What are We Producing?

A fabulous online friend posed a wonderful question the other day through email correspondence.  While musing over the impact and investment of creativity and business coaches, she asked a very simple question that often pops into my mind.

One of my favorite characters from last winter's adventures. He's producing his own wind-powered bike.

Are you [hiring a creative coach] to take your photography to the next level or are you trying to build the blog?

As a freelancer with an inner entrepreneur who wrestles with an inner child and an eclectic, though demanding inner artist, this question has no simple answer.  As with most major decisions in my life, it depends on the day, the weather, the moon and sometimes the wind.

What it truly boils down to, the true core of the question, who am I and what do I do?  Or better yet, what do I produce?

I pose this question, because I’m feeling that need for full on production.  I’m approaching that time of the year when I tend to retreat- both literally and figuratively- and the production aspect of what I do kicks in.  Not in a monetary manner for clients, but in an artistic manner- for myself and for the sake of producing.

The winter months are my time for artistic endeavors, Walkabouts and wandering, reading and philosophizing and examining the state of my business and my approach towards its future.  I literally slow down- in all aspects of my life- and kick back a little.

And my friend’s question and my recent disengagement from the trusty old wifi has me truly analyzing my forward momentum.

Do I move forward as a writer?

Do I move forward as a documentary photographer?

Do I put the wheels in motion for a full blown production studio?

Do I build an online business around my blog?

Do I continue to juggle freelance work, commercial multimedia production and writing for a living and hope to squeeze out some documentary work in the “down time” and hope my clients actually pay their bills so I can fund the documentary work?

Or do I just put everything on the shelf and be a black and white photographer- in a darkroom, coddling her negatives and relishing in the fumes of fixer.  (Yes, I like that aroma- go figure)

Or- here’s a nice wrench in the whole argument, do I just retreat from the world, live off the land, relish in the beauty of small town America and do lapidary and photography- just for the sake of itself?

Oh, the tortured logic of an artistic entrepreneur.  Because really, they are all wonderful options.

So, I come back to the original question, and it’s not a new one to this blog.  Who are you?  What do you produce?  Why do you follow this line of work?  What’s your impact on the world?

And, if someone were to pull the plug on all the technology in the world and we were to revert to the mid 1990s- pre-internet boom- or even worse, the mid 1950s- pre-computer days- where would you be?  Or rather- who would you be?

What would you produce?  Why would you bother?  Who would benefit from your efforts?  Would you still be the insatiable entrepreneur- all Atlas Shrugged style or would you be the existential being living by a pond all Thoreau/Walden like?

As we approach another year and start to contemplate our plans for growth, the future and the big picture- maybe we should stop and reevaluate some of these fundamental questions.

Oddly, I pose these questions to myself often- but I never come up with a true answer.  And when an answer arises, it usually changes.

But what I do find is that vision- that dream future that I see and am walking towards- usually surfaces after the frantic ADD leaping from one possible career scenario to another possible business option subsides.  And once this Medusa-esque beast goes to sleep and I’m left with that one rational voice in my head, that true-self that quietly speaks up after the madness has subsided, I return to one thing.

Storytelling.  I am a storyteller.  I use images, words and sounds.  And I create.

That’s it.  You can have the rest.  Give me the time and space to create my art.  Give me a little food and a dry roof over my head (a train/plane ticket helps too) and I will just create.

Your turn.  What do you produce?  Why do you produce?  If you were take it all away- all the shiny bling of the internet, social media and the computer, what would you be left with?

And be sure to visit Farnoosh’s fabulous blog, Prolific Living, when you have the chance!  She prompted this post with her insightful questions.  Her blog is wonderful, so spend some time over there!

The Yin and Yang of Art and Commerce ~ Finding a Balance Between Making a Living and Holding onto Your Creativity.

Every so often, the creative juju just leaves us.
It doesn’t go far, but it takes a little hiatus while the artist clears the crap out of their brain and gets back to the balance that keeps them sane and productive.  As someone who makes a portion of their living from artistic endeavors, I hit this wall every so often.  And sometimes it can last for months, or longer.  What I’ve discovered over the years is that a guaranteed method to erect the wall is to begin the logistics and planning stages of a multimedia production or major commercial photography project.

