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Blog // Images // Sounds // Thoughts
February 18, 2013

Emotion, Passion And Selling Art

While I was live-tweeting during this morning’s Social Media Week Singapore Keynote, A few comments came back about the idea of passion points. The way I understand it, passion points are the interests people talk about on social media. For example, one of this morning’s speakers, Damien Cummings, suggested the passion points in Singapore are […]

While I was live-tweeting during this morning’s Social Media Week Singapore Keynote, A few comments came back about the idea of passion points. The way I understand it, passion points are the interests people talk about on social media.

For example, one of this morning’s speakers, Damien Cummings, suggested the passion points in Singapore are shopping, food, tech, travel & work. The mix will vary slightly from city to city. For example, the people I follow from Hong Kong often talk passionately about hiking and running, while those I follow from Adelaide will frequently mention wine or the beach.

The important point is this; to communicate online we have to connect with people’s passions on some level. But, too often we are so obsessed with our own message, the thing we are trying to sell or the idea we are trying to get across, we fail to connect.

Art And Emotion

One of the responses I got on Twitter was a great question from Graham Perkins, president of sgmuso (The Singapore Music Society). Graham asked,

I firmly agree when it comes to talking about the work itself, emotion is everything. What lifts a photograph from just a pretty picture to a work of art are the emotions it evokes in the viewer. And, the difference between music that makes an impact and music that simply exists as a pleasant background noise is largely in the emotional (or perhaps cognitive) responses it generates in the listener.

But, being solely, or even excessively focussed on emotion is part of the reason why many social media efforts on behalf of the arts don’t work.

Some Examples

I’m a huge fan of Hugh MacLeod’s GapingVoid cartoons. I believe his business has grown so well because his art is all about emotion and because he connects with people’s passions. His gallery business evolved from the realisation office workers were printing his cartoons out and putting them up in cubicles. Understanding why workers were doing that was a key insight for Hugh and something he has written about extensively.

It’s a lesson I quickly picked up on when entering the photography world in 2009. I was used to the music world, where artists would often only talk about their own work, frequently in a very self-obsessed way. By contrast, the photographers I was finding, some with really substantial followings, were broader in their interests, more generous in engaging with their followers and more willing to connect with passions, not just to become better photographers themselves, but in other areas as well.

In fact, a lot of the best photographer’s blogs out there really aren’t exclusively photography-focussed at all. Rather, they are about travel, food, romance, religion, tech or even self-help. They are blogs about passions that help sustain artists who evoke emotions.

Life Is Hard – So Start There

I have a little rule for all this that I like to call the “life is hard principle.” Basically it goes like this; people go online largely because life is hard. They are tired, stressed, worried, angry, lonely or trying to figure out a problem. For someone to connect with online content (especially when it comes to subscribing) they need to feel like the content helps them overcome something hard in their life, that it’s part of the solution and not just part of the problem.

And, the biggest problem online is noise; the clutter and confusion, the proliferation of choices.

Being focussed on passions is smart, because it helps us build authentic bridges of connection between ourselves and other people online. Doing this involves talking about more than just our art and how emotionally potent it is. It involves taking seriously the lives of our fans and followers and understanding what motivates them as they try to deal the reality of life’s hardships.

Otherwise, no matter how emotional our art might be (or might seem to us), we’ll just be another voice shouting at the wind.

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