Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reaching People

I realize how much I want to reach people, to share some important part of myself with others. I understand now that my early career as a teacher must have been motivated at some deep level by this impulse, but I was never a teacher in the conventional sense. I did it for years, but I never felt at ease in the classroom. Since the age of twelve I had known I was meant to be a writer, and as I came to acknowledge after years of uncomfortable self-delusion, classroom teaching was no more than a way to make a living. Academia was never my true home.

I have been talking a lot recently about this book of essays that I want to put together, written over a period of thirty years and all of them touching on this issue in one way or another. There are so many creative people out there, doing things they were never meant to do in order to make a living, or to support their "real" work in a cultural environment whose gauge of success is unremittingly commercial. As I see it, all creative activity arises from that desire to share oneself with others--a desire that is too often repressed, with dire consequences for the individual psyche.

In this context, I had a useful conversation yesterday with a literary agent. I had sent out a few query letters describing the book and its intentions, and received from this one agent the invitation to give him a call. His point was clear and simple: to make a success of a book about surviving in the commercial world--and to reach the readers I wanted to reach--I'd need to get commercial! His website included a long, detailed questionnaire about marketing plans, as a primary tool in attracting the interest of publishers. And I realized as we talked that it's not about the quality of the idea, nor indeed about the quality of the writing; it's really about being able to demonstrate to publishers that the book has a ready-made audience out there waiting for it, and a system in place to ensure a successful publicity campaign.

As a result of listening to the wisdom of this agent's experience, I'm thinking a whole lot differently about how to go about "reaching people." One thing he stressed was the importance of having venues to promote the ideas to a variety of audiences, which is something I have given much thought to in the past. It's a different kind of teaching, a kind that I have much enjoyed on those occasions when the opportunity has presented itself--a one-shot chance to tell a group of people, as I say in one of the essays, "who I am."

The trick, of course, is to find the venues. One of the ideas that appeals to me is offering a workshop to students in fine art and writing programs that would introduce them to their most powerful weapon in the creative arsenal, the mind. It's a weapon that can famously work either for you or against you, and it's most frequently omitted from the curriculum--with the result that it's too often left to its own devices and works negatively. There's a simple technique to discipline and train it to do those things I want it to do--to focus, concentrate, and generate new ideas. It's a technique whose rudiments are easily and quickly taught and easily demonstrated. It's called meditation. Given just an hour, I can show you how to do it. After that, of course, it's up to you to put it into practice. I'd have loved it if someone would have shown me how to do it fifty years ago. Or forty. Or thirty...

So I'm working on a letter to send out. It feels good to me. It feels like an opportunity to share some important part of what I myself have learned. And it's the simplest of ideas, sometimes, that turn out to be the best.

Any takers, out there?


TaraDharma said...

Peter, I just retired from 22 years of working for the money, when I what I would preferred to do was my art: photography, drawing, painting, writing, music. Fear has usually kept me from taking my creative self much further than a stone's throw away. A friend turned me on to this book, but of course I have not yet read it, "Art and Fear," by Bayles and Orland. Ted Orland is local (for me) and was a judge in one of the first juried art shows I ever entered. I need to get on that book. I love your idea for the book of essays, and while your consultant may well be correct, the whole conversation made my brain ache!

John Torcello said...

Might be helpful...
Link to:

Paul said...

I'm behind you, Peter. It's a topic I've been interested in for years. How does one reconcile the need to be creative with the need to survive?

For me, the need to survive has - for the most part, anyway - trumped everything else.

And yet not coming to grips with the creative self and my need to reach people, I've sabotaged my ability to survive much beyond a subsistence level.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to what you have to say in your essays. Not that what you've put forth so far on your blog and in "While I'm Not Afraid" has no impact. I appreciate your contribution. Here's to extending your reach!

PeterAtLarge said...

Tara, yes! Me too. But I also learned a lot--and a part of reaching people is learning how to do it. An "art" in itself!

John, thanks for the referral... interesting!

And Paul... interested in collaborating? I could send a few of the texts...

khengsiong said...

You know, as an Asian, I was brought up to believe that if we build it, people will come. Now, after taking up MBA, I start to believe that reaching out is essential.

But then, isn't the Web a venue?

Anonymous said...

Peter-I know a venue in Highland Park
North East L.A. you can always use.

Gary said...

The marketing of art is the one factor that drove me out of the "market" because it took away valuable art making time left after long teaching days helping young and old art students develop their skill sets. The "market" was and still is
driven by gate keepers such as the gallery museum complex you know so well. Creativity is driven by innovation, personal passion and satori. Popularity is driven by the desire for recognition, ego fulfillment and "marketability".

If artistic concepts are revelant and unique to the furthering of what art can be like the work of say Robert Irwin or James Turrell they must be championed by writers and critics who's social and
political standing within the "market" is already
validated by the gallery museum complex so their
critique can bolster financial investment opportunities. The "Medici" still determine by their support and display patronage the direction of marketing.

It may be artists themselves who cause this because of their desire to share or show work and receive feedback if not money to further their art making activity. Many of the most well exposed artists make work tailored to fit into venues established by the "market". Certain large and shiny bunnies or mass marketed graphics in the name of popular culture are currently very marketable. These items will have a relatively short historic self life even if collected by the "complex". These items are expensive to insure, display and circulate. Museums are going broke because of this 20th century method of recognition, procurement, distribution, justification and protection/collection cycle.

The artists I revere most have retained their identity
and the integrity of their work by doing what comes naturally rather than creating what can be sold. Art that inspires the soul and creates new ways of seeing may find that the internet is the finest tool for bypassing middle managers and patron driven critics in this permutation of human development. Presently the rich/collectors are protecting their diminished wealth by standing on the sidelines waiting to reinvest in the next best "thing".

Wouldn't it be a better art distribution experience if a kind of internet clearing house made the playing field level by offering works to the world without the 50% markup the "complex" creates? Many artists have excellent web sites/studios on line just waiting to be viewed if someone knows they are there. What may be needed is the enterprise that brings them together like Amazon does?

Diana Daffner said...

The "desire to share oneself with others" - in one way that sounds so personally driven, but, in a larger sense, perhaps it’s the Bodhisattva of Buddhism and the "tikkun olam" of Judaism, the awareness that we are all in this together, that spiritual awakening is not meant to be just an individual experience.

Reaching out to others to promote and share our passion can therefore be embraced as a calling. “Creating a platform” is a modern phrase for getting on a soapbox, sharing with others what means so much to us. The internet is indeed a venue - it’s the location of zillions of soapboxes and platforms and visitors. The largest convention ever held; 24/7, there’s always someone to meet & greet. It’s both commercial and social.

I’ve had a website for many years, but now that I am a new author, I find myself moving out more and more into this cyber venue, joining conversations, such as this one, that I would also enjoy face-to-face. Discovering new possibilities for sharing “who I am.”

Which reminds me of the day I was being wheeled into surgery. Just before I was “put under,” a nurse recognized and acknowledged me as having taught her T’ai Chi Chih several years before. Instantly I felt myself relax, knowing I was in the hands of someone who knew “who I am.”