Does Your Art Pass the Relevancy Test?

Yesterday, I was reading Jon Morrow’s blog post on the seven tests every blog must pass in order to grow and thrive. He argued that if the blog missed the mark in even one of those areas, it was doomed to fail. I bit my knuckle and read the rest of the article. Fortunately, my blog squeaked by on all seven tests.

It was scary to think that if the blog didn’t exactly match what people are looking for, it might never work. Jon talked about good blogs he has tried to help promote that just never took off.  The hard, cold truth, according to him, is that some people may have to give up on a blog, even if they love it.

Which got me thinking about all of the art we produce. How often do we, as artists, insist on creating work for which there is no real market because we feel there should be? I talk to writers all the time, for example, who tell me a premise for a book that I know will never sell. When I try to point that out, they say, “Well, I don’t care. This is what I want to write.”  And if it’s true — if they truly don’t care if it sells or not — I tell them to go for it. But half the time, they don’t really mean that. What they mean is that they know I’m right, but they hope I’m wrong. They hope something miraculous will happen and the book will take off anyway.

I see this attitude in all of my artist friends (and even in myself) when they hold on to old ways of doing things because they can’t accept that those days are over.  Or when they declare loudly and strongly that even though people don’t care about that type of art right now, they should, as if they can somehow make people care. I see it when they take the idealistic approach and say things like, “I’m just going to think positive thoughts and visualize strong sales and trust that people will find me.” I see it when artists focus on effective gimmicks to get people to buy, which works at first, but never lasts, and usually doesn’t result in the kinds of reviews or endorsements that can carry the art further.

This is perhaps the hardest conversation we can have with ourselves about our art. Am I producing this piece just for me? Is it all about what I want? Or am I producing it for my audience, because it is what they want and need?  That is not to say we should “sell out” as artists and just try to follow the trends. We should absolutely produce some work because we want to or because we feel it’s important. But when it comes to running our businesses, we need to think like business owners and make sure we are also giving our customers what is relevant to them.