Play To Your Strengths

In a city like Nashville that is completely riddled with creatives, it’s really hard to stand out. It can be really discouraging, and although it’s not nearly as populated or cutthroat as New York or L.A. for example, it sometimes feels overwhelming. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gone to the Wedgewood Houston and Downtown Art Crawl, The Porter Flea Market, 615 Day, Jessi Zazu’s Undefeated Art Show, and the Farmer’s Market Night Market and needless to say, there is a TON of real talent in this city. (Images feature some of my favorite vendors at the Porter Flea Market and beautiful art by Jessi Zazu.) One thing that has stuck with me over the past few months though, was something a fellow art major from Sewanee said to me. We were discussing some of the challenges that come with being an artist, trying to support yourself, and how to stay motivated and he talked about how hard it is to evoke real emotion with art and how powerful it is when you see something that does. That is every kind of artists’ mission. 

Whenever I get side tracked and want to create something more commercial or scroll through Pinterest or see what’s top selling at various local markets or art galleries and tell myself “I should be doing something like that” or “I wish I’d thought of that” I remind myself of that main artist’s mission. If the purpose of what I am doing is to make real connections with people through my art, then it has to be totally original and truly important to me.  A creative’s goal should never be to try what other people are doing since that seems to be working for them. And if we are talking about it in business terms, there isn’t a demand or market for creative work that already exists. You’ve got to play to your own strengths, not try to copy someone else’s. It’s easier said than done when our newsfeed and communities are completely saturated with successful examples of creative things people are doing- you definitely don’t have to search for it anymore, it’s almost too easy to find. BUT that’s not a bad thing at all. This just goes to show us that there is a never ending amount of opportunity. I’ve already talked about creating your own opportunities, though, and want to talk about how to stand out. 

So again, everything I do goes back to that sole mission as an artist of forming connections with people and evoking real emotion through art and the one thing that I want most, which is to be a full time artist. The biggest strength any creative person has though is his or her originality and unique message. It’s the number one way to stand out. It's how all other successful creatives got their success. From there I ask myself “ok what else am I really good at that can help me achieve my goal?” I’m somewhat strong in terms of marketing, web design, and productivity; I love a good social media campaign, a clean website and making those to-do lists. Other strengths that are incredibly important are organization, business sense, salesmanship, and financial responsibility. Some of these are strengths of mine and typing some of those words makes me feel physically sick with anxiety and fear. Anything that I don’t feel incredibly confident that I can manage on my own, I outsource. I think it’s really important to be thoroughly realistic about your weaknesses when starting a business. There are some things I just can’t learn how to do no matter how much I research. For example, I’ve mentioned this, but my dad created my budget for me based on my art income and how much is allotted for supplies, needs to be set aside for taxes, and how much I can actually pay myself. He also got me set up on quickbooks and gain a better understanding of what my monthly income must be. It goes without saying and is very obvious that you gotta have your ducks in a row financially with any business endeavors, so if you are like me and don’t consider yourself a financial wizard, go find one! They really exist! There are a lot of puzzle pieces that need to come together when starting your own creative business and trying to make it a success. I’ve only listed a few, but really the most important thing you can do is create something that is totally original to you and then be honest with yourself about your strengths and ask for help when you need it. When I first started out, and if I am being honest, this is still very much the case, I couldn’t afford to actually pay to outsource things so I asked friends, family members, fellow artists for advice and help in exchange for coffee or artwork or sandwiches from Clawson’s, which I would gladly take over money any day. So to close out (and I am really sorry if this sounds preachy or condescending or just plain obvious, my intention is only to share some things I am learning) keep it original and meaningful to you, spend more time working on your strengths than your weaknesses, and always be honest when you need help.