What follows are the notes of a talk I gave recently to a group of writers at Water Street Studio in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The talk was entitled, “2015–The Year of the Artists-as-Entrepreneur,” but on reflection I might better call it, with apologies to Seth Godin, “Don’t Just Pick Yourself, Pick Your Tradition.” I’m going to be developing these themes further in some forthcoming non-fiction writing…
Question: Does the digital revolution spell the death of the artist, or does it rather create the most favorable environment artists have ever known? Answer: It all depends on how you understand your art and its relationship to the market…
A 2-Minute History of the Artist as Businessperson
William Deresiewicz, “The Death of the Artist–and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur,” Atlantic Monthly, December 28, 2014
- ancient, medieval, and Renaissance period: artisan, craftsman, apprentice to a master, supported by patrons
- Romantic period: solitary genius, “Art” as a quasi-religious concept, secularism on the rise
- post-WWII: credentialed professional: the artist as academic
The Rise of the Creative Entrepreneur
- The digital revolution makes possible a whole new economic model for the artist. I’m going to talk about how this revolution impacts the writer of fiction, as that’s the art I know best.
- In our connection economy there is no longer any need to ask permission of gatekeepers (agents, publishers, editors of literary magazines, etc.) to pursue your art and to try and make a living at it. “Don’t wait to get picked, pick yourself” (Seth Godin)
- Creation, distribution, sales, & marketing–all right there from your laptop
- Somewhere in the middle of 2014, indie published authors as a cohort began taking in the lion’s share of author earnings on Amazon, while authors published by the Big Five (Penguin, Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster) fell into second place. (Source: most recent Author Earnings Report)
- In 2015, creative entrepreneurship coming into its own
- Who can help you get started in indie publishing? Joanna Penn and Hugh Howey, David Gaughran, Steve Scott
What I Did in the Summer of 2011
- Let me Tell you the story of how I picked myself in the summer of 2011.
- Like many writers, I had for years been trying to get myself picked
- Daniel McInerny Productions, LLC (danielmcinerny.com)
- Trojan Tub Entertainment (kingdomofpatria.com)
- Learning how to build a platform: blogs, free content marketing, email lists, networking through social media, partnering with others
- Why I prefer “indie publishing” to “self publishing”: real indie publishing involves a community
Pitfalls On the Road of Creative Entrepreneurship
- In this age of creative entrepreneurship, the line between art and business is more obscured than ever. Deresiewicz raises several concerns about art’s new mode of creative entrepreneurship:
- A network is not the same thing as a circle or coterie–does not involve the same level of intellectual ferment and friendship
- The displacement of depth by breadth; art now seems to demand diversification, as in any business
- More than ever before, works of art are becoming commodities; now it’s not an audience but a customer base
- Is the new environment producing a safer, more formulaic art?
- The nature of aesthetic judgment becoming reconfigured. Who judges the art? There is an absence of a critical culture to form us in our opinions of what is good art and what is bad art
- The democratization of taste coincides with the democratization of creativity
Don’t Just Pick Yourself, Pick Your Tradition
- How to avoid the pitfalls on the road of creative entrepreneurship? I think the way forward involves us remembering: Don’t just pick yourself, pick your tradition.
- Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist, the importance of writing the book you want to read and gathering the branches of your “tree,” i.e. seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage; our art is a mashup of our influences
- T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.”
- In picking your tradition you enter a community of both the living and the dead (not just your Twitter followers or your favorite freelancers)
- A community which pursues the goods common to it (e.g. fiction) according to standards of excellence internal to it; in such a community writing (art) becomes a practice, not a commodity. (I borrow the concept of “practice” here from the work of the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre)
- The economic business of the artist remains external to the practice; i.e. the practice can flourish without (much) economic benefit. Which means there’s no guarantee of success.
- Standards of excellence remain internal to the practice–so there is a basis for criticism beyond the market.
- In a way, this brings us back to the notion of art as craft, yet the entrepreneurial mode in the digital environment is something new.
Envoi: Go forth and wed the practices of your art with the savviest use you choose to make of the digital space (or any public platform, for that matter). But never sacrifice the common goods of the practice to the market.
Your comments, as always, most welcome.