(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 10/13/14)
I’ve been thinking a lot about attention lately, and how it relates to art. Or, more importantly, how it relates to making a living in the arts. To distill it down to its essence, it seems you cannot have success ($$) without attention.
So basically, whether or not you are going to succeed, whether or not you are going to make money and not have to pack it all in and move back in with mom and dad back in Indiana, is all based on whether or not you can attract attention.
Yet I feel the word “attention” is much maligned in the media (thus bringing even more attention to it). “Attention” is often paired with “whore”, so anyone seeking attention is cast in an unflattering light.
I guess my question is, what does it take to attract attention to yourself, to your work? In a cluttered market, what makes you stand out? I’d like to think talent is important, but I’ve learned the hard way that talent is not an essential part of the success equation. It’s not really even necessary. I’ve been deemed “talented” by just about everyone I’ve worked with, but after 20 years I’m still just barely scraping by. I’ve been told by some of the most esteemed teachers in the business that I have “it”, that I have what it takes to “make it” if I just hang in there long enough. That I am special.
That’s nice to hear, but the harsh truth is that I am not special in the marketplace. I am either uncastable, not fitting into any perceived, marketable category (how many times have I heard “I love you, but I don’t know what to do with you”, or conversely, “I already have half a dozen women just like you on my roster”?) Too many soccer moms, too many funny aunts, too many nosy neighbors, too many average-looking, middle-aged women. I don’t stand out.
While I relate this conundrum to acting, I do think it applies to just about any artistic medium. What does it take to attract attention to the work you do? And how do you avoid being called an “attention whore” for trying to get people to look in your direction for more than half a second?
I know – you build a website, you send email newsletters, you post constantly on Facebook and Twitter, you send out mailers, you take class after class, you pay for casting director workshops, you “build your brand.” Hell, you make sex tapes or have naked pictures of you leaked. You spend 95% of your time promoting yourself and 5% of your time actually making art.
I think the way we educate artists is fucked up. I spent 7 years and $85,000 on my education. I spent 95% of my time working on my art and 5% of my time learning how to promote myself. I now can’t get a job. Why aren’t institutions of higher learning focusing more on how actors treat themselves like businesses? Why aren’t we learning how to make a business plan, how to set up an LLC, how to file taxes with deductions, how to create a marketing plan, how to have CONFIDENCE in your brand so that you can tout to the world how awesome it is? Artists should be required to minor in business or marketing.
Instead, it seems the only way I’ll every pay off my student loans is by getting a job outside my field of expertise, outside of the business that I trained for and paid big money to learn how to do expertly.
Seriously, though, and I know I’ve gone on a little rant here, but it is important – how do you attract attention without alienating everyone? You must be just as sick of getting invited to 75 improv shows a week as I am. Now that there are so many ways to scream out to the masses, how does that even get heard? Success is no longer based on what you have to offer, but on how loudly you can scream.