There’s an idea I’ve been fascinated for years now. It’s one of those things that has endured through different businesses and phases of my life.
It is the idea that there is a new kind of professional role being formed in society at large – a kind of entrepreneur who is soul driven in some sense. A role where one’s professional work, is not seen as distinct from their spiritual path of awakening. It’s why I called my previous brand The Realized Entrepreneur.
At the end of last year, I started writing about an archetypal way of modelling this character. I suggested that this new professional could be seen as the integration of three intrinsic archetypes – the artist, the merchant and the seeker.
Honestly? I’m not convinced I’ve got the mapping quite right. But after a few months exploring some different writing avenues, I’m returning to this map in search of answers. Specifically, a topic that’s gnawed at me for years, that is, how on earth do art and marketing fit together?
Temperamentally, I usually love creating new stuff, and desperately resist marketing it. And I know I’m not the only one that is like this.
Is that because marketing is for shallow schmucks who can’t create interesting enough stuff that people naturally pay attention to? Or is this my precious pretensions restricting me from actually publishing myself?
Can the artist and the merchant work together?
The artist is principally concerned with creativity. His objective is to create something original, something that provokes a deeper experience of the world, or elegantly solves the most complex of problems.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so the artist creates things that they themselves find beautiful. They create to meet their own taste.
They are driven by the creative impulse. And creativity, as Seth Godin so eloquently defines it, is the tension between “this might work” and “this might not work”. If you know it will work, or you know it will not, it’s not creative. If it’s pre-determined it’s not art.
Art is not painting, it is not poetry, it is not design. It is what is created when we venture beyond the border of what we know, and allow the mysterious forces there to guide our hand as we create something that intrigues us. The artist knows that he does not truly control this creative process.
And so the artist is one who is furthest away from the mainstream. They are by definition at the fringe, for it is only at the fringe that you will find the boundary between the known and the unknown.
The merchant is principally concerned with trade. Her objective is to relationally connect with other people and swap what they each possess, and improve the lives of everyone involved.
The merchant operates in a relational space, connecting those who need something, with those who can supply it.
The marketplace is a full and bustling arena that determines what is good and needed. And so the merchant seeks to understand what is in short supply, what is in high demand, and how to best make trades that fill people’s needs.
The merchant trades in value. She seeks out objects or goods, that she believes will be of value to those she can reach.
The merchant believes that what they have to offer is valuable – that it would help others – and so they feel no shame in promoting their wares to others. For in fact, to withhold their wares would be to violate their chief objective and belief: that consensual trade is good.
And so the merchant is one who connects people, allowing them to relationally exchange for their mutual benefit. They are by definition in the midst of things, for it is from the middle that the different sides can be connected in mutual exchange.
A philosophical clash of values
From the perspective of the artist, the work of the merchant is ugly.
The artist looks at the trading that makes up the merchant’s nature and sees only presumption, and manipulation. The merchant seems to increases the shallowness of life which the artist seeks to deepen.
The artist never presumes to know the needs or will of another. This is the antithesis of their work. To presume the mind of another and to create something for them – to meet their need – is not art. This would be to prostitute their creative talents for money or mutual exchange. In other words, to “sell out”, which to the artist is an aesthetic crime. And the merchant has made an entire career from selling out!
Thus the artist condemns the merchant as ugly, shallow and greedy.
The merchant is equally distaining of the artist. She looks at the artist as a narcissist. How does it help anyone to make such weird and odd things to satisfy one’s own personal whims? It seems to the merchant like a naïve and wasteful use of time.
The merchant thus judges the artist as useless. For art does not help people with their needs, it is an indulgent luxury. What people need, are things they want to come back to day after day, things they will consistently trade for.
The creation of art is unpredictable. The productive output of an artist is unpredictable, and the value of the art produced is unpredictable. The merchant is concerned with mutual benefit, about meeting the needs of others, and so from her perspective this creative unpredictability looks unproductive and selfish.
Separation is no longer adequate
While it has historically possible – perhaps even necessary – for these two archetypes to stay separate and pure, today’s world cannot sustain their separation.
The artist needs the merchant. Because it is only the merchant who can be impartial as to the value of what the artist creates. The artist is so caught up in his creations that he finds it hard to step out of himself and effectively offer his art to those that would benefit.
The merchant is guided by value exchange, and value is determined not by her own subjective opinions, but by the intersubjective consensus of the marketplace. If her customers thank her for a particular offering and return wanting more, then she trusts it is valuable. Her judgement of worth is intersubjective. Whereas the artist judges subjectively – whether he himself is impressed or moved by his creations.
The merchant also needs the artist. Because left to her own devices, the merchant will simply rely on offering what the marketplace asks for. She will have no motivation to look deeper under the surface at what new innovation is required. As Henry Ford famously said (actually he didn’t, but he should have done because it’s a wonderful quote) “If I’d have asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.”
The needs of the market change. Things move on. And without the innovation of the artist, the merchant will continue to peddle popular and proven goods, being increasingly left behind, as evolution pushes the edges of what people need.
These two opponents need one another.
Without the merchant, the artist becomes increasingly obsessed with his own creative explorations, becoming out of touch with society at large, and not providing things that help and move people.
Without the artist, the merchant becomes increasingly shallow, providing value that is popular, losing touch with the leading edge, and not risking new things that will change society.
The necessity for integration
The challenge for many of us, is that we must play both roles ourselves. Or at the very least, I would suggest we need to integrate these archetypal orientations in such a way that they are not at odds in our own psyche.
The larger and more idealistic hypothesis is that it is the integration of these archetypes that will lead to the resolution of so many philosophical conflicts in our world.
I’ll leave that grand idea for another day, and simply say that I believe it is imperative that we at least understand the intrinsic perspectives of these archetypes.
As a native artist, my unconscious tendency is to fall into snobby distain for merchant activities. If I’m not careful, marketing begins to look rather ugly and uncouth, and I instinctively begin to distance myself from it.
But unshared art is useless. Literally.
The unconscious biases may be different for you (although I suspect many of you who read my work tend toward the creative and artistic). Nevertheless, the principle is the same – to progressively understand and embody these archetypes, allowing them to integrate and create a new kind of professionalism, a new kind of work.
I would even suggest that bringing one’s art to the marketplace is one of the great evolutionary requests of this new world. It is a least one that burns brightly in my heart.
For never before has art been so accepted in the marketplace, or more needed. But to bring our creative work to market means resolving philosophical conflicts that have deep roots.
Playing favourites is not adequate any longer.
Integrating these historically opposed worlds is what will contribute the creation of a new one.