Shoppers try on a hand-crafted jacket at the QIA craft show in Quartzsite.

Shoppers try on a hand-crafted jacket at the QIA craft show in Quartzsite.

Yes, that’s a conundrum for a professional photographer and multimedia producer.

Many photographers advise keeping a personal project in the works to help find balance, but that never seems to work for me.  I become so engrossed in the planning, strategy and details of proposals, estimates and negotiations, that I lose all ability to function in a creative manner.  Last week I lost the ability to write anything of value.  I could barely compile an email!  So, I took a night off from everything and tried to retrace my activities of the week to understand why my creative juju disappeared.  Was the moon in the wrong phase?  Was Mercury in retro-grade?  Was it PMS?  No, no and no.

Then a simple realization struck me.  In fact, it was so simple that I just had to laugh.  Its the business side of things.  The business logistics of multimedia production sucked every ounce of juju out.  So, how does a multimedia producer move forward knowing this?  She chooses another path, for now.

A little clarification.  I love entrepreneurship.  I think creating a viable business, no matter how small, is such an amazing and wonderful process.  I even like the strategy and logistics- sometimes.  But the implementation- not so much.  I once had a very successful businessman point out this flaw of mine in very simple terms, “you love the idea phase, but you don’t like the implementation part.” So true!  He followed it by saying he is the same way.  I love problem solving and business is full of it.  But I love to do this for other people, not necessarily myself.

So, as I’m returning to my epiphany (this isn’t necessarily new- happens often and I usually reinvent my business goals or just go bartend for a while) I am forced to really take inventory of all my artistic business ventures at the moment and weigh the value of actually doing each one.  Some of them have the balance of business and art inherently in their model and they are simple enough to not require lengthy logistical processes and project management.  Other endeavors are not so cut and dry.

Does this mean I will never produce a major multimedia project?  Of course not.

Does this mean that I will closely weigh the outcome of each project, do a detailed cost and benefit analysis and make damn sure the creative juju that may be squashed will be rewarded by the outcome or an extended artistic project to follow shortly afterwards? Yes!

In doing this analysis, I’ve come to several conclusions and eliminated some activities.  And the creative juju has returned!  I’ll share the rational for all those wondering about the same issues for their own creative commerce.

The art of writing, as a profession, is a new emergence for me as an almost full time gig.  I really enjoy the process of writing, and at least for the time being, the creative writing and the writing to pay the bills are not conflicting- they have a balance.  In part, because both of them emerged on the scene at the same moment- so they had a natural balance.

Photography is my passion, it is who I am, not necessarily what I do.  I sometimes forget that little fact.  So, if money is to be made off the photography, it needs to be after the work is produced.  Stories sold after they are finished, artwork sold once it is printed and multimedia projects purchased after completion. That’s not an absolute statement, by any means, but an excellent guideline.  Now, I won’t be turning down the random portrait shoot, small wedding and amazing -simple- commercial shoot if it arises, but the above guidelines will hopefully help keep that in balance.

Lapidary arts (cutting and polishing stones) and silversmithing are emerging interests and I believe in several years will be a new artistic business venture.  I am curious to see if the creative juju balance applies here because the art and the business will emerge together.  The photography emerged about 10 years prior to the commerce, so the passion was already inherent and had no association with the commerce.  I resent the commerce associated with my photography- hence the lack of balance. Oh, conundrums.

The Bottom Line

It really boils down to keeping things amazingly simple.  While I love the thought of the large multimedia company, employing all the amazing storytellers I know and producing powerful work to help balance the media, for my sanity, this business model is not an option. Though I would love to be a consultant on setting that business up for someone else!

Find your balance.  Know your boundaries when it comes to art and commerce.  Understand what will support your passion and what will suck the life out of it.  Then guard those truths with all your abilities, even if that means making money with a skill totally unrelated to your art.  Sometimes that backup skill will save your creative juju- so don’t be afraid to use it!

Stay tuned, the second part of this article is on its way.  Tips on finding your Yin and Yang of art and commerce.