how to turn your creative online platform into an art*
Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
What makes someone an artist? I don’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist who works with oil paint or marble, sure. But there are artists who worked with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances. — LINCHPIN, Seth Godin
Strange concept, developing an audience before you have something to sell.
Maybe it makes perfect sense, if you tilt your head and shift your angle. If you don’t have something to sell, you don’t have such an obvious agenda. Buy my book. No, really. Buy my book!
That annoys people.
When you’re randomly shoving your book in people’s faces, what are the odds that that particular reader is going to be your right reader? If you walk into a crowded bar and throw yourself at the first prospect you see, what are the odds that she or he will prove a match for a genuine relationship (or even an awesome one-night stand)?
There’s an element of subjectivity to art. We like what we like, and even if we’re not sure how to put that into words, we know it when we find it. The nature of the art has to link with the nature of the individual. Two inner lives have to open up to each other and find recognition. Resonance.
Maybe you can’t truly sell or market your work online. Nobody wants to be marketed to unless they’re already sold on your work and on you. This seems a paradox but what I’m trying to say is:
You create, online, a sense of who you are and what you stand for as an artist.
You put yourself out there to be found.
You cast your signal into the strange endless void of the Internet, and you wait for your people to hear it, and recognize it, and follow it back to you.
You see yourself reflected back in them. Something in you and something in them fuses, becomes one and the same.
This is known as a bond.
This is known as a sense of authenticity.
What if you came to the Web with open hands and open mind? Instead of locking in to one goal and blinking out other possibilities – sell my book sellmybook SELLITBABYSELLIT – you cultivate a sense of journey and exploration.
You decide that instead of ‘marketing’ yourself, you will practice, online, being the artist you secretly know yourself to be.
It is in the content you share and the story you tell and the voice you send out to your audience.
It is the intensity with which you listen to what’s happening around you.
It is the way you gather information and translate it to wisdom about yourself, your work, your audience, your marketplace, and the deep instinctive sweetspots where they start to intersect.
You will practice being an artist online until you get so good that the people you attract through and to your content turn into fans, or even true fans. They mention your name. They share you with others. They do it with a speed and reach you could never achieve on your own. Slowly, and then faster and faster, you become light and heat and energy, radiating ever outward into spaces that surprise you.
An artist interprets the world around her and makes meaning out of it, a meaning that serves others as well as herself. An artist creates the kind of value that can’t be replicated, automated or outsourced, because an artist works from her inimitable soul.
And when I say “from the soul” I mean from deep within, in a way that draws on your unique layering of personality and intelligence and personal history. You bring all of yourself (your selves) to your work: your shadow as well as your shiny public face. You need your darkness as well as your light, for they define themselves against each other and both have gifts to give.
You fashion your own point of view.
This is what makes you original.
The first breakthrough comes when you make the mental shift from What can I get to What can I give: when your ‘platform’ or ‘promotion’ becomes another way to create meaning, to give value to people, to be another face for your art.
I had a great conversation with the ace book publicist Lauren Cerand the other night, on the rooftop of a Venice hotel (Venice, California) as night gathered deep along the beaches.
“People get so hung up on the ‘social’ part of social media,” she told me, “that they forget the ‘media’ part.”
She said, “Social media is something that you make. It is your own thing. It can be whatever you want it to be. No publisher or agent or editor can take it from you or claim it as their property.” She moved her hands a little, as if creating a thing out of air. “It’s yours.”
It is also your gift to others.
Meaning, real meaning, tends to transcend and escape whatever tries to contain it. Meaning depends upon the audience as well as the artist; in that way a book or painting or company is co-created. Because the same thing can be different things to different people — multiple aspects of the same meaning shifting in and out of view – art exists on an intensely personal level as well as a collective one. Your job as an artist isn’t to control your meaning, but to bring it into being and ship it out into the world.
It evolves and thrives, or withers and dies, in the conversations of those who gather round it and carry it to others.
An artist understands that art is in the process and not just the final product.
An engaged audience doesn’t happen overnight. It is organic and shifting and tailored to you; new people move in as other people, wrong people, filter out. They go off to seek meaning elsewhere. This releases you as well.
It’s a process. You are making your own thing. You are creating and co-creating it a bit at a time. It’s rather like a book happening online, chapter by chapter, page by page, bird by bird.
You need to think long-term, or else you’ll get discouraged. Just because hardly anyone is reading the blog post you wrote today….doesn’t mean they won’t discover it three weeks or three months or three years from now. You are creating a source, a resource, that deepens every time you roll up your sleeves and get to work on it (and even, sometimes, when you don’t).
As your audience evolves and grows, so do you. You work with meaning, and through meaning, as each expression of it opens up into another expression to lead you somewhere new. The better you get at this – like anything else, it takes practice and time – the more interesting people start to find you. They join you on the journey. Some fall out early on; others become increasingly emotionally invested in you.
It’s standard marketing advice to create what’s called a customer avatar: an in-depth individual profile of someone who represents your audience. You get into her head and examine what she needs, what problems she faces, what makes her happy, what keeps her up at night, where she hangs out and what she does with her time. Then you can tailor your content to those needs, desires and anxieties: you know where to find her, how to attract and seduce her.
I have experienced the inverse.
Perhaps it works better that way.
The more experienced I became online, the more confident and relaxed. My ‘writerly’ voice came apart and my authentic voice broke through it, like a moth struggling out from its cocoon. You are more exposed this way, it’s true. But your vulnerability is also your strength. It shows who you are. Your right audience can’t recognize you until you step out from hiding. If you operate behind a mask, people will be attracted to the mask and not to you. When it gets knocked off — and sooner or later it will — people will be confused, or dismayed, or angry, and they will desert you.
When you practice being an artist, you are also becoming yourself; you are making your soul manifest; you are turning into an original.
When you make meaning from your soul and deliver it to the world through an ever deepening skillset, when you offer your work as a gift, something that transcends expectation and obligation, your audience begins to reveal itself. The more they see of you, the more they can see themselves in you.
You are on a journey and so are they.
You may not know exactly where you’re headed, but that’s okay.
You will help them.
They will help you.
You will reach your destination together.
* With thanks to Jeremy Lee James