I’ll start with a very ugly question, and follow with a couple more interesting and salient ones…
How large is your social media following? How STRONG is it? What is the nature of your engagement with the company you keep? Is it meaningful, or as surface-level as it could get? How many have found your content so enthralling that they’ve taken that extra little bit of effort to sign up for your mailing list, to ensure they never skip a beat?
Straightaway, I’m ready to make a new analogy with American stand-up comedy, and I’ll pluck Ali Wong out of the air for it. On a culturally mainstream level, especially outside the USA, not many people know about her, yet she can sell out venues around the world within minutes, months in advance of her shows. Why is that?
It’s because she brings her unique brand of comedy to an audience who feel completely connected with her (…and all the partners and friends who said they’d tag along). But of course, that’s a totally different base to, say, Jim Norton, who has a completely different unique life story, outlook and comedic repertoire. It comes as no surprise that he has his own devoted tribe, too.
The comedy analogy keeps motoring along steady ground as we consider the approach taken to writing the comedy itself; what does the writer (AKA the “content creator”) find hilarious? If you’re trying to figure out what people find funny and work backwards from that, you’ll end up pandering, grabbing low-hanging fruit, and blending right in – selling out exactly zero venues.
A successful comedian has an unusual outlook, observing and manipulating the quirks in life.
By focusing on what works for and comes naturally to them, they’re being authentic.
The more niche the perspective, the more likely plenty people who don’t catch the same drift will turn away forever, or never stumble across them.
This, by the way, is totally fine, as the success of Wong and Norton attests. You’d be somewhat hard-pressed to find other art forms that flat out offend as consistently as comedy seems to, even though it’s only a performance. Some people find the slightly removed or tinted performance element hard to digest, I assume because the act is stood in front of them, in the flesh, being almost conversational, and wearing much the same kind of clothes as themselves. But I digress.
Offensive or not, people can still find what you do nonresonant, or indeed distasteful. Don’t sit and wonder why, or cling to the idea that you can bring something of value to everyone, if you truly believe in what you’re doing. Simply wish them well on their way down the trail.
To please the masses is to dilute your clarity, and…”mission”, for want of a less grandiose term. Wong and Norton can’t fit 8 billion people in any one space. They wouldn’t be able to make time in their life to fill arenas every single night and get through everyone.
To think you can please the masses is, among other things, flippin’ arrogant if you think about it!
You most likely set limits on your target audience before you began making a venture of your art. If you happen not to live in Lithuania, do you spend as much time marketing to commissioners and collectors there, as well where you actually live? I’d guess not. You already know that’d be a lot of extra work, despite the strides Google Translate has made in interpreting all the idioms and singularities pertaining to each language.
As eternally grateful as I am for my social media following and well-wishers, and while acknowledging this as a vague harbinger of future demand, I’m infinitely more enthused by the few whose lives might genuinely be enhanced by my work’s existence and my efforts in general, and vice-versa.
For example, an avid wildlife art collector, with a strong belief in conservation efforts, or anyone belonging to the world of conservation itself. Or someone who properly challenges me artistically. If a couple of dozen such people are your raving fans with whom you really connect, I’d genuinely take that over however many thousand social media followers, every day.
For a significant amount of time now, I’ve been looking forward to a day when I can stop tap-dancing and ticking boxes for the sake of business, and just be myself instead.
Since my intentions are what they are, and I’m proud of the effect that has on my clients, turns out being myself is no bad thing at all.
And if anyone’s a “raving fan” in the truest sense, the chances are they’ll be telling other like-minded people about you. That’s the ripple effect of excellent marketing, aimed at your ideal customer; further down the chain, your efforts might not even be required, and you can focus on being productive instead.
Surely this beats trying to jump through hoops, their configuration unknown, for audiences who have already walked away? Hands down!
I’ve taken a little stick from multiple angles about the photorealism nature of my art. It’s an argument I totally understand: “Why not just take a photo? It’s what cameras are for!” Perhaps. But photorealists, realists, hyperrealists and all other such -ists still have the power to modify elements of a photo at will, IF they wish.
I’ve known, or known of, a heck of a lot of people who say the same thing; that choosing not to use much or any artistic licence destroys the point of making art. The delicate nuances to interpreting this stance are in deciding whether there is strength in numbers, or if the same (entirely valid) opinion is simply of the same strength, just repeated many times. To me, there’s a difference.
