I love art. I love words. I do not love marketing. If my passion were to be the world’s greatest marketing strategist, I would have majored in marketing. Or perhaps I would have gone into sales. It’s probably a Captain Obvious statement, but these days the question of ‘who’s got talent’ has gone by the wayside in favor of ‘who’s got marketing skills’.
Well, that feels like crap to me, and I’m tired of it.
A lot of creatives agree. We seem to be labeled dumb by some of those who embrace the conundrum. I know I’m not dumb. I can’t speak for everyone else. I just don’t enjoy marketing; it feels like a chore. I could list specific reasons why, but I won’t bore you. Let’s just say it’s not what I signed up for. Maybe I’m just stubborn. Sure, if I could afford a million dollar marketing plan, I’d sign on the dotted line. Maybe when I hit the lottery …
I’ve tried to do my best for years, out here on my own. Now I’m pushing 50 and it seems that every day I ask myself what’s really important. What do I want and need to spend my time on and why?
Some days I wonder how much time I actually have left.
Interestingly, earlier this month I had an epiphany as I finished listening to the audio version of Please Love Me, the first novel I wrote. As I listened to my own words reaching out to me through the wonderful voice of Rebecca Roberts, the concept of audience hit me in a clear, new way.
Although I do not love marketing, I love my audience. And to be specific, I deeply love the audience for Please Love Me. I know they’re out there; I just have to find them.
And I will.
Given this sort of earth-shaking realization, reading Marc Zegans’ interview answers felt like fate. This guy actually wrote an ebook about finding your Natural Audience, regardless of size. Marc is a poet but he’s also a creative development advisor. Sounds like something I need!
As a start, I will be reading his ebook this week.
What’s your story (in a nutshell)?
Inside the walnut: I started out mixing sound in San Francisco, then found myself in the public policy world, working first for the Mayor of Boston, and then running the Innovations Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. At Harvard, I loved helping people complete their research, and guiding public managers through knotty innovation challenges. Along the way, I became a poet, saw a play of mine produced, and found my creative life thriving. About fourteen years ago, I was diagnosed with Cancer. As I found my way back to health, it became clear to me that I wanted to use the skills I’d developed to help artists thrive. I’ve been doing this work ever since.
What’s your current focus, and how did it evolve?
For several years I concentrated on spoken word projects, and released two albums, “Night Work” (Philistine Records), and “Marker and Parker” (Tiny Mind Records), the latter with Jazz pianist Don Parker. Now I’m giving attention to publishing. My latest piece appeared this week in Ibbetson Street 34 (Fall 2013).
As a creative development advisor, though I continue to work with arts organizations and creatively driven firms, I’ve been giving more time to working with individual artists. I’ve developed a way of working with people across the stages of their creative lives, and through the crises that punctuate them; that’s not been done before. Working with artists one-on-one touches the heart of creativity, and that’s different for every person.
What have been your greatest creative setbacks in your current work or in the past, and how did you overcome them?
In the past couple of years I’ve faced some significant health challenges that have limited the time I can bring to my creative work, and have made the degree of physical energy I have on a given day somewhat unpredictable. In that context, I’ve had to learn to sharpen my priorities, to use my energy judiciously, and to meet the moment very well. This has helped deepen my capacity to understand the struggles of the artists I work with. I’m going to be writing in the near future about tools any artist can use to grapple fruitfully with challenging circumstances.
How do you describe creative success?
I think creative success varies in its meaning and in its particulars over the course of a lifetime. It varies also from person to person. Beneath this variation, the strong current that drives creative success lies in finding ways to do work that is meaningful; to share this work with audiences that will genuinely appreciate it; to attract the resources one needs to do projects that are personally important, and to discover where to most wisely and happily focus one’s attention.
With regard to achieving success as described above, have you ever felt like giving up on your creative dreams or projects? If so, how did you manage to keep going?
I think there’s a difference between giving up on creative projects and larger creative dreams. Some projects simply don’t work, and you discover this yourself, or because the world tells you. I think it’s fine to abandon a project that’s truly not working, or when it represents a place from which your heart has moved on. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to drop quickly things that are not working as soon as I see it, and to persist with passion on the projects that make sense to me. I’ve also learned that sometimes projects best evolve when you put them away until they’ve developed depth and texture. This is no different than making good wine. Some things need bottle age before they’re poured.
The question of creative dreams writ large is more complex. I’ve spent much of my life fighting to preserve and to live out my creative dreams in the face of difficulty. I’ve managed to keep going by asking each moment, what can I best do here? Sometimes it’s as simple as getting some sleep, or writing a letter to a dear friend. Other times, it’s about looking into the work and seeing what needs to move, or boldly starting a new project simply because your heart tells you to. The work I do with artists enables them them to find and cultivate practical and emotional resources for moving ahead in the face of fear and adversity.
|In case you need to look this up … as I did.|
Do you ever question the value of spending so much of your time on creative endeavors? If so, how do you justify the value, and keep going?
When I was younger I did, and I regret that. Part of the reason I became a creative development advisor was because I came to see how short life is, and how important it is for each of us as human beings to do in this world what we truly find meaningful. When working with artists questions about the meaning and value of the work necessarily arise: we face challenges, setbacks, indifference from the world, and the anomie of knowing that we have worked a vein well past the time it went dry. These questions become opportunities to explore how we can restore meaning to our work in ways that are fresh, self-loving and honest. When we’re connected to our deepest expressive desires, we feel no need to justify what we’re doing because we know it’s true, and because we know it’s right. If we find ourselves struggling to justify what we’re doing, we probably should explore what it is about the work, or our fears and vulnerabilities that make us feel insecure. Then we can act constructively to remedy the source of our insecurity, rather than losing ourselves in a typically misplaced need to justify our work.
How do you deal with the challenge of feeling or being viewed as unique in a world that is overcrowded with people pushing their creative projects and outputs?
I view this as a false challenge. Every living thing is unique and expresses itself in unique ways. If we direct our attention to doing things that resonate with our hearts, we’re most likely to be able to make a unique and satisfying contribution. That’s what my book, Finding Natural Audience is about. The book starts with the premise that every painting, every song, every book, every installation, has a natural audience, by which I mean a group of people that would want to engage the work if they knew about it. In some cases the audience is no one but us; in others it could be a few friends, a random stranger, a wealthy collector or millions of people. The critical issue is to accept the premise that there’s a natural audience out there, and to engage in deliberate practices to find that audience, while emotionally letting go of how large or small that audience may be.
In today’s world, where the ability to market one’s self seems to be more important than actual talent or giftedness, do you believe it’s still possible for someone’s talent to be fully recognized?
Talent and giftedness are traps. Worrying about whether we have talent or a gift when we’re young diverts us from doing the work. Seeing ourselves as talented or gifted when we’re more seasoned sets us up to be victims, “Why isn’t the world coming to me if I’m so talented?”
“Who would like to buy this work or sponsor the exhibition?”
“Where will I meet them?”
“How can I get them on board?”
Posing and answering these sorts of practical questions makes us robust and helps lead us to our natural audience, whatever its size and purchasing power.
If you could give your creative colleagues only a few points of advice, what would they be?
Love yourself, your world and the people in it.
Do what matters to you, even if it’s controversial, opaque to others, or easily attacked.
Share your work.
Find champions who get your work and believe in you.
Learn more about Marc Zegans’ and his work here.