Bob Baker's Artist Empowerment Blog

An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

If you ask me, designer Bruce Mau has some pretty cool ideas about creativity and personal growth, which he has capsulized in his Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

There are a total of 43 ideas. Here are my seven favorites:

Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

Capture accidents. The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.

Begin anywhere. John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

Don't be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.

Stay up late. Strange things happen when you've gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you're separated from the rest of the world.

Scat. When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else ... but not words.

Power to the people. Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can't be free agents if we're not free.

Thank heavens there are inspirations like Bruce Mau among us.

How to Sell Your Book, CD, or DVD on Amazon

Like Kevin Kelly (author of New Rules for the New Economy and former Executive Editor of Wired magazine), I sell my self-published material on Amazon. Where we differ is in our outlook and experience making money with self-published titles. Mr. Kelly has the common attitude that it's nearly impossible to generate a decent cash flow, especially considering the substantial cut Amazon takes.

I understand where that mindset comes from. But, luckily, I'm blessed to make a decent living as a self-published author selling my various titles through Amazon, my own web site and a number of other sources. It may be rare, but it is possible to build an identity, a fan base and a steady stream of happy paying customers without the help of a major publisher.

But I digress. The real purpose of this post is to let you know that -- if you produce your own books, CDs, videos or DVDs -- you need to make Amazon at least part of your sales mix. And Kevin Kelly offers a great article detailing exactly what steps you need to take to get your material sold on Amazon.

Read it and determine for yourself how many new fans Amazon can help you reach and how much or how little money you can make by having your titles available at one of the world's largest e-commerce sites.

Art Bras Bring Attention to Women's Health Issues

This news item brings a whole new meaning to the National Endowment for the Arts. For a super example of creativity in action, take a gander at the art bra exhibition put on by the Way to Women's Wellness Foundation in Fountainville, PA.

Through all of the fun and snickers, there's a serious message. The foundation's mission is to "promote breast cancer awareness and women's health issues, beginning with the creation, marketing and exhibiting of a collection of Art Bras created by 12 American designers.

"It is our goal that the visual enjoyment of this collection may also bring attention and awareness to women's health issues. By using our creativity, we hope to inspire others through our art and support women who have experienced or may experience serious women's health issues."

Now that's a cause worth supporting (sorry for the pun). Not to mention a clever use of talent for a great cause.

Revenge of the Right Brain

I already liked Dan Pink and the work-for-yourself philosophy he promoted in his book, Free Agent Nation. (Check out his Free Agent FAQs page for details on the growng number of people joining the ranks of the solo self-employed.)

Since reading a new article by Mr. Pink in the current issue of Wired magazine, I'm an even bigger fan of his. The article, called "Revenge of the Right Brain," asserts that the logical, left-brain thinking that ushered in the Information Age is evolving into what Pink calls the Conceptual Age -- an era where more creative, right-brain abilities rule.

Here's a nugget from the article:

"Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by SATs and deployed by CPAs. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But they're no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere -- artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent."

Pink proves his case using three topics: Asia, automation and abundance. He says that many of the routine jobs that were in the past manned by "knowledge workers" -- such as accountants, computer programmers, technicians, etc. -- are being replaced by outsourcing and advancing technical automation.

His conclusion is that people with marketable right-brain skills will have a seat at the Conceptual Age dinner table. But the premise extends beyond the business world. It also means consumers are hungry for art, culture, beauty and more.

Here's another excerpt from the article:

"Liberated by prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics, the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of everyday life. And that will only intensify as the first children of abundance, the baby boomers, realize that they have more of their lives behind them than ahead. In both business and personal life, now that our left-brain needs have largely been sated, our right-brain yearnings will demand to be fed."

Sounds like a great time to be a creative person.

The Role of Enthusiasm in Creativity

Artist Robert Beech sent me an e-mail in which he posed a good question: "How do you define enthusiasm?"

Here's the rest of his e-mail:

"I picture enthusiasm as a small flame inside. Most of the time it burns so low as to be unnoticeable. Yet sometimes, it burns brightly. At such times, I feel excited, whimsical and interested. Above all, I associate it with a feeling of movement, of progress toward my goals.

