The creative bloke’s guide to buffalo hunting; society values men for their beast-killing prowess
If there is one thing that every musician, painter, writer or would-be interpretive-dance-with-chainsaws-street-poet dreads, it is being on the receiving end of that infernal barbecue conversation prompter:
“So… what do you do?”
The reason we squirm when asked this is because, if, like most creatives, you do not earn any or all of your income from your creative efforts, how do you then answer the question?
“I work in a restaurant”, may be an honest answer of how you pay the rent, but you hardly feel it sums up your contributions to society.
“I’m a visual artist”, feels scary, because it invariably prompts the following hopeful, slightly excited response:
“Oh! Is that how you earn your living then?”
“Nah, not really. Work in a cafe”, you reply, self-loathing seeping from every pore.
“Oh”, comes the deflated reply, “Yeah must be tough to make a crust from your art, hey”.
And there you both are. They are uninspired, and you feel like pond scum. Another beer then?
‘The Great Provider’
As a bloke I can tell you the problem stings all the more because of the pride (or lack thereof) wrapped around the issue of being The Great Provider. Like it or not, we as a society value men for their ability to go out, kill the beast and drag it back home. The bigger the beast, the better the man.
This is well and good for those who are happy (or just able) to go out and build houses, fix cars, design the perfect plumbing valve, create corporate strategic plans or negotiate multinational shipping contracts.
Unfortunately, for those of us poor blokes whose passions and skills lie in the area of ‘art and creativity’, the path to beast-hunting success is fraught with all kinds of dangers and frustrations.
The struggle is real. We are supposed to be the Great Provider. But what can we do to bridge the gap between feeling like A Real Man and despairing at the pointlessness of it all. No matter what our responsibilities are, it can really be challenging for a creative soul than to be stuck stacking boxes just to earn a buck.
We need to talk about value
Forgive the buzzword, but it’s time to talk about value.
I think that we creative types tend to have an issue with approaching value from the wrong angle. We tend to think “what do I want to do?” or “what do I want to make?”. This is all well and good, but a smart business person approaches things from the angle of “what do people want?”
This can be a difficult balance to achieve. In order to satisfy the inner artistic muse, we need to create things that we believe in as artists. Things that move us. Things that our muse demands be made. But, if we want to return home triumphantly dragging a giant, meaty (metaphorical) carcass, we also need to provide value that resonates with an audience.
We should also talk about wombats
I have a friend from way back called Jimmi Buscombe. For years he’s been a fantastic musician and an absolutely brilliant chef, neither of which provided him with the lifestyle he craved. More recently, he began working as a visual artist. Turns out he has a remarkable talent for creating realistic drawings and paintings in a style that I am quite sure would be sniffed at in the highbrow art schools of this world.
However, from the get-go, he found himself getting paid work, and he has never really looked back. Perhaps I am simplifying his experience – there must have been some moments of doubt – but as his recent viral smash-hit video proves, the man is providing something that an audience wants.The heartwarming and hilarious video about the story behind his wombat mural, at the time of writing, has just pipped 30 million views on Facebook and attracted oodles of press attention. Google ‘Jimmi Buscombe wombat’ if you haven’t seen it.
Jimmi’s audience value his work enough for him to have reached, in a relatively short timeframe, the Holy Grail of artists and creatives: a full-time career that pays the bills.
He doesn’t have to work nights in cafes any more; he just cooks for the love of it. Art school snobs be damned!
The key to creative success
Meantime, you may not have had the same kind of ‘pure art-for-arts-sake’ success. Neither have I – and getting a case of ‘comparisonitis’ can really burn a man up. However, we need to get over that. You and I may never achieve viral internet fame. However we can find a happy path to a working life that brings home the bacon and provides creative satisfaction.
I know because I have had moments where this has turned out to be true. I once played in a band that had enough sales, we could have built a real business out of it.
Then I was publishing paid articles and blogs that resonated so well with people, I was able to build a huge email list of readers. Eventually, I was able to sell a pretty decent haul of ebooks and even attracted interest from a major book publisher. I messed that up too, but that is a story for another article about self-sabotage.
In 2016, I was invited to an all-expenses cultural trip to China, where I was employed writing theme music for an uplifting children’s TV show. For the last ten years, I’ve been able to create a decent income out of my passion for web technologies and marketing strategy. OK, this is not quite the same as becoming the next Tom Waits. But it sure beats waiting on tables – which I despised with a passion.
Looking back at these moments of success, I see that the string that ties them together each time. Whether on purpose or not, I found resonance with a paying audience when I made something creative that other people wanted enough to reach into their wallets and buy.
It sounds obvious, but honestly, it is key.
You have three choices
So if you are a frustrated creative bloke, where does this leave you personally?
Well, you can opt out. I am not sure this will leave you satisfied but it’s your call.
You can do ‘the sensible thing’ and get a non-creative day job and just pursue your creativity after hours. This could free you from the pressure of using it to ‘kill the beast’. This is a sensible option indeed. But I fear there are certain kinds of men, me included, who just find this super uninspiring. Also there are realities to consider. After working a 40-hour week, helping out with the kids and the household, and maybe exercising and socialising a little, how much time and energy are you really going to have to commit to your creative work? (Solution: don’t have children – OH NO! TOO LATE!)
The final way forward is to find the activity where what you love to create, what you are good at, and what people want (enough to buy) intersect.
Look around. What are people spending money on that you might like to make or do? Which things have you made or done that got the biggest positive reaction from people? What have you actually managed to sell?
Do more of that.
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