I recently read a fascinating article in The Atlantic called “The Death of the Artist – and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur.” The article traced how the definition of “an artist” has changed throughout history, and maintained that “the notion of the artist as a solitary genius—so potent a cultural force, so determinative, still, of the way we think of creativity in general—is decades out of date.”
Artists were once seen as artisans, then geniuses, then professionals. Yet now, the writer argues, “we have entered, unmistakably, a new transition, and it is marked by the final triumph of the market and its values, the removal of the last vestiges of protection and mediation. In the arts, as throughout the middle class, the professional is giving way to the entrepreneur, or, more precisely, the “entrepreneur”: the “self-employed” (that sneaky oxymoron), the entrepreneurial self.”
The article traces the advantages and disadvantages of this age of creative entrepreneurship, but one of sentences that stood out to me was: “Works of art, more centrally and nakedly than ever before, are becoming commodities, consumer goods.” That thought has gotten me thinking a lot about writing and blogging.
I actually follow several bloggers who I would call artists/entrepreneurs. Some of them make money from blogging. By that I mean they run ads on their blogs and/or ask for donations from readers. There is a part of me that thinks that’s smart. I mean, I’ve been blogging since 2006, and I’ve never received a penny for all that writing I’ve done. Isn’t it reasonable to ask people to pay for my work?
But on the other hand, I think that once you start asking people to support your blog, then you have to write for those people who supported your blog. Obviously, blogging is always for an audience, but once that audience starts paying, they want something in return. The nice thing about me never asking my readers for money is that I don’t feel like I necessarily owe them particular types of content. (I do think that I owe them regular posts. I hate it when bloggers only post like once every 4 months.) But if I write for free, I feel like I can write whatever I want. Is writing what you want more of a true art than writing for an audience? My answer is: Not necessarily. However, I do think “the market” can sometimes stifle true, authentic creative expression.
It also seems like every time I turn around, someone else is offering a new e-course. There are e-courses on blogging, writing, and crafting. Sometimes e-courses are centered around a holiday or theme, like the Advent e-course I took back in December. It was a great course, and it was a wonderful gift from my mom. Yet I know how much the course cost, and I kind of think it was a little high for an e-course. However, the leader of it is a well-known artist and writer in spiritual circles. So maybe she should charge that much for an e-course.
I actually was thinking about offering an e-course this year on faith, doubt, and poetry. Something inexpensive, maybe $25 or so. I wanted it to coincide with Lent, and I actually have a secret Pinterest board where I’ve pinned links to poems, videos, and ideas. I had this big plan where we would study 2 or 3 poems a week, exchange thoughts on a private Facebook page, I’d post a weekly video talking a bit about the poems, and I’d provide writing prompts for participants.
Then I remembered that I have a full time job and a family and very few free hours during the week. And then I asked myself why. Why did I want to do an e-course? Most of the people I know who offer e-courses don’t have full time, salaried jobs and part of the reason why they offer e-courses is to contribute financially to their families. (Also, I think having a creative outlet and community is part of it.) And it hit me: I wanted to do it to prove myself.
But this is my year of being enough. So I don’t have to prove myself.
(And also: There is absolutely no way that I have time to prep and facilitate an e-course right now.)
So no e-course. And no regrets.
I also recently read a speech given by author Ursula K. LeGuin at the National Book Awards. LeGuin had been awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Here’s an excerpt from her acceptance speech:
“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.
Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.”
I like LeGuin’s take. I like how she differentiates between making a product and practicing art. I really like the phrase “writers who can remember freedom.” Though I’m probably still figuring out exactly what LeGuin meant by that, I want to be one of those writers. I think LeGuin’s words have really encouraged me not to give up, not to worry about how popular my blog is or if I will ever get a literary agent or if I should do an e-course or not. I simply need to keep pursing the practice of art and the writing life.