Selling Yourself without Selling Out: Part 2

Featured, Visual Arts — By on August 12, 2010 at 8:00 am

(This post is the second part of a series exploring the unique obstacles Christian artists face in marketing themselves, and how to get over the hangups.  You can read Part 1 here.)

Who are you?” the caterpillar asked Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  It’s an important question to be able to answer in all areas of our life, and is critical to the success of one’s arts career.  In part 1 of our series Selling Yourself without Selling Out, based on Redeemer Presbyterian Church‘s Center for Faith & Work eponymous artists’ workshop, we discussed the biblical perspective on self-promoting one’s art.  As workshop leader Luann Jennings pointed out, an artist must figure out who they are as an artist in order to promote their work.  Self-awareness and self-promotion go hand-in-hand.

Your identity as a Christian is part of your identity as an artist; and vice versa, your identity as an artist is part of your identity as a Christian.  “Your work and your faith are inseparable,” said Jennings.  How you express yourself, she explained, is determined by the person God created you to be.  “We are uniquely drafted by God,” she said.

We must therefore embrace that uniqueness, that special artistic gift that God has given us.  Some of us are called to be visual artists, some of us are called to be actors, some of us are called to be dancers, some of us are called to be musicians, and some of us are called to be writers.  But we must narrow our artistic pursuits down even further.  For instance, as writers, some of us are called to be poets, some of us screenwriters, some of us essayists, some of us arts & entertainment reviewers.  Even within that, though, we can narrow it down further.  As an arts & entertainment journalist, for example, are we more knowledgeable about film, music, dance, or visual arts?  Within music, are we a specialist in hip hop or rock or pop or classical?  Figuring out our true passions and our area of expertise is foundational to figuring out who we are as artists and how we want to develop our craft and market ourselves.

Jennings used Tootsie as parable.  In the 1982 film, Dustin Hoffman’s character, trying to get an acting gig, says he can be anyone the director wants him to be.  Jennings advised against this everyman thinking, and instead instructed the artists attending the workshop to stick to what they do best.  “What’s your sweet spot?” she asked.  In what role are you the perfect person for the job?  Jennings offered the Fractured Atlas course Professional Identity: Demystified as a resource for discovering one’s sweet spot.

Donald Miller blogged about this very subject in “Following God and Farming.”  Both Miller and Jennings, and probably a lot of other successful artists, indicate that although an opportunity might be a good one, if it doesn’t fit in with your professional identity and goals, it may not be worth pursuing.  “Be ruthless about not doing things in order to give time and money” to your long-term goals, advised Jennings.  “Don’t feel like if you get specific, you’re limiting yourself,” she encouraged.  By being focused and specific and by cutting out things and events that are unnecessary, you will self-discipline yourself into achieving your goals.

In part 3 of “Selling Yourself without Selling Out” we’ll look at the basics of self-promoting and marketing discussed at Redeemer’s artists’ professional development workshop.

How did you discover who you are and find your sweet spot?  How has limiting yourself opened up more opportunities?

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  • Jordan K. says:

    “Don’t feel like if you get specific, you’re limiting yourself”

    That cut me deep. I have notebooks full of writing ideas, but have not focused on a single concept for any extended amount of time. I think it’s time for my writing to gain some focus. Maybe then it will gain some clarity as well.

  • I think this is great advice, and I’m always trying to narrow down my specific identity. However,I think it can be hard to remain true to one’s identity and commit exclusively to a particular niche. My most productive and profitable professional identity is that of a Christian psychologist who writes about sexuality. That’s my bread and butter and I love it . . . most of the time. Sometimes I get sick of thinking and writing about sex. I long to write some fiction or a music review. I’ve got a novel in a drawer that I’d love to rewrite so it doesn’t suck. SO, I guess I would refine this view by saying that it is critical to establish an identity for marketing/outreach. I think it’s important to find out what gifts God gave you and use them (which is why I now write nonfiction instead of fiction). But I think we need to also do things that make us feel alive and excited, even if they’re outside our niche.

    But overall this is an important point, especially for creative types. We’ll let a thousand flowers bloom even though we don’t have enough water to keep them alive. This is such a great series.

    • I feel that Steve. Started out writing leadership books for people who worked with kids, but then developed an interest in writing for a general audience. And I’m outlining a novel.

      My wandering interests aren’t helping me.

  • jo says:

    I really like the part about embracing that uniqueness. For instance, I’m detail-oriented and can aborb much. One time I wondered if I may be losing my mind and the Lord gave me a sobering picture of where those train of thoughts could lead if I continued. So, I decided to take it as the gift / unique way He made me and entrust it in his hands. Wonderful things began to take place when I did. Then He gave me a beautiful picture of what He can do with it through me. And I’ve seen and felt it. Of course, as with anything, in Spiritual applications if the flow isn’t coming and I try and make it happen it then becomes unproductive for his Spiritual applications and I know I need to give it a rest.

    I don’t doubt that is a contributing factor regarding mental illness, not seeing our gifts and uniqueness in proper perspective. In all mental illness cases, maybe, maybe not. Just something I see in general. Our society can want to make us all the same in that respect. Even though I see how some of that may be helpful in some cases in order to function within our society, we should be careful of stripping others of their God-given uniqueness. So important to get his view on these things and see our identity in Christ.

    As the good book says, God created it all and He said it was all good. It was the sin-factor / self-will apart from God that perverted that, but it is reconcilled in Christ.

    This is also wonderful in understanding how it can apply to understanding our place in his body and what He has equipped us for it.

    Love in Him,

  • Cassy Lee says:

    What a great topic. I am completely resonating with your pieces, Stephanie, as well as the conversation here in the comments. I’ve struggled for years with wanting to pursue whatever I am interested in on the one hand, and with honing my focus so I can market a specific style or voice on the other. I hate feeling like I am selling myself. It helped me recently to come up with a mission statement of sorts, a tag line for myself – “create wonder”. It’s still very broad, but reminds me what I want my writing and art (and entire life really) to be about and has given focus to my blog. It is yet to be seen if that helps it “sell”, but because it’s something I believe in deeply, I will continue to do it even if there’s no money attached.

    I’d recommend some great books by Madeleine L’Engle. They don’t speak specifically to this marketing question, but more broadly about the Christian artist’s struggle.
    Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
    A Circle of Quiet (part of her Crosswicks Journal series)

    Happy creating, all!

  • As a kid, I was all over the map, involved in any sort of creative and social endeavor you could imagine. I had the energy for that then. Now, it’s a different story, and I learned that focus is a huge help in order to balance my artsiness with (fairly) structural family life and motherly duties. For three years I focused on one large project – a spiritual memoir – while taking care of the home/kids, subbing occasionally, etc. Any time I tried to do something outside that focal point, I became very frustrated.

    For me as a writer, though, focusing for three years on the same thing was directly linked to my voice and near compulsion to say what I had to say through that project. Now that my memoir is done, I’m lacking that artistic focus again, since my voice feels quelled to a large degree.

    However, now that I’m back at work again, I’ll be striving to find an artsy focus/outlet that meshes with my new schedule – and hopefully voice.

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