Strategy? What Strategy?
When I get asked questions like the one I answered yesterday, “why are you doing Japanese calligraphy” it’s usually part of a bigger question – “what’s your strategy.” It feels like some people see everything I do, the blogposts I write, the way I use social media, the decision to focus on YouTube, as nothing more than strategic, marketing oriented decisions.
Maybe it’s true for some bloggers, freelancers, or self-employed creatives. Sometimes. Or maybe it’s the impression created by the whole personal branding thing. I’m not sure.
Not Strategy Or Goals
But, I’m just not strategic in this sense. I’ve never been goal-driven and largely, I don’t have much faith in the whole goal-setting thing. Dreams, in the big sense of what life could be like, yes. Milestones, in the sense of what reaching the end of my current projects might feel like, yes. But goals, like detailed strategic plans, with lots of steps and ambitious, visionary language, no.
I believe in process, I believe in projects, and I believe in work. Identify the conditions under which you work well, under which you feel creative and productive, then recreate those conditions over and over again while working on meaningful, worthwhile projects you can complete.
Everything I wrote about yesterday is really just building on this. It’s isn’t a strategy so much as a way of working, a way of being, a way of trying to live well.
If There Is A Creative Strategy It’s This
The only advice I can give to those seeking a strategy for creative work is this,
1. Define your idea of what it means to live well.
2. Live well.
3. Share the results of this life with others.
Of course, this answer is missing all the bits people want to hear about products, commerce, etc. And it totally sidesteps the question of work-life balance.
That’s no accident. I don’t believe the work-life question is even the right question to be asking if you are in any way inclined towards the arts or being an independent creative, self-employed or freelance. It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.
Also, the question of commerce, what to make what to sell, really has to be part of the larger question of how to live well. When you consider your favourite music, art or writing, you might not see this concept of “living well,” and perhaps it’s an exaggeration to say that all creators live well.
But, behind the work there is a life, and beyond the thing we try to make, the thing we hope people will like (or buy) is our life. Eventually, the question of how to live, how to build the life that makes the creation possible, becomes all important. The sooner we make space for this question, answer it, and bring it to the centre of everything we do, the better it will be in every aspect of our existence.
A Final Thought On Strategy And Inspiration
In recent months I’ve come to feel deeply disappointed in the digital ecology I’ve invested so much time into. I’d rather hold a 4×6 print of one of my photos than get a hundred likes on Instagram. Next week, I’ll still have that print, while the Instagram likes will just become a digital ghost.
I’d also rather sit is a cafe surrounded by strangers, drawing inspiration from reading a single well written essay, then bounce around the digital opinions of scores of people I “sort of know” online, discussing whatever random thing happens to be in the news today, all the while feeling my energy and drive draining away like wax in the hot sun.
This isn’t me being cynical about social media in the wake of current events. It’s an observation about motivations and inspiration. The quality of what I do goes up the more I immerse myself in the physical world.
Seeing a photo online doesn’t have the same effect as seeing it hanging in a gallery, especially when I can empathise with the reactions of people around me as they try to understand the images for themselves. Talking to another photographer on social media is a pale shadow of what it’s like to talk in person, when our words blend in the air around us and we can sense, feel, touch and smell each other.
After all, we are made to experience the world with all five senses, not just one or two.
In the past two years I’ve had a lot of opportunities to see Dali and Picasso’s work in person, not just the paintings, but the sculpture, drawing and writing as well. They were geniuses, of course, but they also seemed unconstrained by our generation’s obsession with personal branding. Their “brand” seemed to come from somewhere far less superficial and “market-tested.” It’s like they were chasing something that was out in front of them, something bigger than just painting or the art market.
Right now I’m just making stuff and my only goal is to finish. Some of this is photo prints, but also electronics, wood-working, and crafty stuff. I’m trying to change the mediate world around me on a daily basis, trying to live well, trying to be kind to myself and those around me. Anything I can let go of I will put on sale on my site. But nothing is being made with the goal of being a product.
I’m just letting the muse run naked in front of me and following as best I can.