I can’t remember how I got on to this book, but I found it about 2 years ago- when I was reading of blogs and books about productivity and creativity. Austin Kleon’s other book: Steal like an Artist, first alerted me to his arresting style and pragmatic approach to artistic exploration and promotion.
Now, promotion can be a bit of a dirty word around creative people, but basically we’ll take it as short for: getting your work seen.
Traditionally, this was the work of your publisher: to ‘discover’ you, publish and distribute your work, and promote it.
These days, you can do this all yourself: choose yourself, publish your work on the net, promote it on the net. (This is what Seth Godin is all about, but that’s another post for another time).
But what if you don’t like promoting yourself? You feel self-conscious. You don’t want people to think you’re showing off. Or you just can’t get organised enough to do your art and share it on the net. (What if I come across as annoying? Shouldn’t my finished art speak for itself?)
Maybe your work takes a long time to complete. How can you ever hope to make an impact with an ever-flowing stream of posts on social media sites?
I’ve felt all these things myself! But Austin’s advice is to just do it. Show your work, and show it in all stages of development. Did you make a rough drawing? Post it to Facebook. Starting a new painting? Post your process to your blog. And write a little about about how or why you’re making it.
OK, so maybe some people will think it’s boring. They’ll ignore it. But others will think it’s interesting. They’ll read it, they might comment or like it, they might even share it!
Another objection Austin addresses in the book is about the eclectic nature of some people’s work. (I wrote a little about that issue here) I can relate to that! I have about 5 different art-related interests, so how does it all relate? Won’t people look at it all and get confused? Austin reckons it will all make sense in the long run. It will have a natural coherence because it was all made by YOU.
What about the argument that your finished work should speak for itself? You work away at it for weeks or months, and then you post it on your gallery/ portfolio site. People look at it and if they like it, they’ll buy it, or share it, or they’ll hire you to do a job. If not they’ll move on. You shouldn’t need to spruik it.
There’s a couple of things about this. First, unless people know you personally, they will find it hard to discover the story behind your work. That’s what blogs are for. That’s what this blog is for! If people don’t know about you, it’s unlikely they’ll invest in your work by looking, buying it, telling other people about it.
Traditionally, you got kudos for the number of shows you’ve been in, the number of awards you’ve won, your reviews, the books/ magazines you’ve been published in. These are nice, but they’re not the only way to get cred. I can look at a list of somebody’s shows and awards, and most of them don’t mean anything to me. I just want to know about the artist.
Yes, it’s way cooler to be mysterious and dramatically release your finished product only when it’s ready. But who will look at it? In a day or 2 it will be lost in the Instagram feed, or sitting on your site, with nobody to care about it. Better to bring people along with you as you go- then they’ll be more invested in the final result. They’ll have spent more time thinking about your project as you’ve gone along.
More time means more attention. And in a world saturated by messages (internet, TV, advertising), attention is the most precious thing there is.
Back in 2003 I wanted to learn Flash (now called Adobe Animate). I picked up a book that taught you Flash animation. In the introduction it said something like: “Congratulations on buying this book. Creating pictures that move is a guaranteed way to get people to watch you on the net!” In those days that statement was still plausible: Most people only had a dial-up connection and Flash was the bandwidth-saving content creation software. So I duly uploaded my finished work to the net and it did get some attention.
But now Youtube was beginning to boom. Soon the internet was flooded with animation and videos and images and getting more crowded every day. How are you supposed to get attention in an environment like this?
Well, by posting regularly (but not too much-don’t be a spammer!) and engaging with people on the net. Can you help someone with a problem? Do it. Share someone else’s work. Share your expertise. Answer questions. And stick around.
A key aspect that Kleon mentions is taking criticism, which I’ve talked more about in another post. Sharing your work regularly can make you vulnerable. It’s easier to share photos of your food, your coffee, your kids, the sunset, clouds.
Don’t share that. Share your work!
Here’s an excerpt from the author’s website:
In ten tight chapters, I lay out ways to think about your work as a never-ending process, how to build an audience by sharing that process, and how to deal with the ups and downs of putting yourself and your work out in the world:
- You don’t have to be a genius.
- Think process, not product.
- Share something small every day.
- Open up your cabinet of curiosities.
- Tell good stories.
- Teach what you know.
- Don’t turn into human spam.
- Learn to take a punch.
- Sell out.
- Stick around.
This book is not just for “creatives”! Whether you’re an artist or an entrepreneur, a student or a teacher, a hobbyist or a professional, it’s time to stop worrying and start sharing.
Oh, so what did I think of the book? Hey, it got me sharing my work regularly on the net. That’s got to be a good outcome, right? If any of this sounds good to you, you should definitely pick up this book. Here’s my affiliate link in case you want to grab it right now!
If you’ve read Show Your Work or have any other thoughts about this stuff, let me know about it in the comments. Cheers!