and Labeling: This, the most common expertise I encounter, often sounds impressive. However, when it comes time to implement, these stories and part descriptions are not useful beyond being inspiration or entertaining. It’s hearsay and rumor. At best, you get a good story and a few points that support the underlying premise: “Once upon a time, there was something called Marketing. Marketing works by connecting people’s desires with your unique treasures, which results in a bounty of cash and goods that are happily transacted. That’s because people will pay for what they love. And you and Marketing lived happily ever after. The End.” This kind of expert is paid to entertain and inspire, but may not offer more than that. At worst, the initial euphoria ends in a crash of frustration and self-doubt. That is not the fault of the story; it’s the fault of the expert who does not distinguish between creating vision and building something solid, and allows you to float right into that brick wall of reality.
Process and Principles: You’ll soon start to recognize the value of detailed recipes after hitting that brick wall a few times. Now, you’ll want to see specific examples of how those recipes worked out (pictures of cakes, whitepapers describing successful marketing case studies). This is hard work on your part, because the recipe may be written from the perspective of the expert with several unspoken assumptions, which make some recipes exceedingly difficult to follow. For example, a marketing recipe might be list a step like “List your markets” or “Make a flyer”, which on the surface seems simple but has many requirements. How do you list a market? What does that even LOOK like? How do I know what my markets are? That’s why I’m in this mess already! The financially-savvy expert then sees an opportunity: rewrites the recipe and sells a workbook, offers consulting for a fee, or sells services to people who would rather not deal with those details. These products may not actually be good. The experienced expert has the ability to put himself into someone else’s newbie perspective, and knows how to build understanding from the ground up. A lot of experts, however, are just expert in following their own recipes. You can hire them, but you can’t learn from them; the poor sods just can’t teach and don’t know it.
Adventure Travel: This kind of expert loves to share the adventure of what he does, believing that guided trials and challenges will reveal the True Essence of his expertise. Character building is part of the program. You’ll learn, through observation and practice, the best way to crack open potential markets like oysters to find the rare pearls. You’ll see that it’s not all glamor and ease, because you’ll see that there’s a lot that’s hard-won through sheer perseverance and repetition. You’ll learn where the best places to fish are, experience the terror of hooking your own markets, and learn how to see like the expert does: Over there, by the grass…see that? No? Try half-squinting; that’ll reduce the amount of light coming in to your eyes. Give it 10 seconds. THERE, see it? That’s a Market Opportunity. They bask in the light of the fat mainstream markets, which have grown so big and bright that it’s tough not to look right at them. I always look a little downmarket of them and a little upward in the timestream to see if there’s anything obvious ready to be exploited; with my kit, I can skin a Market Opportunity and have it frying in butter for dinner in, oh, about 3 days. If it takes longer than that then I’ll probably be competing with six other people. If they’re any good they’ll have a kit like this and then it’s a RACE. If they’re just regular people with a dream, it’ll take them six months just to get rolling, and that will burn up their profit margins. We don’t play that way. So here’s what’s in my kit; tomorrow I will show you how to construct your OWN starter kit based on your skills, but let me explain how mine works and then we’ll go bag that MarketOpp…
p>As a side note, there are varying levels of personal closeness in each of the categories I’ve defined. The first category is the most hierarchical, presenting the expert as af beacon of possibility held up high. The last category is the most intimate, implying side-by-side knowledge transfer in the context of a shared interest. The Collective, interestingly, covers all three levels, because each of us is an expert in something. It’s only now, though, that we’re starting to explore the “Adventure Travel” aspect of our interactions. It’s a good feeling.
One of the most exciting things I heard last night was the distinction between art and craft. My takeaway was that craft is the application of our artistic skills; it’s work that we do to survive, and it requires a methodological approach to establishing reputation and a marketplace. This is satisfying work in itself. The art, however, is reserved for just a special few. It’s the calling to make that amazing piece of design, that stunning bit of programming, that big sculpture, that meticulously-detailed model. Not everyone gets to see that, because not everyone will appreciate it in the way that matters to you. However, the art informs the craft. The skills learned from doing the art transfer to the craft operation. The trusted others who get to see your art may end up being referrals, or will see it as a sign of your advanced skills.
For the first time, I saw where my logic regarding the pursuit of “what it is I do” has been too ambiguous: I’ve assumed that I had to combine the art with the business. For me, the art is doing what I love to do: writing, analyzing, scheming, and sharing to the best of my ability. The skills–design, programming, etc–were not nearly as interesting to me except in the context of that art, so I’ve been trying to munge them together. However, after hearing everyone’s testimony last night, I started to see how they can exist separately and still be expressed.
More on that later.