The Work of Being an Artistic Entrepreneur

The Work of Being an Artistic Entrepreneur

SUMMARY: Buddy Brad reminds me that making a living from one’s “art” is hard work, but once you get something working you should continue to do it until it’s exhausted. It makes sense, but there are a few mental hangups that I need to overcome as well. One is preciousness, and the other is perfectionism.My illustrator buddy Brad Fitzpatrick left a timely comment on yesterday’s post about staying focused on what works, in the context of being an art-based entrepreneur:

Find something that works and repeat it over and over again until it’s exhausted. THEN (and only then) move on to your next great idea.

Although this looks simple on the surface, it’s fraught with unseen difficulties that I’m all too familiar with.

First, consider the act of finding what works. One barrier is that it can be incredibly difficult if you are the type of person that looks for meaning in what you do. The meaning becomes precious, and this preciousness prevents us from selling out. As noble as that is, it also is one of the curses that prevents us from making our own success. By comparison, the business-oriented mindset has a much easier time of it: just go see where people are going to solve their problems, and then you insert yourself into the middle of that value chain. Make a great big sign that says THIS WILL FIX YOUR PROBLEM, and apply a bit of insight into the human psychology of want to your materials, set a price that makes sense, and you have the beginnings of an actual revenue. The difficulty for me is to reconcile the “preciousness” of what I do with the “need to make a living”. This is seemingly an intractable problem until you find a way to protect the preciousness while vigorously pursuing the almighty dollar.

For someone like me, it has taken a lot of a tremendous reframing of my value system to even think about making money in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m somehow selling out or walking the wrong life path. I am tremendously concerned about disrupting the purity of what I’m doing. In the context of work, there is an additional value system that I have when it comes to selling something:

  • Whatever I do, it’s got to work
  • Whatever I do, I have to understand WHY it works
  • Whatever I give, it has to be guaranteed to be useful
  • Whatever I make, it has to be imbued with my original
  • Whatever I claim to do must be 100% credible, demonstrable, and ready-to-go on demand
  • I should do everything in my power to prevent people from being mislead or having hopes falsely raised
  • Whatever I do or make has to be the best I can make it, original, innovative, and effective
  • If people don’t intuitively understand what I’ve done for them, then I have failed to meet their expectations

I find it difficult to find fault with any of the above in principle. However, I know that there are very high levels of expectation that I haven’t, which calls to mind the John Updike qote (truncated here) perfectionism is the enemy of creation.

The next part of Brad’s comment is the idea of repeating something over and over again until its potential has been exhausted. As a seeker of the novel and new, this is the kind of advice I usually don’t like to hear; by the time I finish something out, I’m rarin’ to go on to something else. However, that means I’m probably leaving fruitful opportunities on the table. Creating new things is fulfilling for me, but the reward comes when we push to get that thing out in the world in a form where people can actually see it. I’m pretty sure that there’s some way to reframe the “boring” aspect of this into a game, and I think that game is probably learning how to read revenue reports that result from one’s business activities.