by Natalie Cheary
Over the next few months I’ll be getting under the skin of what makes a successful creative business – from the minefields of marketing, networking, collaboration and funding to the inspirational stories of those who have learnt their lessons and have been honest and generous enough to pass them on.
When I spoke to artists and creative industry insiders for this blog, one of my first questions was: “Tell us why you do what you do”. The responses varied from“because I love it” to “I can’t imagine not doing this” but the sentiment was consistent across them all. They do it because their artistic vision flows through their veins: if you chopped most of these people in half, I reckon you’d find their website address written through them like a stick of rock. Not because they are materialistic or browbeaten workaholics. Because it makes them happy: an exhausted, fulfilled, determined and passionate happy. My favourite response to the question was from filmmaker Rhys Davies. It was this:
“Because I have no choice! I believe that creative people have to do what they do. To not do it would be a betrayal against the core of their being.”
And yet for many people, a creative skill or artistic idea is likely to be side-lined as a hobby. Dreams and visions fall by the wayside as the ‘day job’ gets in the way. But, for some, a successful funding application and clever marketing campaign can be the start of a life-changing journey. A journey of steep learning curves, inspirational mentors, public soul searching and vigorous networking, as described by those who have shared their stories and advice for our first blog on how to turn creative vision into more than a hobby…
Art is a statement: have something to say
Most artists are driven by a need to express themselves through their chosen medium, be it intricate jewellery designs, thought-provoking sculptures or stand-up comedy. “I was a young man with a lot to say,” laughs performance poet Rob Gee who kicks off a national tour of his award-winning show Forget Me Not this month. “Egocentric I know, but I wanted to blow people’s minds and see their reactions.”
And with most art, what you say will get a reaction, whether it’s the customers marvelling at your pottery at a craft stall or an audience bombarding you with questions in the bar after a theatre showcase. Most artists would agree that being true to what you want your work to say about you and your principles is essential, which means working from the heart rather than an imposed brief. After all, there will be times when you need to promote, explain, encourage people to invest in or even defend your work.
The ‘reaction’ Rob describes is what sells your work, as the practical function of it can be found all around us in mass production. There are emotional reasons why someone invests in a unique, handmade piece of work instead of buying its equivalent from Primark, or spends two hours watching a poetry showcase instead of propping up a bar (or maybe while propping up a bar). Statement purchases are what make an outfit, a night out or a dining room special – owning a piece of an artistic statement is what makes us human. Unique.
Investors and collaborators understand the worth of an artist in a commercial world and so they are looking for those who stand out. Graphic and Product Designer Anna Lisovskaya, of studio Fox & Co and workshop My Workspace, advises:
“You will be entering an industry where everyone is shouting ‘Pick me!’ Create a solid body of work and be confident in presenting it. Whether it’s a set of canvases, a fashion collection or architectural plans, package it into a folio of skills. Everyone says they are good, so let your work and commitment do the talking.”
The louder your work speaks for itself, the more likely you are to get heard above the din. Even when it might feel easier to shrug your shoulders and join the crowd, keeping a firm grip on what inspires you will keep your voice that octave higher than the entire crowd put together. “Finding what inspires you and what brings you passion is key for your project and business,” advises Peter Hirst, who has two hugely successful music projects under his belt in Moving InWards and rethinkyourmind.
“Often the work we create is very new, which is exciting and wonderful on good days, but can be challenging on the days when we are tired. It is all about keeping going, so make sure the project or business you run is close to your heart and your dreams: that keeps you going whatever the weather.”
And if you need to adapt your role in your beloved art in order to make those statements, so be it. Anand Bhatt, of dance company Aakash Odedra, lives and breathes dance but isn’t the world’s best dancer…. “I am not a dancer anymore…actually I was a rubbish dancer,” he admits.
“But I work in dance. A bit like Simon Cowell cannot sing, but he knows what good singing is and what turns a good singer into a successful singer. As a dance-maker, I tell stories. My vision was for these stories to feel real to people, to touch them. I knew how dance made me feel: when my body connected, it was like nothing else. I wanted people to have the chance to connect to the feeling inside of them and share the joy as I did.”
Anand evolved with where his talents lay: if he’d given up as a dancer, those stories would never have been told.