Art is the how-to manual for life.
It is a guidebook, a map for living a spiritual, high-vibe, joyful, juicy, beautiful life. It is the neglected, forgotten toolkit of our depressed, stressed-out, lonely generation. It offers everything people need right now.
Because art is what our culture so desperately needs but continues to either neglect or reject, we do a disservice to society by not properly selling the benefits of art. We fail artists when we fail to properly demonstrate the life-altering power of art to the masses. We fail our neighbours when we fall short of showing that art has the power to cure what ails them. We fail our communities when we cannot make art accessible – physically, financially, and intellectually.
Failure to sell the benefit of art is based on outdated models that presume people know two things:
What art is; and,
Why art is important.
What is art? The average art consumer (or potential art consumer) believes that art is something beautiful to be consumed passively. A symphony to sit through. A museum to walk through. But the artist knows that contained in every piece of art is a unique expression of the human experience for the viewer, reader, listener to engage with, extract, and use in his or her own life. A painting is a thing of beauty and a glorious, important contribution to the world for beauty’s sake – yes. But it is also a mirror and a set of instructions. The people who approach it see themselves in it, see the world they live in, and see the image differently. They search deeper within and question the world outside; they find answers and guidance. Art is the substance-free trip through which clarity can be achieved and the divine can be touched.
Art is important because it is therapy and coaching and visioning and processing all at once. It brings uplifting, jubilant laughter, meditative stillness, and invigorating and necessary anger. It teaches us the benefit of white space, the joy of absurdity, and the calm of order. It allows us – so buried under work and paper and paychecks and traffic and news – to touch the eternal, to feel the field of energy that resonates within us and unites us with everything. Art is the life-improvement tool our otherwise health-fascinated culture has overlooked.
We cannot connect people with art by simply waiting for them to awaken to its power. We cannot hope that by coming to a single concert, a convert will be born. We cannot assume that de minimus school art classes offer enough arts education to prepare human beings to properly engage with art at a level that offers them emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits. To get art to the people, we need to use the tactics of for-profit businesses and sell art to the masses. Despite the endless societal values of art we cannot treat art like a charity. We must treat art like something people should want because that’s what it is.
By treating art like charity, we treat art like medicine. We act as if children need their little dose of art in their school day, and like adults need the yearly little dose of art they choke down as they begrudgingly fall asleep through a ballet they don’t understand and don’t know how to engage with. When we sell the benefits of art, just as any manufacturer or service provider sells the benefits of their products and services, we meet the potential consumer where they already stand. When we deliver an exceptional service experience, we demonstrate respect for an individual who has spent hard-earned dollars to receive a benefit in return.
When we treat our arts organizations as for-profit businesses, we treat artists as valuable, benefit-creating members of our communities. We don’t pay them handouts for making art; we pay them for providing a valuable service people want and need. We raise the profile of artists in our communities by demonstrating to arts consumers that dollars are exchanged for the results of the work artists do. We encourage more people to pursue fulfilling careers in the arts by rightly “legitimizing” the industry in the eyes of consumers, which you can only do by demonstrating the incredible benefits these hard-working members of our community contribute – benefits people are willing to pay for, not just benefits the government and generous donors bestow upon the community.
The mission is to bring the arts to the people and the people to the arts, just as it always has been. But I challenge everyone in the arts to adopt a tycoon's mindset and sell the profound benefits of culture.
Sell art like our lives depend on it, because they do.