Process of Becoming (Part 3)
Now let's talk about the public birthing phase of our projects. As we close in on completion, we are forced to deal with the realities of marketing. Marketing by its very nature must make many decisions about the nature of a piece and its purpose. Some artists may have the luxury of off-loading this area, or giving it over to their management, etc. Generally, some artists (some of the best) are simply overwhelmed by this area. They literally start to shut down during this transition.
No matter how great the marketing the process seems to make arbitrary this painful process they have just been through. They have just given birth to a baby after all. Some would like to spend a bit of time with it before going public. Is going public with the baby more like sending it off to boarding school OR more like bringing to a public event with family and friends? That is a great question. What is our relationship with a work once it has been birthed?
Obviously for the musician this will be much different than for the visual artist, who creates the work, then once procuring a buyer, is done with it. This process may take some time of course, but there is a definitive end to the relationship.
Not so with the musician. They create a life-long relationship with a piece whether they want to or not. That piece of art will forever be a part of their potential live catalogue, sometimes inspiring others haunting them with phases that now seem long past. That’s the great difficulty of many creatives post-birth, they want to make more babies. There is nothing wrong with growing the family, but you got to maintain and parent the ones that are already here too. Baby-making is the fun part! Rearing? Well...
So for the conscientious artist, seeing the baby grow and get strong enough to remain on its own is essential. It is obvious (and just as important) as the creating stage. It requires a different set of skills and work, but they must be involved.
This is the make or break point. Many artists want to maintain complete control of the process, much like they did in creating the thing. They know that world. It worked for them. Now they have to start entrusting parts of the process to others. They are essentially getting parenting help. One such person (a manager of sorts) will basically be another parent. But there must also be grandparents, teachers, aunts and uncles, and of course childcare providers. Some we pick, some we inherit.
Some artists, unlike the controlling types mentioned, have absolutely no trouble getting others to help. They are completely comfortable giving parts of their business to others. They understand their limited time and talents in such areas. Some in this vein, though, give up too much. Soon they find they have given up creative control of how their project is realized, and even how future projects are made. We begin to see how this launch process is extremely important and delicate. The truth be told, some secretly hope to fail. They can blame it on the process, the industry, their management, everything else. But really the key is to define failure clearly, so we do not get duped into believing inaccurately we failed.
Is commercial “success” the guiding light? How much? What does that even mean? How about things “going well”? Artists get very superstitious about these things. But the reality is very few artists know what it is they are really after. What is success?
I encourage here not defining the “how” but focusing on the “what.” What will it look like if we find success? What things will be happening as a result? This sort of visioning exercise is key to getting toward what it is art is really after.
For me, having my art realize its full potential (in other words, actually getting a project to the place where I love it and believe it is done) was enough. I just wanted the piece good enough. I wanted it to the place where I could say “yes!”
But that is not enough. Then what? What comes of this finished song? What does it create in people? Finished in the studio, for the performer, is not finished at all. We have to recreate that same passion and finish live with an audience.
How are those at an experience of my art going to be moved? How am I encouraging them? What am I telling them? I don’t pigeonhole my work, I clarify its power. Does my art bring life to the community? Does it connect and inspire?
Thinking of the what (i.e., What is success?) is scary. We are so afraid of being presumptuous that we are presumptuous. We don’t want to think of ourselves as great, we want to let history and our audience dictate that. Besides, there is lots of great competition out there. Maybe. That’s not how many of the greats thought. They thought of themselves, BEFORE they were there, as already there. It is true some are self-delusional and really not talented. Of course. But for now focus on those who really are good.
“Ok, maybe good, but not great,” many will say, a failed attempt at humility. There again, what is the point of the gift. Who gave it and to whom is it going? If the gift really only was self-realization and no one outside of ourselves was effected, perhaps. But if the gift truly is a gift than it is much bigger than ourselves; and it is actually selfish to sabotage it, to belittle it, to relegate it. It’s ok to believe. In fact, it’s required. Believe it is great. Imagine it as great. What does it look like to be great?
Why not be great? Some will immediately repulse from the question as inauthentic, in-genuine, missing the point. They will argue the artist should not assert toward position or legacy, but simple obedience to craft and instinct. Science if you will. For some this may work, it may be enough. But for others there is something of the magic of art that is much more provocative and compelling than merely mastering the craft. One is focused on the art piece, the other on the art process.
Generally for the audience there is not at first a genuine fascination with the process, or the craft. What ultimately connects them is something deeply emotional, profoundly spiritual that they would have a hard time putting into words. The effect is real, though non-rational. It shakes something below the surface. It’s something the Hebrews may have called “deep calls to deep” (Ps 42.7). This inner movement caused by the work is what many translate into “great” art.
And they are right. The work must move us. Where critics go wrong is assuming that the project’s ability to create movement is exclusive to them. In other words, if they don’t feel it, it is not there. This is where the mystery of art comes in.
How art works to move people (which is the bottom line), is not always predictable. Where a critic may be sure a work falls flat or is wrapped into itself, the reality is that the critic may simply not be able to see certain aspects of the effect.
The human ability to “feel” art, or to experience another’s processing of life, is not completely objective. Inevitably, our affinities matter. Some things considered by most to be foundational master-pieces may be so technically but not affectively.
We sow the seeds, we don’t make things grow. In the same way, the artist cannot control how and who is effected or moved by his art. Oddly, the artist in this way does not get to choose his audience, only to accept it as it comes. There is a process for the artist in learning to “adopt” his fans. And like a real adoption, this is a process. Sometimes parents in the process will admit to having a hard time loving the child as their own. Sometimes it feels awkward or forced. Even for biological parents, there is ultimately no control over what “type” of children you have. In other words, we do not choose temperaments, intellectual ability, special needs, interest areas, etc. Sometimes our kids are extremely different from ourselves and from each other.
That’s the beauty of seeing how and with whom your art connects. It is a mystery. Some will be fundamentally not the people you imagined. Love needs to be cultivated. Fans need to become more than potential customers. They are human beings and we are all walking through life together. Something about what we have created inspires them to face difficulties with integrity and confidence. We are part of the solution. We need to celebrate the empowering and healing that we are part of.