The questions come like this: Oh, you’re an artist? What do you do? Can you like paint, can you draw, can you make a clay sculpture that looks like a big horse? What do you think about some specific artist? Have you been to this one museum? What kind of colors do you like? Who paints the best blue dogs?
But there’s one taboo question I never hear: How do you make a living?
I started art school at eight years old, and I’ve learned as much as one person can know about visual culture, language, space and history. However, as I got older and started working outside of the art world, I struggled to apply my skill set and avoid “selling out” artistically. How is art history applicable anywhere but the museum or gallery? Where do I utilize my knowledge of space? Is a historical knowledge of visual culture something people even think about? What was I even capable of?
There is nothing more potent in our culture than images.
After years of internal debate and struggle, my conclusive answer is “a whole bunch.” I’m not talking the “one day I woke up and realized I was a creative” kind of way, either. It’s specifically my formal arts training that influences how I work. My ability to approach a problem and solve it, like any classically trained studio artist, utilizes an incredible toolbox of visual language and expertise. And why, you ask, is this important in today’s culture? Because there is nothing more potent in our culture than images.
Here are a few of the ways I use my arts education to the benefit of our business and our customers.
The artistic process varies from artist to artist, but the basic model looks a little like this:
In art school, and I’m talking the oil paint and Air Guitar kind of school, you typically were given a problem whether it’s process oriented or subject-based. You’re given a time-frame of how to solve said problem and are monitored and held accountable during that time to produce a product by your professor (aka spirit guide, therapist, counselor, etc.). Most of the creative process is investigated on paper through journal writing or sketching, and supplemented by research and testing (not necessarily in that order). Similarly, when I heard about this idea of a decision journal, I was intrigued to find a correlation to what we artists do all the time! (Shane Parrish’s blog is invaluable for business people, marketers and inquisitive minds BTW).
A “decision journal” is a very helpful idea. Visually seeing your thoughts is powerful intention-building stuff, just like how you make the grocery or to do lists and delight in crossing items off.
The research/testing phase is done primarily in the sketchbook, but once you feel comfortable, it’s time to start realizing it in “real life”. Same goes for building a business, you write a business plan but you don’t know how it will actually work until you try your idea out on a market sample, say by doing a popup or surveying your target audience. You gather more data, try new things, adjust and, eventually, you have real metrics you can use to reaffirm your choices.
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, you have to let go and let the finished product run wild and free. It’s never going to be perfect. When you feel this tipping point, the one where you’re comfortable enough to share but slightly nervous of its failure, that’s when it’s time to stop.
A project can become overworked, lifeless and not spur a connection to anyone if it’s overly manufactured. Yah, you’ll run across things that might feel a little unpolished, but it’s ok. You’ll learn more because of it. Only you can define when something’s ready for the world, but when you start to recognize that point, you’ll find real magic.
Only you can define when something’s ready for the world, but when you start to recognize that point, you’ll find real magic.
Studio Art school is an incredibly open and collaborative environment, but it’s also heavily focused on individual development. Think about it, you’re in a classroom with, at most, 25 people and you’re working furiously on an easel for, say, life drawing, and being completely introspective until the moment you’re forced to stop, step away, and look at each other’s work. Then you’re all encouraged to discuss and enable improvement from each other, before going back to work individually.
Man, I miss that environment! It teaches you how to present constructive criticism, yah, CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and how to take it. Learning how to listen to your peers and think outside of yourself is incredibly beneficial to your business. Whether it’s a team member, manager or consultant (ahem), it’s a pretty empowering method. And, from what this one Stanford professor found, it has lots of added unexpected benefits from students being more productive, in general, to undergoing personal growth.
When we’re comfortable communicating this way, in a safe and constructive environment, we are the most productive. The ability to produce exciting innovative ideas and products is without a doubt a one of the more critical parts of any small business.
On the flip side, it is this exposure to so many voices that really enriches the final product. Effectively communicating an idea quickly and succinctly is, like I mentioned earlier, scientifically more effective than reading this blog entry. It’s more likely you’ll remember this picture of a dancing brain better than you will any of the content here.
Studio artists are pretty special in the way they know and consume so much visual information. Whether it’s visiting their friends studios or watching avant-garde film, they crave excitement through a visual experience.
Formally trained artists are also pushed to understand the beginnings of communication. The things people in the past have drawn or communicated visually, whether it’s the cave paintings at Lascaux or Roman friezes, inform the communication of the future.
Hiring people who have the right creative toolkit available to them more than pays for itself.
Yah, I know, artists are total freaks about challenging the way they see the world all the time, but that insatiable thirst to grow is invaluable to someone who needs to differentiate against an industry standard. This is why you have an artist in your corner, they are going to help you push boundaries when thinking about your business, brand, environment or anything you need to critically assess and, if they’re serious, they will do so with history backing them up.
Just like you don’t do at-home root canals because you lack knowledge and tools to do so, business owners shouldn’t fully depend on themselves to come up with creative solutions and innovation. Hiring people who have the right creative toolkit available to them more than pays for itself. Trained artists are highly skilled at analyzing an environment and developing ideas, making them perfect candidates for generating insight and distilling truth.
Take a peek here at a course outline from Yale that digs deep into how artists use culture and environment to generate ideas.
While going out and finding a landscape painter or a graffiti artist to talk shop with might not necessarily help your bottom line, finding people that are able to consistently think creatively will. Innovative, original thinking is what makes the difference in a crowded marketplace. Finding a source for critical, collaborative and creative thinking will only serve to make your product stronger.