You work hard at creating pieces of art, design, writing, music, song and dance. But do people truly like what you do? If you want to do well, earn and survive in this industry, it’s quite important that at least a few people do.
What follows might come as a reminder of your brilliance but it could also be a reality adjustment for some of you. The aim here is to reveal some of the things that turn away people from the art that you create, so that you can start with greater clarity to really make the most of what you can offer the world.*
*This is not to say that I regard my own work to be great; I still feel I have only just started. We are all in this together and I too am learning every day.
Some of these reasons are common sense. Some of it might really help you; some might surprise you and some of it you’ll see is pretty unfair. This is the nature of the art world, and it is also dependant on the specific industry you’re in, with some being a lot more reliant on trend than others.
Despite all this, it is my aim that you come away from this with a refreshed sense of what you might be doing wrong, what you are getting right and what you can do to put yourself in the best possible position.
Here we go…
1. It’s not refined yet
You simply haven’t got to a stage where your style and presentation of the work you do is honed and refined. This means you reach a point where your work possesses a level of clarity and is distinctly your own. This takes time and practice, but people will notice when you get there.
2. It’s not targeted
Not having an idea of who the end user or admirer of your creations actually is, will muddy your decision-making process and affect the clarity and message behind your work.
“Art, especially the visual stuff, requires some grasp of colour, light and layout.”
3. It’s been done already
Emulating and taking from other artists early on as you develop a style and a voice is perfectly fine, in my view. But don’t expect people to fall head over heels for your stuff if it isn’t original.
4. You don’t understand light/colour balance and composition
Art, especially the visual stuff, requires some grasp of colour, light and layout. In writing, the equivalent would be along the lines of pacing and sentence structure. These compositional ‘rules’ apply to all other forms of creative work.
Make sure you ‘get’ these basics before expecting people to like what it is you do.
5. You don’t know why you are doing something
Knowing ‘why’ means having an understanding of how your art will serve the end user. I use the term ‘user’ in a broad sense, encompassing admirers and fans, as well as users of a product. For example, in understanding what message you are putting across to readers of a magazine to which you are providing illustrations.
Knowing why in this way creates real clarity of purpose, which will have a direct effect on the work you create.
6. It lacks consistency
Having some form of consistency in what you produce is important. People recognise your style, it builds credibility as an artist, strengthens your brand, and looks professional.
Staying focused in this regard is therefore important.
7. You’re not making sacrifices
It’s not everyone who has the balls to consistently make truly great work. Some things need switching off in order for your own creative spark to flourish long enough to ignite into fire.
Strategically saying no to things that obstruct this is very necessary. You very likely know what these things are.
8. It’s not fashionable
This is when it helps to be aware of what kinds of things people are drawn to at any point in time.
I’m not an advocate of shifting your style according to fashions. These come and go, and the real artist is the one that is leading or bypassing the trends. Just make sure you aren’t working to a style that is clearly emulating something that isn’t fashionable in your corner any longer.
“Look towards something greater than yourself.”
9. Your portfolio is poor
Cut out the stuff that is subtracting from the quality and excellence of your portfolio collection. Don’t include crap work and keep work of different mediums, or entirely different styles within separate portfolios.
Overlapping painting and photography within a single collection, for example, will only serve to detract from the clarity that you are aiming to achieve as a creative pro.
10. You lack a purpose
Know why it is you do what you do at a level beyond the end user experience.
Look towards something greater than yourself. Take pictures professionally to contribute to society, over solely making you look good. A solid purpose in this way will motivate you, thus leading to better work, and work that people are drawn to who also share your purpose.
11. You aren’t well known
Whether you like it or not, there is a lot of power rooted in people knowing you and talking about you. Your work literally will appear more appealing to people if they know other people talk positively about it, well beyond someone’s rational response to a piece of art.
This is helped through building up credibility and exposure over time through the work you create, putting up testimonials, the way in which you promote yourself, meeting people, and just getting your name out there.
12. You’re just creating
There is a difference between simply creating something new, and creating something new that builds on your previous work or experiences. What made Picasso fascinating was not simply a single painting of his. His whole body of work was interesting to so many because of the progression he’d show in what he was creating.
Ernest Hemingway drew a huge amount out of his personal experiences during wartime and from his time in Africa. These were things that added great depth to his writing, even though he apparently wrote a lot of poor stuff before getting highly skilled over time. Think about how this applies to you.
“Don’t expect to be brilliant in a short space of time.”
13. You don’t present it well
Take care over the presentation surrounding all of your work. This means a well designed website and a portfolio that demonstrates real care and pride has gone into it. Good presentation is half the battle.
14. You haven’t given it enough time and practice
Don’t expect to be brilliant in a short space of time. There’s no side-stepping around improvement through putting in the hours and minutes, and practice in honing a style and a skill. It takes time. Know this, and enjoy the journey.
