Stop being an artist

Embarked coinsBuried in a commentary on the success of Facebook, Bob Lefsetz writes a nugget of golden truth:

You never double-down on a loser. That’s what the techies have over the musicians. When musicians do something with little traction they keep imploring us to pay attention. If no one pays attention to the work of the techie, he changes it. Because no amount of marketing can sell that which the public does not want. You start with the marketing, and then word of mouth sustains you. If you’ve got no word of mouth, change.

Whether intentionally or not, Lefsetz has put his finger on a critical distinction between art and commerce. One of the hallmarks of an artist (whether a writer, musician, painter, sculptor or potter) is that they are driven to create their works without regard to the audience. In doing so, they run the risk of poverty. But they might also change the world.

By contrast, commerce depends on acceptance by someone else. Without that return, there is no point in the work.

That is not to say that artists cannot be commercial, nor that commerce is inimical to creativity. Sometimes both can align, and great things can result.

Commercial creativity requires a receptive audience. If you find yourself grumbling that your knowledge initiatives are falling on stony ground or that nobody comes to your training sessions or that your fancy new technology isn’t being used, you need to change your approach rather than doubling your persuasive efforts.

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