Friday, September 26, 2014

what it takes

I'm going to graduate from college next year have been making pottery since I was in high school. I really love it and it is my passion. I read your post about quitting your day job and it made me think about whether or not I should try to make pottery my living. I think I am talented and I can work hard, but I'm not sure I can be successful. Do you think I should pursue my dream or should I do something more practical and keep pottery on the side? I'm sending you some pictures of my work, do you think I have what it takes?

I get this email or some variation on it a few times a year. I assume people contact me with this question because they want permission to pursue their dream, which to my mind is fundamentally at odds with having what it takes to pursue the dream. Never ask anyone, especially a stranger, if you should pursue your dream. You can ask for support, solicit advice, you can even listen to opinions, but never ask anyone for permission.

Running a pottery studio-- or any kind of art studio-- and selling work is an entrepreneurial endeavor. And this is what it takes: have some talent, work really hard, and hustle.

A lot of artists don't want to hear this because they don't want to hustle, they want to make art.

When I quit the last remnants of my day job back in 2000, I hustled by doing every single show and street fair I could while getting the name and address of every person that bought something from me so I could invite them to the next show.  That helped me build my name and a small local following. It wasn't easy because I am an introvert and it took 2 days to recover from these shows, but I knew I needed to hustle and I was willing to do it.

The hustle has changed a bit these days. The time I used to spend at shows I now spend in front of my computer, analyzing traffic and tweaking my various websites, managing sites that sell my work, posting my work to Etsy, twitter, instagram, facebook, and now (god help me) pinterest. I'm very new at pinterest so I'm reading articles about using it effectively, and I read lots of articles and even books about marketing and branding generally. I also write this blog, and a monthly newsletter, and spend days photographing my work. That's just the marketing side. The business side involves tracking all my expenses and income and analyzing what is going on there, paying all my bills, ordering supplies on a regular basis, and about 10 other things that are too boring write down here. You get the point; a Business 101 class won't kill you either.

Some people think this kind of activity is beneath an artist, and great art should sell itself somehow, or that an artist's only job should be to make work. Sorry, but only art stars get to do that. I am not an art star and the chances of any one of us becoming an art star are minuscule. Art school kids, listen up: the chances of you becoming an art star are infinitesimally tiny no matter how much you are paying for that art degree.

We have been handed a thousand mostly free tools to get ourselves and our work out into the world in the past 15 years. If artists can't see what an amazing gift this is, how more than ever we are being called to use our creativity in all of these areas that used to be left to the experts to manage for us, then I really have no words of encouragement.

The truth is, many artists don't want to put themselves out there because they fear judgement and failure. To that I say: both are absolutely going to happen. Get used to it. It will build your character and resilience, and maybe even your sense of humor.

Now get out there and hustle.