This time of year isn’t just good for making resolutions and setting goals; it’s a really good opportunity to reflect on what’s been happening and what lies ahead. At the start of the year I encourage everyone I know to do a bit of a Creative Practice MOT and see where they’re at with the creative side of their work. There are lots of people out there offering you fantastic advice to kickstart your business in 2018 but, I suspect, fewer people asking you why you do what you do, and what it’s all about. I’d like you to challenge yourself a bit. It’s so easy for makers and other creatives who produce tangible things like objects to focus on the HOW of their work, but in this post I’d like to talk about the importance of WHY to your practice.
The work makers do, transforming materials and ideas into beautiful things that exist in the world, is magical. And to most people slightly unfathomable. They aren’t used to the techniques, the processes; the language of making may be foreign to them. And so makers get used to starting from that place, of explaining how they go about taking raw materials and changing them into something amazing. And, often, that is enough. People love to hear about this, they love to see behind the scenes and catch a glimpse of the creative process at work. And, then, people may ask: How do you get your ideas? Where do they come from? What inspires you? Lovely questions that you probably have handy, sound-bite like answers for, so used are you to being asked these things. And, that is usually enough for most people. It’s enough communicating to see you through a show, or to provide information for the About section on your website, it’s definitely enough to fill your social media feeds. But is it really enough? What are we missing out on when we forget to ask Why?
Understanding why you do what you do - the things that motivate you, who you do it for – unlocks a completely new way of communicating about your work. It allows you to tap into your unique, authentic voice. There are thousands of makers out there, and knowing why helps you distinguish yourself from all the rest. Drawing on these fundamental parts of your practice will help you to connect to the people you want to reach, and it will help you build relationships and trust.
The ingredients of WHY
Do you know what your values are? What are the key things that underpin your work? The values for your creative work will most likely have some overlap with the values you hold as an individual, but they may differ slightly. Your values will reflect your philosophy for working – how you want to be seen in the world, how you interact with people, how you create your products, how you do business. They will also evoke more abstract elements like how you would like people to feel when they use your products, the lifestyle you want to create, how your work might bring people together.
It’s worth sitting down somewhere quiet and thinking about it:
What values are important to you in your work?
What motivates you to do what you do?
What are you trying to say with your work?
What feelings/experiences do you want to help create?
Are there any issues that fire you up, that you are passionate about challenging or responding to through your making?
What do you want to be known for?
What do you hope other people say about your work?
Working on your values not only helps you communicate about your work in a more genuine way, by allowing people to see the ethos and principles behind your work, it can also help you make decisions and plan. Do the jobs you say yes to align with your values? Do you spend too much time doing things that aren’t relevant to your bigger ideals? Should you be focusing on work that brings you closer to the things you truly care about? Regularly checking in with your values can help keep you focused on the things that really matter to you and your creative practice.
I like to think of Values and Audience as two sides of the same coin. It’s all very well knowing what all of this creative work is for, where it comes from, but if you don’t know who it is for then it will never fly.
Your audience will be as unique as you are. It is incredibly unlikely that your audience is ‘everyone’ or ‘the general public’. There will be some people who respond to your work more than others, and that is ok. You should not be trying to please everyone. You will have a core audience – the people you make for and who adore your work. But, it’s also worth remembering that your audience isn’t just the people who buy or engage with your work directly. You will be interacting with lots of different people:
The people you make your work for (the ideal)
The people who buy your work (for themselves)
The people who buy your work (for others)
The people who see/engage with your work (at shows, exhibitions)
The people who use your products/services (now and in the future)
The people who work with you (other artists, shop/gallery owners, suppliers, colleagues)
The people who are influenced by you (your peers, followers on social media)
All these people are not the same, but they are all your audience. It’s worth getting to know these different aspects of your audience, and understanding when you are interacting with them. How the people who see your work at a show may not be the same people who buy your work from an independent shop, how the people who follow you on Facebook may not be the same people who will read all the text on your website. The way you communicate about what you do should adapt and change slightly for each audience, to respond to the things that work for them, the things they are excited to see and hear.
Becoming fluent in your values and understanding your audience is one of the best things you can do for your creative practice. Tackling the Why questions, and developing your own voice and viewpoint, helps you connect in a more meaningful way to the people you want to share the world with.
Some useful resources:
This article 'How to live with purpose, Identify your values and Improve your leadership' by Huffpost is a great place to start exploring your values.
Take it further: Find your Mission with the School of Life.
If you’ve got some writing to do, read this post to help tailor it to your audience.