As a child, most of the activities I engaged in outside of school had something to do with creativity. My mother, who was in law school for many of my formative years, started off as a fashion designer and encouraged me to paint, draw, act, dance, sing and Lego at every turn. By the time I was a teenager, my inclinations had diverged into more sensory (and lazier) mediums in the form of constant doodling rather than taking notes in class, writing bizarre, hormone-induced poetry and spending the equivalent of days crafting playlists to force my friends to acknowledge my superior taste in music. I found that marks came easiest to me when I had to write, so I graduated high school with nine English credits.
Continuing down a path of ease and creative release, I ended up in film school, studying screenwriting. Shortly after I was done, I had one feature-length script about selling-out and one short zombie love story in my pocket. Being too afraid of rejection to market myself, I found a job in an office; promising myself I would use my spare time to hone my craft and be in the position of a M. Night Shyamalan-type by the time I was 30. I would have total creative freedom to make any movie I wanted without the oversight of corporate pockets. I’m now 29 and run this online blog(azine) instead.
Managing Provocative Penguin these past two-plus years has put me in a rather unique position. I’ve had the opportunity to judge the worth of artists, the writings of over 30 authors, and myself; occasionally letting something of my own pass valid criticism because I really liked the concept, despite entirely missing the mark in execution.
Perhaps the most critical thing I’ve realized through working at PP is that being creative all the time is more than hard. Not only is it nearly impossible to make a decent wage as a writer, painter or other life aspiration you won’t find in most job postings, but inspiration does not necessarily come naturally.
Staying inspired, while only one piece of the creative puzzle, is what separates an artist from a creative type. It’s easy to take one really nice photograph but it requires something truly special to capture multiple series of moments in time that speak without words.
(Art by Pawła Kuczyńskiego)
Recently, I interviewed Lawrence Cherney, Order of Canada holder and Creative Director at Soundstreams and asked if he had any advice for artists or musicians looking to get noticed (and paid) for their craft. His initial response was a quick and clear “Get really good at what you do.” While that should be enough, it certainly is not. In addition to the aforementioned inspiration, you need to market, you absolutely must network, and you’ve gotta have an edge–no matter how unrelated to your talent.
Any artist in our modern reality is competing for people’s attention with, well…everyone else. Anyone can start a blog and your phone pictures can look super rad if you just put them through Instagram. Essentially, there is #NoFilter out there to prevent those with a modicum of artistic inclination from diluting the pool. Succeeding as an artist in 2013, like with many things, is very much dependant on who your friends are.
With this shift in how culture spreads, there is great opportunity to be discovered. However, the problem all creative mediums are facing now is figuring out exactly what needs to be done to monetize it. It shouldn’t be about the money but, in the end, it usually is. Provocative Penguin wasn’t started to make a profit off of the sweat and tears of aspiring artists, but to share and spread the works of talented individuals who come together to make something… well, provocative. Although when push comes to shove, it’s hard for anyone involved (including myself) to stay inspired all the time when working to create something for a niche market while still needing to seek out alternative means to sustain ourselves. Like a dedicated painter who needs to decide between getting more acrylic or surviving on crackers for the rest of the week, PP gets by doing the best we can with the resources we have at the time. Except that the “best you can” is really just an excuse for falling short in the creative world.
Investing countless hours into a passion and barely getting acknowledged can be disheartening for anyone, but there has to be a point when someone pursuing a career in the arts needs to stop and consider whether they are, in fact, an “artist” or a “creative type”.
If you are the latter, then perhaps that passion of yours is best left as a hobby you occasionally excel at; also, feel free to send any one-off gems you might have into the team here at PP.
If you’re the former, and you know it to be true, then it’s time to figure out what you’re not doing right. More than likely, it’s one of the more superficial realities of modern artistic life. If you’re not marketing yourself properly, rather than following the words of an endless stream of self-proclaimed social media gurus, perhaps look at what you find yourself most compelled to follow/click on and replicate it in a way that works for your art. Maybe even come up with your own completely original guerrilla marketing campaign. If you’re not networking enough and you have no friends or money, then look up some free happenings where you’re likely to find those of similar stripes (that you can stand), who at the very least can become great soundboards to bounce ideas off of, if not actually link you to a great opportunity.
In the end, there are no straightforward ways to do anything in the virtual and expect them to create a better reality for yourself. I know that I have, in fact, honed my confidence in writing through Provocative Penguin, although I can’t even buy a toy car with what we’ve made financially. (In fact, I’m avoiding the financing department at Hot Wheels right now. Don’t tell them where I am). However, it is those with enough passion and talent now that will shape the way we utilize this new way of living to effectively translate great art into proper acknowledgement. We just need to get through the awkward teenage years of the Internet’s broad use to allow our tools to stop using filters to make art, but to find it.