15. You don’t understand ‘cool’
In the ‘Red Lemon Manifesto’, I talked about the importance of grasping the concept of ‘cool’ and incorporating it into your art and the presentation of your art. I talked about cool as the fascinating quality that encapsulates an up to date awareness of what really interests people, and being original, honest and authentic as you go about delivering it.
This awareness is not something anyone is simply born with. Put in the research; learn about what your people like; and you can generate cool work.
Different audiences are matched to different forms of cool, which is why it pays to know what type of person reacts well to your work and tailor what you do towards them, instead of trying to reach everyone.
When a few people react to your work with an: ‘oh, that’s so cool!’ response, you know you’ve cracked it.
“When you achieve skill in something, you switch from observer to owner.”
16. It lacks emotion
This means your art either fails to transmit any of your own emotion conveyed through the work, or it fails to kindle any emotional response in the person experiencing your art. Both are important.
17. It lacks skill
This ties in with practicing over time, but deserves to be mentioned on its own. Skill is something that, by its very nature, requires ongoing, repetitive practice. After some time, you get to a certain level at which the way you work could be considered skillful. Prior to this, you are an observer and a student.
When you achieve skill in something, you switch from observer to owner, and your creations take on a whole new form.
18. The work itself lacks care
Ok, so there is such a thing as creative licence, and this plays a role in dimming the line between interesting and experimental work and poor skill, but if you are genuinely not putting everything you have into taking care over your creations, this will cheapen them.
The result? Work that isn’t made to its full potential, and unhappy customers and/or disinterested viewers.
“Understand your user too. Understand them really well.”
19. You aren’t generating exposure
You’ve heard it before. If you don’t put in the effort to get eyeballs in front of your work (and the right kinds of eyeballs at that), no matter how masterful the work is, you won’t get very far in terms of gaining a positive response from people, let alone any response.
This applies to all your best work, because if you promote one piece well, but no one knows your other work, and have therefore not grown in approval of you (including through social proof), that piece may not generate the response it deserves.
People are funny creatures, and react with some distrust towards things they are unfamiliar with. People respond better to things they trust; and this leads to good previous exposure of your art.
20. You are too interested in yourself
An ego-driven creative process can be great, if you make good use of emotional energy and express it through the work. But be careful about how self-interest can harm the experience other people have of what you do.
Perhaps you are making things that are of interest to you, but will it interest others? Understand your user too. Understand them really well.
21. You lack passion for your work
The passion, obsession or interest you have for what you do is undoubtedly felt by others through what you create. If you have none, it will show, so find something to get passionate, ideally obsessed, about. It makes actually getting work done easier too.
22. You don’t do much else interesting
The art you make is almost, if not as important, as the stuff you do that forms the context around it. Do fun, unusual, weird, exciting things with your life outside of the work you do, and make people aware of it too. It will make a difference as to how people perceive you, and also your art.
“Remain focused on making more with less.”
23. You are seeking approval
There is a fine line between creating with an understanding of what makes people tick, and creating with the specific intention of impressing people. When you are seeking approval, you are only focused on outcome, and you are trying to do something specific based on a preconceived idea of what you think people like, instead of letting the work flow naturally from you.
The danger lies in diverting your attention away from the process of creating. The perfect balance lies in knowing why you’re creating (to spread joy? To make people think? To inspire? To inform?) whilst maintaining a solid presence with the work.
Granted, finding this balance is one of the more complicated aspects of creating good and meaningful work, where feedback over time can be the best guide.
Approval will come after you quit trying, and simply do.
24. You spread yourself too thinly
The best art springs out of a determination to remain focused on making more with less. Taking on too much will inevitably result in less concerted effort placed on more stuff, and your work will suffer as a result.
Get really good at one thing. Excel at one thing, before moving on to the next if you must. All else is distraction.
25. You aren’t aware of the world around you
Maintaining a healthy interest in the world around us and the knowledge accrued through doing so will add a depth to your art and the service you provide for the better. I wrote in another post that eradicating ignorance is one of the biggest hurdles to progress of any kind. It will likely benefit your creativity too.
26. You take it too seriously
This is easier said than done if you care a great deal for your craft. However, often the thing you need most in improving the quality of your work is to shift your mindset. Make a conscious decision to enjoy your process, your business, your customers.
Calming down and seeing the joy in what you do will have a profound effect on your output.
I could probably write much more on this topic, but I’ll stop here for now. These points demonstrate that creating likeable, loved art is not restricted to the gifted few, but available to anyone who makes conscientious steps in making it happen.
An awareness of what works and what impedes your progress can make all the difference in how others respond to your creative contribution to the world.
As always, I’m interested in seeing your feedback and your thoughts, which you can add to the comments area below. Do sign up to the tips newsletter and share this post via social media too. I will be very grateful.
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"Your blog inspires me so much, and helps me feel somehow not as insignificant, despite the plethora of artists around the world."Natalie, artist