How can artists remain current in an accelerating world?
This post is meant to start a conversation with artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs about the importance of innovation and how to adapt your gifts to keep pace with quickly changing times.
Most artists have pondered this difficult question: Am I doing enough for the world by creating art?
This question is absolutely relative to our culture, era, and region, yet we mistake it for being objective. If we accept the question and attempt to answer it without pondering who is asking it and why it is being asked, we may become discouraged to do our creative work that comes so innately to us creative folk. This would be a major loss. The reason we take this question seriously is because of money. Creating art or anything new may not initially make us money, causing us to question its value. But we must remember that the value of a thing determines its worth far more than the asking price.
Let’s replace the initial harrowing question with a better one that is more in touch with our dynamic reality: How can I best use my natural artistic skills to better the world? This is a great question that you may honestly ask and answer for yourself. Answering this question can put you in touch with your own definition of success, which is the only one that truly matters. Success is not determined by external things like popularity or by earnings. It is determined by a sense of purpose and by the fulfillment that grows from the genuine help given to our fellow people.
All this being said, I am not delusional about the realities of making a living, or the hardships of balancing steady income alongside the pursuit of true artistic expression. Because of these realities, and because of the immense shifts the internet has caused in nearly every industry, I advocate innovation and adaptation to all creative types. Now more than ever, we need to learn new skills, cross mediums, and create new things. We must do these not only to make a living for ourselves, but for the sustainable livelihood of everyone else.
We preserve things that are important, such as a style of music from a specific time period (ie: Gypsy Jazz or a Viennese Waltz). The things we preserve were innovative at the time of their creation. They may still be amazing, but they are not still innovative. Our energy should be devoted towards innovating things for today instead of trying to replicate past innovations. Our innovative predecessors would be proud of further innovation stemming from their discoveries and creations, it is a passing of the baton. They may be honored by our attempt to replicate their creations, but the fire that sparked their innovation has been passed along in the torch of their art. If we are touched by their light we should use it as fuel to create new things for today. The potency of their message must be repackaged for current times, the formulas must be updated and reinvented to become the potent messages of our day. Many artists today focus on re-creating old innovations, or creating new content with the exact creative guidelines that were used decades or centuries ago. I am not saying that we abandon the styles and valuable work contributed by those before us, I am saying that we need to consciously strive to build upon it, and stray away from previously used parameters while creating works for today’s culture. As marketing & brand leader Gary Vaynerchuk preaches: “Stop marketing like it’s 2008!” And I would say the same for making art. Stop creating art like it’s 2003! Or 1975, or 1940 for that matter.
Historically, there have been creative movements that have a built-in culture of innovation. The development of jazz improvisation and composition has consciously pushed its artists to push themselves, innovate, and search for the newest sound and approach to creating music. The result was an explosion of American art, culture, and redefined values which still serve as the root of American pop music and has since had a worldwide impact. Similarly, the tech and start-up culture has a innovative ethos that fuel a breakneck pace of innovation, healthy competition, and invention that re-shapes our lives from top to bottom. We are attracted to the fruits of these cultures’ innovations, because they created such amazing things. The true model for us should be the inspired attitudes, culture, and group thinking that allowed these innovations to unfold.
Maybe you’ll argue against a focus on innovation by asking: Isn’t personal self expression the essence of art? Shouldn’t art be whatever the artist wants, a manifestation of whatever he/she feels? Yes, 100%. However, many of us view our artistic voice as something fixed, something static. We adopt an attitude of ‘this is my given skill set,’ or ‘this is what I do.’ The tools you use to express your artistic vision can be hacked, substituted for other tools, molded, and improved upon. If we seek more than self expression (things like income, recognition, trailblazing, utility) and if we seek to be truly current, we may need to expand our view of what we do and how our creations can be used in the world today. How do we do this? Enter adaptation.
I consistently ask myself: What are the most useful ways to spend my time? What are the most relevant things I can create?
I have slowly come to the conclusion that for me personally, it is bigger than just music. I have been an NYC music producer, recording engineer, & musician for the past decade and I have slowly discovered that my truest artistic voice will pull from more than solely the music realm. But am I less of an artist because of this? No, I actually feel a more complete artist. I have made moves to combine the music I create with the lifestyle ideas I learn about and want to share. This blog is a direct result of that fusion. In the next year, I will begin fusing my passion for playing and studying soccer into this mix as well. Doing so calls upon my greatest skills and musings as an artist, I am choosing to blend together my seemingly separate interests into one path. The world is growing more connected, so why not connect what’s in your life?
We tend to box ourselves in by the labels we give ourselves, and this can limit the magnitude of our creations and retard the gifts we're capable of providing to the world. We say to ourselves "I'm an acoustic songwriter" or "I'm a painter" or "I'm not good with technology" and we put a lid on the broader interests, possibilities, curiosities, and creations that may be swiveling around inside of us, waiting for us to give them their proper shape. The world is shifting towards free-lance, self ascribed work and it needs people to create work that is fair, sustainable, and beneficial to people. The artist deals with the frontier of 'the new' day in and day out. To create art, you are pushed up against the cliff of what is new to you, what is indescribable, what scares you, and sometimes something entirely undiscovered. We should apply this boldness beyond our self-prescribed 'field.'
What if the most useful version of your art is not a standalone personal expression, but a gateway to something greater and more universal? What if the songs you create are no longer the main event, but instead they are gateway to get people interested in a bigger, more pressing issue in the world? What if your chosen artistic expression can be used to usher in something that has a greater impact than the art could do so by itself? What if that is exactly the direction art is headed in, or maybe it is already here? Would you be on board with that? Would you be willing to adapt?
Maybe artists need to do more, combine more mediums, and spread their wings further. The arts have always been very hard. I don’t believe that it is more difficult now than it used to be. The arts (and everything for that matter) are certainly always changing, and this has always been the case. Some people claim that the arts have gotten more difficult, but this may only seem so when our approach is outdated. Yes, it will seem to be more difficult if you do things today the way things were done 10 years ago. The traction may not be same. This would create the illusion of things having gotten harder. Things have changed, and we must change as well.
Good art serves a spiritual role in people’s lives - it provides connection, community, honesty, inspiration, and leadership. If we honor quality, and submit to the muse of creation, we are artists. Create….
Josh Giunta is an electro-groove music producer who writes about learning, the creative process, the relation of art & science, and more.
Image credit: Sanchin Sandhu