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genius—so potent a cultural force, so determinative, still, of the way we think of creativity in general—is decades out of date.”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.
(Read the entire transcript of LeGuin’s speech here.)
I love this post… the way you are thinking aloud and sharing your thought processes with your readers. So often what we read is only the finished, polished product of those thought processes, but it’s more helpful (and interesting) to get a peek at the process itself. My post today is similar… because I’m also considering other creative outlets (while continuing to slog through the novel revisions) that will feed my soul and have a more immediate payback. Not financially, but emotionally. Anyway, thanks, always, for sharing!
Thanks, Susan. I think you’re right that there is an emotional payback to consider as well.
The whole balance of artist/entrepreneur really is so tricky. I’ve been thinking more and more lately about how to look for other opportunities or potentially monetize what I have. I’m heading back to America, jobless, in August, and I’m trying to figure out if there’s any way I can do this writing thing as a job, at least part-time. But, you are completely right that as soon as you start bringing money into it, it necessarily changes how you think about your content. My blog doesn’t generate any income right now, but I’ve found that as my following has grown I’ve increasingly had thoughts like, “I really need to get a post up today to keep people engaged” when I always just sort of blogged when I felt like it in the past. (As though there are people sitting around just waiting for me to post something, haha.)
I also REALLY resonate with what you said about realizing you wanted to prove yourself. I see this in myself a lot. I see what others are accomplishing and I want to prove that I’m also good enough – that i can do it too. Lately my thing has been youtube. I don’t even know why, but I’ve gotten into watching these youtubers who basically do that for a job and started thinking – “Hey, I could make fun videos about my life and my Korean makeup collection and my lifestyle tips. People will love me!” And of course, that’s ridiculous because I don’t know anything about videos and editing and I don’t even know how I feel about inviting randos into your life via youtube and I certainly don’t have the kind of personality that people just naturally gravitate towards – but I still kind of want to see if I can do it. I want to prove that I can be fun and interesting and successful too. And hey, it would be cool if I got famous and people sent me free stuff. 😉 Anyway, I’m rambling, but I do totally understand what you mean. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!
Wow – I didn’t even know about the you tube craze! Actually your idea about talking about life in Korea sounds cool. But yeah, I get side-tracked by dreams of being loved and famous and taken seriously. If I ever get famous, I want it to be for good writing. As far as the pressure to blog more, I follow a blog that’s actually pretty popular, but the blogger posts almost EVERY day. I just can’t deal. Two or three times a week is enough. So there’s that balance of not overwhelming your readers with tons of posts, but posting often enough to keep them interested! Ah, the joys of blogging.
Yay, You! You are enough and your writing will lead you – well – where it will, like the Spirit does.
Thanks for the encouragement, Joanne!