Reconciling creativity & commerce

In the September edition of BASCA’s* membership magazine, Richard Jacques (The Works, 2014: 3 p.3) highlighted the challenge of balancing artistic expression with commercial imperatives in relation to ‘work for hire’ contracts. In my work supporting the professional development of creatives and business leaders I regularly encounter individuals who experience tension between their creative tendencies and business needs. These talented people manage at the same time to have the vision and drive to do what they do and yet undersell themselves in the workplace or market.

At the heart of this is the nature of the work. When you are personally attached to what you are producing (be it a composition, a startup or a family business), the proximity of person to product can make it hard to get clear perspective. The personal nature of creative work can also make it harder to take the knocks. Putting your heart and soul into your work is what makes it unique but it can also mean that you end up identifying with it too closely, and that compounds fear of rejection. As a result, people often under-price the commercial value of their work, or avoid putting it out there altogether (greetings perfectionists!)

And it’s not just a question of value but also of values. For some in creative roles, making money is not consistent with the more spiritual aspects of creativity. As someone with his own creative endeavours I recognise that there’s great value in the act of creation itself. But the sensible part of me knows that emphasising that aspect too much can be a convenient way of avoiding the knocks. And arguably, over time, those on both sides of the equation have colluded in maintaining the age-old battle, ‘Artist’ vs. ‘the Man’, in which the Artist’s desire for creative purity can fuel commercial vulnerability.

How do you manage this? Finding a way to put some metaphorical distance between you and your work is a good start, for instance, recognising it’s not you you’re selling but a product. And getting some real distance is just as important. Many successful creatives understand the importance of taking time out to relax, to celebrate small achievements and simply to know where to draw the line and move on to the next piece of work.

One way to do the former is to find someone who can provide you with an informed, alternative view. Make sure you ask for feedback from clients / commissioners as it helps to establish a more realistic sense of the value of your work. Similarly useful can be finding someone you know whose opinion you value and who won’t be afraid to give you a straight answer, either about your work or your attitude towards it.

Finally, coaching and mentoring are great ways to understand these and other unhelpful biases and help you stay on track. In recent months I’ve been running both 1:2:1 coaching and group peer-mentoring sessions for BASCA members to help them identify and tackle concerns like this, and others related to building confidence within business and I’m looking forward to doing more of the same to support those in one of our valuable creative industries.

*BASCA is the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors http://www.basca.org.uk

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