Let’s read that again, shall we?
The best thing about your art is that it’s not for everyone.
While deeply true, this is definitely one of those lovely-in-theory-difficult-in-practice sentiments.
When people don’t like our work…
When they don’t understand it or don’t understand us…
When they unsubscribe or unfollow us…
it feels personal.
Social media is designed to make it feel personal. Social media platforms are quite literally built around addicting us to the feeling of being liked. Unfollowing feels personal because the system—and it is a system—is more profitable the longer we’re in it, and they’ve figured out that the more “liked” we feel the longer we’ll stick around. Unfollowing feels personal because millions (billions?) of dollars are being funnelled into engineering products where unfollow = identity crisis.
Social media is a system, and like many of the systems we rely on, it’s built for the many on the biases of the few. It’s built to serve its makers and funders, not its users. Remember that. These platforms and their algorithms aren’t here to serve you or advocate for your best interests. These platforms are built on bias and fuelled by optimization. And your art… your art is not here to be optimized.
Optimization = how can I make this for everyone.
Art = how can I make this for someone.
Optimizers are in it for quick wins. Artists are in it for the long haul.
When we’re not getting the traction we want as artists, it’s tempting to water down our message. To file down our edges. It’s tempting to believe that if we make ourselves easier to digest, easier to put in a box, easier to understand… Then we’ll be liked. Then we’ll be able to make the change we want to see in the world because social media has taught us that volume = impact.
Here’s the thing…
Social media is built for the middle. Algorithms are designed to bring us to the middle. Optimization teaches us how to play to the middle.
But your art? Your art doesn’t belong in the middle, because change doesn’t happen in the middle. Change happens at the edges. We need you to take your art to the edges because we need the change your art can make.
Artists are change makers.
It’s a simple (notice I didn’t say easy…) game of risk vs reward. Playing to the middle is safe. It’s comfortable. There are roadmaps to follow and people to blame if it doesn’t work out. But magic doesn’t happen in the middle. You don’t build something worth talking about in the middle.
The middle offers low risk and low reward. Hiding is easy here because we don’t have to risk showing up and being seen, and being responsible for the consequences.
You can’t hide at the edges. Playing big—playing to the edges—requires showing up fully, unapologetically as we are. There are no roadmaps, no proven formulas… we are accountable to no one but ourselves here. And that level of self-responsibility… Well, it’s scary as hell. Because playing big might not work.
But that’s what art is—art is making something that might not work.
When we reach a plateau in our work it’s tempting to pull back, to cast a wider net and optimize for the masses—to do something that works. It’s tempting to make something for everyone, to believe that the problem is that we’re not getting in front of enough people rather than not getting in front of the right people.
I’d argue that these plateaus offer the perfect opportunity to drill down. To get more specific, more raw, more pointed—more you—and watch who stays and who walks away.
It’s only by putting a stake in the ground, by saying, “This is me and this is what I believe in and if you don’t like it that’s OK” that we find the people we’re meant for.
We don’t find our people by trying to be seen by everyone.
We can’t reach anyone if we’re watering down our message for everyone.
We can’t change anyone unless we start by changing someone.
Art is about change. And the best thing about your art, well and truly, is that it’s not for everyone. Therein lies the magic.
If someone doesn’t like your work. Good.
If someone doesn’t understand your work. Good.
If someone unfollows you. Good.
It’s not for them. You’re not for them.
That’s fine. That’s good.
Let them go, let them make space for the people who want to be there. Social media is simply a way to bring people on your journey, so it’s important to only seek enrolment from the people who want to go where you’re headed.
Confidence is not about letting yourself be liked, it’s about being OK when people don’t like you.
I’m for you. I’m not for you.
Take pride in the distinction.
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