|Colon Cemetery, Havana ©Lynne Buchanan|
In William Deresiewicz’s article The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur in The Atlantic Monthly, he writes about how works of art are becoming commodities–consumer goods with a customer base. From my own struggles to hold on to what I am trying to express with my photographs and blog posts while trying to market and sell my work, I tend to believe a lot of what Deresiewicz’s article is saying. This paradigm shift he tell us has to do with the shift in the workforce. No one is guaranteed a job these days and people have to switch careers multiple times. We are in an age of entrepreneurialism where we are all being forced to become our own “marketing production, and accounting departments.” Deresiewicz writes that although entrepreneurialism is being sold to us as an opportunity, it is actually a necessity.
The author suggests quality will deteriorate because no one has time for the 10,000 hours it takes to become really expert at something because of the demands of all these other roles. In addition, Deresciwicz observes that in searching for a market, creative people are hitting multiple media and establishing platforms for their creativity instead of focusing on a single art form. Though I constantly feel the pull between creating and marketing, I spend most of my time creating and not enough time marketing in large part because I don’t understand how to market the work my soul feels compelled to create since the world of photography has changed so much. It is also true that I had to incorporate writing to get my work and message noticed and there is no doubt that pursuing two creative media is very time consuming. Yet one more reason marketing is the last thing I get to. Furthermore, it seems to me that the skills required to create photographs and write creative nonfiction are very different than the skills required for running a successful business. Achieving success in today’s art world is a mix of creating something “artistic” and being able to sell it, with the business model often being a greater indicator of success.
My photographs and writings reflect my inner awakening and I have shared them in an attempt to help shift cultural values, so that people understand we are part of a web of life and owe it to the planet to consider the consequences of our behavior towards nature. Though there is clearly a need for my message in today’s world in my humble opinion, since we are destroying the environment at breakneck speed, this need is not something recognized by much of society or deemed relevant in the new paradigm of the artist.
I am not interested in selling for the sake of selling, in producing without caring what I produce just so someone will consume. To me, art is more than a widget. Yet, if I cannot find ways to sell or share my work in museums, galleries, and public places without losing money as I currently do, I may have to stop displaying my work in these forums and create solely for myself. It is somewhat paradoxical that in this new age where everyone is supposed to have a voice, your voice is deemed less worthy if you don’t follow consumer trends and market your follower voice sufficiently through social media and other networking platforms. Don’t get me wrong, I do share through Facebook, as it is the best means of reaching people I have found and with no advertising, my blog has been read more than 11,000 times.
Still, I have yet to figure out how to cross over from getting people to look at and read my work to earning enough money to cover the costs of sharing my work. Though the reason I am an artist has little to do with making money, or I would have quit long ago, it is disheartening not be compensated sufficiently for the blood, sweat, and tears I put into my photography and writing in a world where everyone is trying to get the best deal on a product. Yet, as someone said to me the other day about the starving artist story, “I don’t want someone trying to make me feel badly that I don’t want to buy something if I don’t need it or want it.” In the past, there were patrons who funded creative endeavors because they saw the value to society. Now we have to prove and create our own value. For a long time, I have thought if I could just become well known somehow, then my work would sell easily because critics and other artists are always telling me how good it is. Yet the point of creating has never been to become famous for me.
I am not sharing my struggles to make anyone feel sorry for me. I have been analyzing them for a while and this article helped me see what I have been facing in a cultural context that affects the direction art may go in the coming decades. As someone who believes in the soul and the importance of art in opening our eyes to the deeper issues of life, I feel examining these issues is critically important.
Below are three quotes from the article that I felt raised particularly significant issues. To read the article in full, click on the link below: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/01/the-death-of-the-artist-and-the-birth-of-the-creative-entrepreneur/383497/?single_page=true
“It’s hard to believe that the new arrangement will not favor work that’s safer: more familiar, formulaic, user-friendly, eager to please—more like entertainment, less like art. Artists will inevitably spend a lot more time looking over their shoulder, trying to figure out what the customer wants rather than what they themselves are seeking to say. The nature of aesthetic judgment will itself be reconfigured. “No more gatekeepers,” goes the slogan of the Internet apostles. Everyone’s opinion, as expressed in Amazon reviews and suchlike, carries equal weight—the democratization of taste.”
“’Producerism, we can call this, by analogy with consumerism. What we’re now persuaded to consume, most conspicuously, are the means to create. And the democratization of taste ensures that no one has the right (or inclination) to tell us when our work is bad. A universal grade inflation now obtains: we’re all swapping A-minuses all the time, or, in the language of Facebook, likes.”
“When works of art become commodities and nothing else, when every endeavor becomes “creative” and everybody “a creative,” then art sinks back to craft and artists back to artisans—a word that, in its adjectival form, at least, is newly popular again. Artisanal pickles, artisanal poems: what’s the difference, after all? So “art” itself may disappear: art as Art, that old high thing. Which—unless, like me, you think we need a vessel for our inner life—is nothing much to mourn.”
Note: Cuba has been incredibly supportive of the arts, as I learned on my recent trip there. I only included the photograph above because the Colon Cemetery is so vast and evokes the scale of the loss I believe we are experiencing.