Yes, the subject of arts entrepreneurship is in vogue these days. It’s no longer gauche to discuss the business aspects of a career. That’s great news for artists that prefer not to live a destitute existence. But what exactly does arts entrepreneurship constitute? For universities embracing this topic, classes typically cover a lot of ground: writing resumes, developing websites, copyright law, forming a nonprofit, filing taxes. While all these lessons are valuable indeed, one vital aspect seems to be consistently ignored: product development. Instead, the lessons taught suggest that if you simply become more business savvy and employ great marketing tactics, you will find success.
Well, I have news for you. If people aren’t interest in the art you’re peddling, sales will be dismal! Not all products have the potential to thrive, even if your marketing and promotional campaigns are the most exciting thing since the Gecko signed on with Geico. So I’d like to focus the next several postings on this critical issue—What art do you deliver? What makes your product(s) viable?
I was recently one of a handful of people to attend a music recital. The “crowd” reacted unenthusiastically to the performance of a strange assortment of compositions, even though the playing was strong. After the show, it became apparent that the musician was disappointed. He worked so hard. Why weren’t more people interested? And why didn’t those who attended reward him with passionate ovations?
So I asked, “Why did you program this particular collection of pieces?” The response was predictable: “I’ve always loved these works.” In other words, he chose what he wanted to play, without ever considering the perspective of his audience. Me, me, me. This self-indulgent, inward-looking perspective runs rampant among artists. Is it any wonder the performance was a flop? It’s analogous to the time Homer Simpson gifted Marge a bowling ball. Why wouldn’t she love partaking in his favorite activity?
No successful industry operates like this. Restaurants serve cuisine that customers enjoy. Movie theaters show films people want to see. Stores sell merchandise that consumers need (or at least have been convinced they need). If not, they usually fail, and quickly.
Now, I’m completely in favor of producing art that is personally meaningful. Of course, there is a place for compositions that are more fun to perform than hear, dances more interesting to choreograph than watch, and painting techniques more fulfilling to master than examine. By all means, explore these paths. Savor the challenges, and use them to nurture personal growth.
But if you bring art to the public, value their perspective as well. What do they want? Or better yet, what do they need? Solve a real problem…Connect to their interests…
Become an outward artist.