I have certain random, vivid and extremely precise memories from throughout my life. They’re all from around when I was 12 years old and continue all the way until today. Most of them are very ordinary. All of them actually. Just normal conversations and events. But I remember where I was, exactly what was said and what I felt.
One of them took place during the birthday party of the father of one of my best childhood friends. I was about 15 years old and me and the other kids (all from the same brass orchestra - I play the trumpet) were gathered around the computer of the house. This was when The Internet was very new. We were all huge fans of ska music (the musical style that is the forefather of the reggae - people in Jamaica realized it’s to fr*kking hot to dance that quickly, so they invented the much slower reggae).
We were talking about different ska bands and started discussing one in particular. Thanks to my very precise and in this case completely useless photographic memory, I remember one of the older kids saying “They actually have their OWN WEBPAGE”. Waaaaooooww! I didn’t really know before that, that having your own webpage was something cool and unusual, but now I knew!
(I told you the memories were precise. And useless.)
But, it doesn’t stop there. About a YEAR later, me and the same older friend were talking about music again (probably in one the breaks during our dorky band rehearsals). We started to talk about the same band and somewhere throughout the conversation I mentioned that “yeah, and they even have their own website, right?!”.
Do you know what he answered?
“Well, yeah.. But all bands have got their own websites. There’s nothing special about that…” What the...?
Before you start asking yourself why you even started to read this and how you can get the last three minutes of your life back; heres the point.
Ever since Internet started to become an everyday thing, things have been developing at enormous speed. New platforms are popping up every day and everyone is trying to outdo each other by coming up with new ways of getting their creativity and art in front of as many people as possible.
No matter how much effort you put into your art, it usually feels like your photos drown in the everyday flood of millions of uploaded pictures. Your carefully mixed song - that you’ve spend weeks on producing just ends up in a playlist somewhere on Spotify.
If you try to keep up, always coming up with something bigger and more extraordinary, you will most certainly fall flat on your face.
Instead, it might be time to take step back. Stop chasing the shiny white rabbit together with everyone else and start thinking about why you create art in the first place.
I would like to share a few ideas that I’ve tried the last few years. As always, this is not a check-list for everyone to follow. I'm just sharing a recipe that works for me. Pick the parts that suits your life and art.
Aim to affect ONE person
Think about this. Would you rather have a million followers that NEVER likes your pictures or comment on anything, OR a 100 followers that are giving feedback on every thing you make?
A few years back, I decided I didn’t want to be one person in real life and another one online. I had sent this newsletter out for a few years and never received a lot of replies.
Then I started to write from the heart instead of following the instructions from the online “gurus” claiming to have the sure-way to write the perfect newsletter. I stopped dissecting each sentence to make it "perfect" (according to the gurus, people don't like to read too long texts online) and I began to just pour my thoughts onto the digital paper.
It was like magic. Suddenly, YOU started to write me back. Artists all around the world with the same problems as me told me that I’d put words on their feelings. I learned the names on those that my words affected.
That was when I realised that chasing likes and shares is useless. Today, getting one reply from someone that I managed to move is a thousand times more important than having a huge mailing list. That is why I am constantly asking you to hit reply on these mails. It is not because I've been told that I need to "Make My Followers Interact With My Content", but because it's because I see why my words matter.
That is what art is for. To make ONE person reflect or react. If you manage to move one person, to brighten one day, you’ve succeeded.
Make something physical
About a year ago, I went to one of the islands in the Stockholm archipelago for a weekend. I’ve been playing in a small brass band during the summers for many years and last year we decided to meet up during the winter for a practice weekend. We spend three days on a simple farm in the middle of nowhere and we were playing, drinking, singing and taking saunas. The island was covered in mist the entire time and made it look extremely elvish. I'd brought my small camera and shot a few picture now and then.
When I came back home, I decided to share the photos in a different way than just uploading the pictures on Facebook. I picked about fifteen pictures and edited them. Then, I uploaded them to be printed in 10 copies each and bought as many envelopes in thick paper, one for each of the participants. I thoughtfully put the pictures in order, to tell the story in the best way and put each pile in an envelope and sent one to each of the members in the band.
A few days later (no instant Likes here) I received texts or phone calls from almost all of them, thanking me for the images and the effort I had made. It was something they could touch. It stood out from all the other pictures in the online feeds, and each and everyone spent time carefully flipping through the small prints, remembering the days. The'd chosen their favourite pictures and framed or put on the refrigerators.
Every website, every social media platform is built to make you stick around. Not at the same page, but to the next. And to the next.
Find a way to make your art TANGIBLE. Print your poems and leave them all over the city. Ask a café if you can hang a bunch of framed prints on the walls. Make your art into street art. Record your next short movie on super-8 and project it on a wall. Oh! Make one of those photo copied fanzines that were popular in the 90’s! How cool would that be?
Almost every kind of art is possible to make physical. It will not only make it a greater experience for your viewers, but for YOU! We are made to work with our hands, not in front of a computer screen.
Make art EXACTLY the way you want to make it
There’s a big difference between being inspired by other artists and to do the same thing. Everyone is inspired by others. You find something in a movie - a line of dialogue or a stunning shot - and let that inspire your next oil painting. You hear a tune on the radio and use that to create a short movie. It is totally OK to study a photographers style to learn the technique. Copy it to learn, before you go on to another one to learn how she is shaping her images. After a while, you’ll will have so many tools in your box that the result will be in a style of it’s own.
But if you see something online and to go “I'm gonna do that to!” is never going to work. If you try to copy HOW someone else is creating art, the most important thing will be lost. WHY YOU are making art. The reason for why you are creating in the first place. If that part is gone, you are just one in the line of artists that are democratising art. Another Instagram feed with the same kind of filter that everyone currently LOVES.
Don’t listen to what others want you to create. Don’t try to make all your pictures on Instagram look like that single one that received twice as many likes as usual. Dare to try new things and different techniques all the times. Henry Ford (the founder of the car company) said something that I use to quote all the time, “If I would’ve asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”.
And it is true! It is impossible to know that you like something if no one ever made it before! There’s no right or wrong way of doing anything. Experiment, finish and put it out there. Sometimes (most of the times) it will get a lot of “meh’s”. But once in a while everyone will go “Wow!”
Ask yourself “what do I want to say?” and choose a way to spread the word.