Advice for Artist Entrepreneurs: The Ultimate Chameleons
According to Seth Godin, “all artists are entrepreneurs, and all entrepreneurs are artists.” What makes them so similar? Well, both artists and entrepreneurs are playing a game that is ultimately high risk/high reward. They also tend to be open to new ideas, enjoy unconventional experiences, and are dead set on creating something new, useful, and meaningful. In short, they’re willing to do emotional labor, dance with their fear, and shake things up a bit. As for the artist entrepreneur, they do this specifically through the creative industries, which include, but are not limited to, music, writing, architecture, theatre, publishing, etc.
These creative fields have an extremely high failure rate when it comes to monetization; however, artists actually drive our economies forward, making them extremely valuable to societies and cultures as a whole, but undervalued in how we consider them in general. So how can artist entrepreneurs - those who are actively trying to make a living off of their art and creativity - use their rare and challenging gifts to their own financial advantage? For this answer, we’re turning to that odd little creature known as the chameleon.
1. Stay Focused
Not everyone is creative, and not everyone can be an artist. In fact, this is more of a biological calling than it is a choice. Creative people must be creative, otherwise they wither away and die. The problem is harnessing that creativity to your advantage, which is more difficult than it appears at face value. For instance, creative people can do a great many things. A filmmaker might become a rapper (M.I.A.); a fashion designer might become a filmmaker (Tom Ford); and some creatives can do a little bit of everything very well (Jack Black). Unfortunately, not all creatives have such a wide range, especially when they’re first starting out. So, it’s best to keep your eyes on the prize and specialize as best you can. You can always branch out later, but try to pick one thing to focus on, and let all of your other artistic triggers inform that one thing. Not only will you be able to develop a product much faster, but you’ll be better able to articulate that value to the customer.
Tip: Even though a chameleon’s eyes can rotate 180 degrees in all directions - with both eyes able to work independently of each other - to capture that all important prey and achieve success they must zero in on a single thing. Try to channel that when determining what to work on first.
2. Be Deliberate & Purposeful
Creatives tend to have high intelligence matched by a great appreciation for aesthetics - and they can readily pull from a universe of ideas and concepts they’ve collected over the years. But sometimes, at least in our experience, this passion for ideas and aesthetics can evolve into an out-of-control excitement for projects that may not necessarily have a financial future. It’s even worse when a creative meets a like-minded individual who wants to combine forces only to dive head first into a passion project. On the one hand, this is fantastic! And sure, you never know when one project might lead to winner-winner-chicken-dinner…but be careful. You don’t always have to jump off the cliff at the sound of an exciting prospect. Really think through your actions. Does this project serve your greater goal? Is it on the path you’ve decided to focus on, or would it take you in a completely different direction? Be wary of getting ahead of yourself, and always make sure that you have some stability before you take that next step closer to chaos (which is where creation lives).
Tip: Chameleons live in the trees, high above the ground below. They must progress forward with purpose and security to be sure they don’t fall. Oftentimes that means moving just one limb at a time. So move as slowly as you need to make sure you don’t kill yourself, figuratively and literally.
3. Control Your Moods
Creatives can be moody, touchy, anxious, volatile, and sensitive. It simply comes with the territory, especially since creative pursuits tend to have a high rate of failure. But sometimes these mood swings can be toxic for entrepreneurial pursuits. You don’t want to lose your shit in front of a client, or take out your unrelated anger on an employee, for instance. On the flip side, this doesn’t mean that you must behave in a way that isn’t necessarily true to who you are, or that you must blend into the background of your environment. It simply means that you must seek out balance. It’s true that as an artist entrepreneur, your emotions are probably bubbling just beneath the surface at all times, like a geyser with the potential to explode at any time, and you want to feel free to express yourself…but use caution. You don’t have to behave like an accountant, but you still have to be “professional” in a way that works for you.
Tip: The chameleon doesn’t change their color based on their surroundings, but based on their temperature, mood and emotions. Their skin is literally a living tattoo that helps them communicate with other chameleons. Do with that information what you will.