"A lot of artist self-help and motivational books encourage us to have enthusiasm, but they don't define it in any useful way and don't say how to generate it. Enthusiasm can come about as a result of creative work, but it can also be used as fuel for creative work. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

"Lack of enthusiasm should not be used as an excuse to avoid creative work, as in 'I can't paint now. I'm not in the mood.' Having enthusiasm makes any creative work proceed much easier and faster.

"How does one 'generate' enthusiasm? Is it even possible?"

All excellent thoughts to ponder. Here are my ideas on this topic:
  • Enthusiasm is a lot like that other elusive beast: happiness. They can't be attained through a direct route. Try it sometime. Sit down and force yourself to "be happy" or "be enthusiastic." It doesn't work. Enthusiasm is a byproduct of pursuing something you are passionate about.
  • Robert is right: Creative people who need to be enthusiastic before starting work on an artistic project are just like those who sit around waiting for a visit from the "muse." If you're inspired and can't wait to partake in your chosen talent, congratulations. That's a great state to be in, but ...
If you know you should be working on a project and enthusiasm is in short supply, do what all accomplished creative people do ... just start. Type the first sentence, put down the first brush stroke, begin arranging the first chord progression ... whatever it is you do, just do it.

Luckily, I don't suffer from writer's block. But I do battle with writing avoidance all the time. In fact, I had to deal with it as I began this very blog post you're reading right now. What did I do? I just started writing. As I warmed up, additional ideas came to me. Before I knew it, I was immersed in the subject and ended up with enough decent material to fill this post. And at the end of the process, I felt satisfied that I had created something of value.

This state of immersion is often called being "in the flow." It's a great place to be. And you can get there regardless of how "enthusiastic" you are at the beginning.

A couple of ways to kick-start your enthusiasm:
  • Reconnect with the original reasons you were excited about your creative path. Think about times you were really pumped about a performance, piece of writing, painting, photograph, etc. Then try to tap into that heightened state.
  • Collect positive comments from fans and favorable reviews of your work. Sometimes, when you're down (and we all have those moments), it's nice to remind yourself of the positive impact your art has had on others.
  • Consult with a supportive creative friend. Although enthusiasm should come from within, it helps sometimes to get a boost from someone who understands your plight. Make a list of creative comrades you can call or e-mail when the going gets tough. And you should be prepared to encourage them when they need your help, too.
Your thoughts? Am I off base? Did I miss anything? Click the Comments link below and post your perspective on enthusiasm.

Self-Promotion: One Do and One Don't

Here are two things to keep in mind as you promote your talents:

DO Specialize -- You Can't Be All Things to All People

When you think of Stephen King, what image comes to mind? Unless you've been living in a cave, you think of a prolific writer who creates novels filled with terror and suspense. But what if Mr. King also put out books on gardening, cooking and personal finance? How successful would he be then?

Surely, King could write such books if he put his mind to it. So why doesn't he? Because he has a niche that people clearly identify him with. Therefore, he succeeds on a much higher level by specializing instead of trying to please everyone. Learn from this lesson.

Have a clear idea of how you best serve your fans with your creative talents. Then focus, focus, focus ... while avoiding the temptation to spread yourself too thin.

DON'T Write Like You're Constipated

Even though I should be used to it by now, it still astounds me when I read letters that contain phrases such as "per our conversation on the 14th" or "in reference to the aforementioned item." Who are these people trying to impress? Their college English professor?

One thing's for sure: They certainly aren't making an impact with customers. The same goes for dry terms that creep into countless brochures and other sales materials. Stop trying to sound so official with your prose, and start writing like you talk!

Instead of writing "Our customers' satisfaction level is at the forefront of our service commitment," why not just write, "Your satisfaction is my top priority -- I guarantee it!"

If you wouldn't say it that way to a customer's face, don't write it that way in your sales literature.

These two tips are adapted from "Unleash the Artist Within." Keep them in mind as you find your rightful place in the creative world.