Art Needs More Entrepreneurs (Part 2/2)

In my previous post in this series, I discussed how popular culture and the arts have been in a state of stagnancy for a while now, but are slowly making a comeback. I will now expand on the subject of how we can encourage more and greater artistic innovation and growth.

In the internet age, it is easier than ever for artists and writers to market themselves, get their work out, find collaborators, and accumulate followings. But not many artists seem to be taking advantage of this state of affairs. Their lack of commercial success is not often a matter insufficient products, but of insufficient marketing.

As I stated in part one, I primarily buy old back issues (comic books, that is) that I know are good instead of those new, hot-off-the-presses books that, while good-looking, tends to lack substance. Again, if I have no reason to have confidence in the product’s quality, why should I buy it?

This is not to say that today’s entertainment lacks quality fare.

In comics, there is plenty of stuff both outside of the Big Two publishing houses (Marvel and DC) that’s both original and compelling, if not generally clean. I don’t always read stuff from independent publishers such as IDW and Image, but they and their publications do have significant followings.

Webcomics continue to provide quality content, such as Gannon Beck’s Space Corps and Scott Christian Sava’s The Dreamland Chronicles. Most of them are independent, creator-owned works, examples of true artist-entrepreneurs. We’ll return to this concept later.

In the realm of theatre, new musicals such as Hamilton and Newsies have taken young audiences by storm. I look forward to watching Hamilton myself one day, as it has come highly recommended from sources I know to be reliable. Any musical that gets people thinking about the lives of the Founding Fathers is definitely worth taking a look at.

Even in film, genuinely good movies are still being made, notwithstanding the sneers that certain popular adaptations continue to draw. The 2013 film 12 Years a Slave, for instance, is without a doubt the best new movie I’ve ever seen, though it was quite painful to watch due to the heartrendingly realistic portrayal of chattel slavery. I wouldn’t want to watch it again.

Going back a few more years, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception remains the most original film, sci-fi or not, to be produced in recent memory. It is definitely worthy of its robust box office and numerous accolades.

Inception is also one of a very short list of recent films which fall within the classifications of “good” and “popular.” I’m certain the two need not be (nor haven’t always been) mutually exclusive.

The point of all this is that new, innovative artistic talent exists. There are people out there who are creating fresh, original, entertaining stories. They just aren’t always visible to mainstream audiences.

This isn’t so much a failure of product as it is a failure of marketing. Plenty of artists have a good product, but don’t have the marketing savvy or inclination toward business to get their name out.

The central reason this problem exists, I think, is because many artists shudder at the mention of “money,” “business,” “marketing,” “sales,” and “profit.” This is absolutely not true for all artists, maybe not even most artists, particularly Millennials.

But for many older persons in the arts industry, the prevailing wisdom in their circles has been that if you manage to make money or achieve popularity through your art, then you’re a “sell-out.” One theatre guy I know apparently gets most of his funding through government grants while his audience dwindles.

In the minds of these artists, if something sells and is popular, then there is definitely something wrong with it. I took a drama class during my community college days, and this attitude was rampant, especially in the textbooks we were assigned.

The drama enthusiasts seemed open to new types of theatre that attracted young people, but paradoxically were opposed to any kind of commercial theatre. I’m not alone in noticing this attitude. As Lyn Gardner, a theatre critic for The Guardian pointed out in a 2009 article:

That squeamishness is daft; after all, way back in a golden age of new writing, the careers of Shakespeare, Marlowe and their contemporaries relied entirely on the entrepreneurial flair of theatre owners. Our greatest playwright was a commercial writer working for a commercial management.

But this chrometophobia is not found in all artists. What may in one case result from antipathy toward anything related to the word “profit” may in another case result from simple ignorance of basic marketing principles.

One of the biggest is, “You have to spend money to make money.” This could mean hiring a decent web-designer to make you a good-looking landing page. That alone would surely increase the amount of traffic that half of these webcomics get.

Plenty of artists know how to use Patreon and Indiegogo but most aren’t making it clear through their website design that people can actually donate. I didn’t know that Space Corps had a Patreon account until last month, and I’ve been reading it for the better part of a year!

I’m not saying this stuff is easy, it’s not. I am saying that more artists need to start thinking like entrepreneurs if they want to get a large following behind their work.

Like it or not, art is a business, and that’s perfectly okay. If people are willing to pay money for something, that’s generally a good indicator of quality. (Key word: generally.)

(Image credit: Vienna Opera Backstage, Austria” by Jorge Royan is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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