Delving deeper, I will find that plenty opinions on art are heavily influenced by the more experienced among us, and by people who found deserved success in an alternative genre of work. If I’m sure of nothing else, it’s that I can happily even stand alone, if I know my own mind well enough. As long as I’m not just being a contrarian for the sake of it, I know my purpose or belief is just as strong as anyone else’s, and I flipping LOVE being convinced of my own independence, however much that is a load of old arse. 🙂
Especially for a wildlife piece, my favourite kind of artistic dedication to nature is one that represents it at its (already perfect) best. It’s one of my life ambitions, and maybe one day I’ll come close!
But the “origin story” of my work is echoed time and again in the present day, in the feedback I receive from anyone who bumps into it for the first time. “Wow, I thought it was a photo!” When I saw Paul Cadden’s portraits for the first time, I was amazed (a word I don’t use too often). “Wow, I thought it was a photo!” my jaw-drop seemed to add.
I’d been big into photos treated as loud, over-exposed edits, kind of a “posterized” style of work. But this was B.C. (Before Cadden). I was instantly hooked. However much of a touchstone is his work, and a challenge to emulate, I know he has a special brain, and it’s oddly relaxing to know that for him, it’s almost a different sport.
You’re in your own lane, others are in theirs. That’s the point of this post.
If someone has no problem telling you they’re not a fan, just say “thank you for stopping by anyway, and have a great day!”
I’m proud of what I do for the intrinsic challenge and the “good fit”, and if I’m completely myself, there never emerges an appetite for comparison, imitation, envy, and I’m certainly not interested in pleasing the masses.
When I first read an art blog, I’d read topics just like this one I’m writing, and think “ahhh nuts, I can’t write about this now. It’s already been done!”
Yes, it has; by someone holding a completely different stack of cards. The author was in a different place in their life to me, complete with their own experience, fears, pressures, interests and receiving audience. The blog I’ve written on the same subject has, hopefully, come out very differently to the one I read, and speaks to people with whom I connect.
What makes you unique?
YouTube is rife with videos on any topic you can pick. Let’s take health and fitness instructional videos. At some point, after all the advice, counteradvice and new age ideas, the dust surely has to settle, and the most recommended exercises for a particular problem or goal are what they are.
But they’re packaged differently. Some exercises are of particular benefit during pregnancy. Maybe after a little more exploration, you discover that this content creator is devoted to the subject of the health and wellbeing of new/expecting mums, and is someone you find really, really helpful.
The same exercise walkthrough might be delivered by someone else without special consideration for the rigours of pregnancy, but with some irreverent humour or attached silliness. This creator of content understands that plenty people find exercise, and in particular rehabilitation exercise, a torturous chore. This audience is crying out for a little entertainment, just a little razzle dazzle, while they do that tedious thing they must make the time to do, every…single…day.
What might bring people back to you time and again?
Sit and think about this for a second, especially if you’re feeling as though you’re lost in a lot of noise, aiming your career blindly into the mist. What brings people back is bound to be something unique about you, or combinations thereof, that nobody else can offer.
- You really engage your followers, and give them plenty of attention.
- You have a style so unrepeatable, your subscribers say “yep, another winner by So-And-So” without even checking the name under the content.
- You’re unusually generous.
- Your personality is irresistible.
- You give a damn. You don’t pull the booth window shut once it seems like the service is over. If anyone needs advice on framing, hanging environment, or any form of aftercare, you’re a phone call away.
But enough about m-…nope, can’t even finish the joke without recoiling!
I’ve always thought I have an obscure sense of humour. More than one person has said “I don’t know what you mean” if I’ve made an observation maybe nobody enjoys but me. When I was younger, I’d shield people from it. “I don’t want people to think I’m weird!”
Over time, I’ve realised the “funny” things I say hit a few people on a similar wavelength – not many at all, but they now happen to be some of my best friends. It’s better to be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea, as the saying goes. In realising this, I’ve let that side of me come out a touch more, and I’m all the happier for it.
The masses will live merrily without you, and you without them. When someone cares enough to invest their time, money, attention or faith in you, repay their trust with interest, by BENDING OVER BACKWARDS for them. Ride or die!
Lean into whatever’s authentic about you, as this is never a bad thing. Find your unique value, dish it out by the bucketload, and you’ll quickly find your tribe of fans who can’t say enough about you!