I believe we are stepping into a new era for the arts, particularly for Christians and conservatives, if we are willing to fight hard for it. We have been hidden too long, and our new digital world, as foreign and alien as it may seem to the thoughtful artist, can be an ally rather than an enemy.
The world seems to be spinning out. I have had many specific, growing concerns in recent years, and do not take the tone of our times lightly. In many ways, it is dire. But something crucial that has brought a constant drum beat of hope in spite of all of the noise of hopelessness around me is this: that many wonderful people, of strong conservative and/or Christian convictions, are feeling increasingly drawn to economic independence and entrepreneurship.
Human ingenuity is rebirthing from the scorched earth of modern malaise.
I am fascinated by this in every field, and encourage anyone, regardless of area of expertise or interest, to pursue their work in an entrepreneurial manner as much as possible. Let it be known!
But I am an artist—a singer-songwriter and poet, working on multiple projects—and so that is my constant focus. And I think entrepreneurship holds particular value for the artists of the 21st century.
I know many wince at the concept of “marketing” one’s art as an artist; I often did when first adjusting to the idea. I easily admit that it is in some ways less than ideal; art is best appreciated and best thrives when it is seen, selected, and celebrated, and the artist can put aside any economic considerations. The times of old with patrons adding resources to the excellence and genius of the greatest artists will always remain the highest ideal, and the quickest way to cultural transformation. If anyone can acquire such a patron, or sees themselves as someone poised in order to be such a patron: please do so. Be like the young, fascinating Stephen Chow. It is needed.
As artists, we all want it to “just happen” like that for us. But the average artist will never make such an encounter, and many works of greatness will therefore go unseen throughout their lifetimes—and perhaps forever. They may never even be created. What tragedy. Across the spectrum of craft, from Leon Bloy to Eva Cassidy, we often ignore our contemporary “greats” until after they die.
Even further, from personal experience, many incredible opportunities “just happening” in striking, exciting ways, while wonderful, are still generally not sufficient to building the kind of life an artist craves: one where one’s creative work is valued and appreciated in proportion to its quality and in an ongoing, sustainable way.
Instead of waiting for some kind of destiny drop, I propose that artists of all kinds learn how to simultaneously hone their craft to the highest degree of excellence, while learning to speak the language that people need to hear in order to connect to it. There is no need anymore for constant wallowing and wringing one’s hands at the sky in melodramatic hysteria and despair. It is truly an unprecedented time in terms of the digital world and its capacities for reaching others who will understand your unique gift as an artist.
Let me be clear: I do not and would never encourage artists to sacrifice the essence of what they do as artists in order to make money. That is a road to misery and pointlessness, and will offer in the long run no real benefit to either artist or society. It is much more preferable to simply work another job for income, sometimes as unrelated as possible, and keep art as a sacred hobby, rather than to capitulate to temporary market trends.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t humble ourselves, learn some new skills, and work within what’s available. We can fill in the gaps between our work and the minds and hearts of others. We can learn that it’s alright, once we are certain of the excellence of our work, to learn to translate what it is to a world that doesn’t necessarily understand us immediately, or doesn’t yet know it craves what we have to offer. Even within the marketing of basic traditional products we see there are various approaches, on the spectrum from cringe-worthy to barely-noticing-it’s-an-ad. As artists, we can creatively accomplish the latter. Marketing at its best and most authentic is simply the belief that you have something good to offer and it’s your job to help people find that good thing that they need. People need art; our society is starving for culture, beauty, and stories.
I’ve worked thoroughly in this area over years on my own work and somewhat for others. It has taken much time and creativity. It is a steep learning curve. In spite of being successful in many ways I could have only dreamed of as a child, working among prestige and winning various awards and opportunities, the economic and commercial side of things was often a challenge. Art of any kind is a strange field in that excellence and worldly approbation often have only a tenuous relationship to economic success. It ought not, therefore, be an embarrassment for most artists as it is a chronic, normative phenomenon, especially for those who resist following mere trends that can feel akin to a form of prostitution. Even many artists I know that have had profound international success and won prestigious awards, or can boast of multi-hundred-thousand follower counts, still often struggle economically.
But I have found a beautiful, effective way forward and I believe others can come to do so as well in the coming years.
The need for this is profound, and two-fold. The artists themselves need the gift of being able to live out their craft fruitfully, with creative freedom, and to rise from the hopelessness that so often sets in after years of seeming failure and rejection; and our society desperately needs the thoughtful genius of the artists in order to revive our spirits and world in a critical moment. There is no rebuilding without the rebuilding of culture. For the sake of souls hungry for meaning, truth, and beauty, artists can learn to fight to reach them—and to remind them of the forgotten memory of the enrichment of quality stories and art.
I would even propose that it can be a decisive act of love for artists to adapt to the opportunities opening to us in this moment. It is also a strong statement of belief and confidence in the value and goodness of their craft.
I will always encourage those with financial or influential means to proudly and strongly support art they believe in, and to become excellent themselves in their tastes in order to lift up genius rather than the mediocrity that marks our age. But I am also a realist; those with means can be hard to convince, and artists are uniquely challenged it seems at communicating effectively with those who could help them.
There is a more universal way forward.
I believe we are stepping into a new era for the arts, particularly for Christians and conservatives, if we are willing to fight hard for it. It will take serious commitment to both excellence and strategically getting our work out to the millions of people who crave what we have to give. We have been hidden too long, and our new digital world, as foreign and alien as it may seem to the thoughtful artist, can be an ally rather than an enemy as we step. It offers a beautiful path to creative entrepreneurship, at least for many. Let those with ears, hear.
As a committed artist of the 21st century, teetering between the wisdom of the ages and our new frontier of time and culture, I feel joyfully compelled to this path.
I hope many other gifted artists will courageously follow suit so we can together remind our world what it is to be human again.
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The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.