Yet so far away. Today is 6.6.16, the intended launch day of my 4th book, "The Skeleton Men". It is a project that I've been excited about and working on for years and is close to complete. Technically, it is the 3rd book in my "Bonesetter's Revenge" series of 8 books, and is my 4th book since I began my "Publish a Book Every Year For the Rest of My Life" goal. Compared against other authors and artists that have published zero product to represent themselves, I should be proud of my accomplishments.
But I'm not.
"The Skeleton Men" is not out, not totally ready for prime time, and I have not thought about a new release date. From a Marketer and Product Development perspective, I suck because I missed my Publishing deadline; from an artist perspective, I am unsure the deadline is important, and even insecure about whether my goals are worthwhile.
Consumption of my product (actual sales of my books, prints, candles and etc.) has plummeted since I began the S.E.R.E. Project almost a decade ago. Sales aren't consistent or notable (I certainly couldn't live off them if I tried); my audience seems to be disengaging in social media, even though I push new content out regularly and my "Audience Size" continues to grow; and I can't seem to find consistent passionate influencers/supporters of my Art product. Despite my talent and drive and energy, my "artistic personal brand" is withering on the vine.
Quite frankly, these days my thoughts turn toward the bigger questions on the cusp of the 10-year anniversary of the Artemis Sere brand (launched on 7.7.07) -- "Should I really be putting this much time and effort into selling my Art to an audience? Is my art really for "Art's Sake"?
"Art for art's sake" is the usual English rendering of a French slogan from the early 19th century, "l'art pour l'art", and expresses a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only "true" art, is divorced from any didactic, moral, or utilitarian function. Such works are sometimes described as "autotelic", from the Greek autoteles, "complete in itself", a concept that has been expanded to embrace "inner-directed" or "self-motivated" human beings."[Wikipedia]
Feeding the Beast
This is a different day and age for an artist. Content Marketing requires a constant connection, churning engines of an ever-present calendar and a focus on engaging with a target audience. If you're committed to the life of an artist, one that has a relationship with an audience, you must respect the always-on cycles, while trying to focus equal time on artistic production.
Your connection with an external audience is a beast that must continually be fed, even as social media platforms complicate your path to reaching your hungry consumer. A Fan or Follower doesn't even see your content the majority of the time -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn.... all of the major platforms "algorithm your existence away", unless you have resources to pay.
The reality is that all "extended" efforts take time, creative energy, and dedication to strategies and tactics that evolve as Marketing platforms do. One day a Hashtag is a trend in a platform; the next day too many can diminish your content reach. One day imagery is the preferred content type; the next day our short attention spans have moved over to video. One day you can connect with fans and followers in the 2nd largest country in the world (Facebook); the next day your reach is limited to single digits.
If your audience is a famished flock of followers, chances are good they will die of starvation before they find their way to your content. And you, as an artist, will return to the life of "starving artist" unless you've figured out a way to get your art into the hands of people that want it.
If you want to feel successful as an artist, you must find a modicum of commercial success which can affect personal stability. That can't happen unless you treat "art as a product".
Blame it on Boy Bands
In my day job, I help manage and launch products. Actual products that save lives -- not artistic products that are less than critical for saving the life and health of any person. Art serves a necessary purpose for humanity, but isn't an experience that compels people to action unless connected to audience passion (in most cases). Marketing Art correctly and with the appropriate resources helps connect product to passion, and give consumers an avenue to "Own Art" as they never have before.
But all product experiences are not made -- or paid -- equally.
People are willing to spend hundreds of dollars to see a musician or sports team, even if their ticket is so far away that they need binoculars to observe the event, but are often unwilling to spend that same amount of money for a piece that can hang in their hallway for the rest of their lives. They're willing to drop ten bucks on a quick fix at Starbucks, but unwilling to invest that same amount of money on the book of a local artist.
These days, it's less about product quality than critical mass -- your product or experience could be substandard, but if you reach a certain threshhold of impressions, engagements or clickthroughs, you're viewed as successful. Heck, even social listening tools now have specific filters for "Boy Bands" content; the digital experience around that type of art is so disruptive to common marketing trends and techniques that it is considered noise.
A Boy Band itself is a pre-programmed, predefined art product and experience targeted at a critical mass audience (target audience persona: teenbopper girls around the world) that will amplify the passion connected to the boys... err... music. I am not a "Belieber", and never will be. Justin Beiber is a product, not an artist, and contributing to the struggle with art in the 21st century:
Our Human Art has become equitable to Noise that consumers tune out.
Engines of Noise
In all reality, the majority of process-related jobs will be automated by robotics and technology within the next century. Your run-of-the-mill service jobs will be kiosked, digitized, personalized, virtual realitied and dehumanized. Creators in different markets are taking personal touch out of the hands of humans and giving them algorithms, drones, responsive designs and artificial intelligence.
At some point in our future, the only differentiating skills will be those with that involve our ability to create and imagineer. Our ability to be artistic -- to create something that doesn't derive from a pre-programmed pattern, extrapolation or design -- will be the only thing that separates humans from robots. I follow Transhumanist studies and patterns, and am fascinated by the changes in humanity as it integrates technology. The trends are "wearable sensors" now (Fitbit, Health Monitors, Environmental Monitors) that keep a person healthy; in ten years time, these "wearable" sensors will be biologically integrated.
The tuning out of noise -- of Art -- will be a setting in your sensor software. Consumers of art will become more discerning and selective and less patient; Producers of art will need to follow suit. The pressure on the artist to conform, reform, adapt, re-target and refine based on consumption channel or content type will be fundamental.
For artists that are lucky enough to have financial and marketing support, these types of challenges are secondary to artistic product development; for artists that don't have Corporate backing, are not part of a Publishing House and/or do not big-pocket fans and followers, the question of balance is penultimate. Artists don't want to be engines of noise, but must cut through the wavelengths in order to have their voice heard, their product seen or their experience appreciated, often forcing us to be people and enact tactics that aren't familiar -- or take way too much time out of artistic production.
If your creative engines aren't driving you closer to your goals, maybe your goals are wrong.
Art for Art's Sake
Circling back to the release date for my 4th book, "The Skeleton Men", I question whether or not I'm setting a release date to appease my audience or to give myself an arbitrary deadline, a day to work and strategize toward so I'm meeting my own production goals. Am I setting myself up for a false sense of success by meeting that arbitrary launch date? Am I thinking too much about it all? Should we be applying Project Management thought processes to creative development?
The problem with "Art for Product's Sake" is that there's way too much thinking involved. Every strategy, every content calendar, every tactic employed drains artistic energy and strains production that was developed to meet personal passion targets -- not to keep food on my table and paint on my brushes. If target metrics aren't met, you have obvious proof that your efforts of marketing your art are not working. If you care about turning those metrics around, it requires new strategies, new platforms, new promotions, approaching new audiences and/or finding ways to activate your current audience (that don't sound like begging for help).
Over the last year, I've had an opportunity to show my art at a Gallery in Florida and stock my candles in a local Furniture store. At the end of the day, I failed to make both of those happen due to the lack of resources I have to support my Art. I can't seem to make "Art for Product's Sake" work in the Digital world, and I can't enable "Art for Product's Sake" to work in the Physical world. If both of those are problematic and unsuccessful, perhaps the inevitable answer is to swing to the other side of the spectrum --
Go dark, embrace "Art for Art's Sake", and let the Boy Bands rule the noise-polluted present.