You can’t judge creative work by Sales

Or Likes, Hearts, Views, Shares, or any other type of metric.

That’s a difficult idea to reconcile, because these metrics can influence how much energy you spend on your work. For example, if your work generate enough Sales, then you can draw a Personal Income from it, which then makes you a Full-Time Artist. (Congratulations!)

Hell, one of these metrics might even be the reason you started making work in the first place. Maybe you started your creative practice as an attempt to escape your full-time job or as an added income stream. These metrics were the point!

Of course, at some point, your Sales might decline, and you’ll start to worry. Even if the market was tanking, you’ll feel like the work is responsible for this. You’ll feel like your back is against the wall, your desperation will grow, and the work will suffer. You’ll suffer.

You can’t judge creative work by Sales. 

Businesses used to be able to cross-subsidize less popular work. William Deresiewicz writes:

In the past, one of the principal ways that the culture industry supported more subtle or thoughtful or artistically ambitious work was through cross-subsidization. The entertainment paid for the art: the thriller supported the poetry, the pop star supported the girl-with-guitar, the blockbuster floated the art-house division. Magazines and newspapers were themselves a form of cross-subsidization, with the fashion features or the sports reporting making possible the fiction or the deep investigative piece. So were albums: the “single” up front, for the radio play; the “deep cuts” for the art and soul. But now it’s every tub on its own bottom. Everything has been unbundled; every song, every story, every unit must pay for itself. No more deep cuts.

The current industry and infrastructure pits each work against each other. You can make a choice, in your mind though, to define what success looks like

You can’t judge creative work by Sales.

Once you accept this idea, you give the work its best chance to present itself. You’ll be forced to create your own definition of success, to set a mission. You’ll give it what you can, you’ll focus on the process, and you’ll be able to work on it with productive gentleness. You’ll find your comfort, which will enable you to be more vulnerable, which will enable your work to genuinely connect with people.

As Rory Sutherland writes, “To put a value on the digital world by only tallying the money that changes hands is a little like trying to place a value on sex by simply measuring the amount spent on prostitution.” 

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