4. Don’t Fall for the Social Media Hype
It’s really hard as a creative not to compare yourself to others. Perhaps you went to art school with someone who’s now fabulously famous; or you once dated someone who just won their first Grammy. Maybe someone you know is getting recognition in a major publication, or their Instagram account is making you feel inferior. Whatever the case, the struggle can be very real, especially if you’re still developing your product, business, or true purpose. The trick is not to compare yourself to others…which sounds way easier than it is…but it’s truly worth the effort. Instead, compare your portfolio from today to what it was last year, or hell, even last week. Don’t let the façade of success take you off of your path. Instead, congratulate your colleagues, let their work inspire you to work harder (even if it’s through anger and competitive drive), and use the past to propel you forward. Besides, not everything that glitters is gold.
Tip: Almost half of the world’s chameleons live on the tiny island of Madagascar. That said, chameleons tend to be solitary creatures who only fight over their own territory. But they’re also not the most competitive bunch in the lizard family, and can vary widely in size and body structure. Some can fit on a fingernail while others can grow to be 30 inches long. They're not one-size-fits-all, and neither are you. Compete with yourself, not others (unless they pick a fight on your turf).
5. Take care of yourself.
When you’re working as an artist entrepreneur, it can be really difficult to handle failure, especially over a long period of time. Why? Because the work artists do tends to be deeply personal. And when the odds are stacked against you, every mistake stings all the more. In some cases, this can lead to self-sabotage out of, well, self-hatred. Instead of taking care of our bodies and minds, artists tend to turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, and other means of instant gratification to numb their pain. While these activities tend to be glorified in the forms of successful writers who have managed to write famous books while tripping on LSD, or complete great works of fiction while drunk off their ass, that’s not the complete story. For every famous artist who had a substance abuse problem, there are probably hundreds (if not thousands) who got so fucked up they never did finish writing that book, painting that masterpiece, or scoring their operetta. Don’t fall into the same trap. Take care of yourself. Workout, do yoga, meditate, eat greens, put constraints on your vices, and don’t fall into the depths of darkness out of shame and loathing for yourself. Take it from someone who’s been there - it’s not bloody worth it.
Tip: Chameleons happen to see in both visible and ultraviolet light. When exposed to ultraviolet light, they tend to become more social and much more likely to reproduce. During the night, their color fades to a pale whitish shade and their bones actually glow in the dark. However, if they don’t get natural sunlight, or get exposed to too much heat, they can die. In other words, everything in moderation and don't stay in the dark for too long.
6. Don’t take everything so seriously.
Your art and profession are very serious, yes; but don’t beat yourself up over the inevitable growing pains and changes you’ll experience along the way. Being an artist or creative can be a curse in certain ways and an absolute blessing in others. To make this work, you’ll need to embrace change, evolve over time, and pursue learning with great vigor and passion. Never allow yourself to become stagnant. Seek out positive changes, rather than destructive ones, trust yourself, and be on the lookout for good opportunities so that you can act quickly when they arise. It’s a beautiful thing to be an artist, and it’s important work; but also make time to have fun, relax, and enjoy life. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Tip: Even a chameleon must molt their skin 3-4 times a year, which leaves them extremely vulnerable. Change is part of life, and vulnerability is what helps you grow. Don’t fear it - embrace it! And also, bubbles.
Sure, being creative is a gamble; but if you are serious about your art, you have no choice in the matter. This is who you are, and it’s what you’re meant to do. And keep in mind that as our economies shift, and non-creatives are slowly replaced by robots and machines, being a creative is actually a strong competitive advantage. After all, it’s the entrepreneurs and visionaries of the world who create the companies that employ the non-creative types. So you must find balance if you’re going to stand a chance in this game, because the odds are very much against you and the stakes are extremely high. Don’t become so productive and conventional that it costs you creativity, but always strive to utilize your gift in smart and constructive ways. And, when in doubt, channel the chameleon. You’re more powerful than you think.