I love this Newsweek article that talks about the rise of the "amateur arts". (h/t to Thomas Cott for sending it)
It's a reminder of how technology has blurred the line between the professional artist who is choosing art as a career/vocation and the serious hobbyist who is just as capable of producing (and distributing) art as anybody.
It's also a reminder of how large the arts ecosystem really is. When we talk about "artists" we are talking about WAY more people then we typically include within the boundaries of our discussions.
Ian, over at Createquity, points out the double edge sword that this explosion of "amateurs" creates. On one hand it is easier then ever for work to be created and if you believe (like I do) that a world with more art is a good thing . . . then that's a good thing.
On the other hand, this incredible increase in both the number of artistic producers and the amount of artistic content has made it much more difficult for any individual artist to make a living through their art.
Like Ian notes in his post, this is a difficult thing to talk about. It doesn't inspire the same passion and heated rehetoric as which painter sucks or which Artistic Director is useless. But this amateur explosion is a really big deal and merits a lot of consideration.
What we have because of the combination of amateurs and technology is a huge amount of artistic abundance.
Again, I think this is a good thing. Other's may think it is a bad thing because a lot of the stuff doesn't meet a certain "quality" standard. But really it doesn't matter what any of us thinks, artistic abundance is the new normal.
In a world of abundance, what becomes valuable is scarcity.
If your goal is to make money through your art then you must create scarcity.
There's a lot of ways to create pockets of scarcity in a world of abundance. Let's use the airline world for an example.
Southwest Airlines creates scarcity through price. You can take a lot flights to Denver, but Southwest is normally the cheapest.
JetBlue creates scarcity through customer service/amenities. They aren't the cheapest flight to Denver, but they tend to treat their customers well.
It's not an accident that these are two of the few profitable airlines.
In a world of abundance, scarcity is where the money is.
So the vital question is . . . how does what you do as an artist create scarcity?
Maybe you have a particular point of view as an artist that is rare in your neighorhood, city or region.
Maybe you have a particularly unique relationship with your patron base.
Maybe you are doing a particular style of work that isn't scene that often.
My point is, you need to develop an answer to the scarcity question.
Is it enough to create scarcity? Is that the only thing you need to thrive in the tricky intersection of art and commerce.
You also need:
- A potential audience/customer that actually cares about the scarcity you are creating and is large enough to meet your financial needs. If your business needs 2,000 people to be viable and your scarcity is only enough to get you 1,000 people you have trouble. This is particularly an important element of success in the live performing arts. Producing theatre, dance, etc. is expensive and you need a fairly large audience to make a living at it.
- A way to effectively communicate with that chosen audience. That's where marketing fits in to all this.
- The commitment to keep at the process when the inevitable tough times come around. The amateur explosion makes the path to being recognized and rewarded as a professional artist much longer. If you want to make a living from your art prepare for the long haul.
If you have all of that, plus some luck, then you have a shot at actually making money through your art.
Does that seem like too much work? Does the hard, uncertain road of being a professional artist appear like something you have zero interest in?
Then you have another option, be an amateur.
Create your work with zero expectation of financial return.
There's no shame in that. It can be a great place to be.
In my neighborhood a community theatre has been open for about a year now. They appear to be a group of passionate amateurs having a good time and putting on some plays. No worries about money. No heavy marketing plans.
Sounds like a good time to me.
And I believe that their work is every bit as relevant and vital as the big LORT theatre down the street from them.
So be an amateur, it's not a dirty word.
But if you are chosing the path of the professional, creating scarcity is a necessary part of the process.