Friday, December 19, 2014

Clueless in Calcutta and the Plight of the Siloed, Solo Artist

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………."

I'd like to recommend to you a new novel by a long time friend of mine.  Content wise, it has nothing to do with our field (but as a project, it does), and I am writing about it for two reasons:  One I have known the author for over 40 years; he is one of my closest friends and I really loved the book (and if you can't help your friends, well………); and Two I'm fascinated by what he has tried to do to market his own work - much like so many of the artists we try to serve in our field.  My friend's effort is, for me as an observer, a first hand, up close and personal, attempt to navigate the marketing waters and to be creative in trying to 'stand apart' from everyone else.  And that is a challenge faced by artists of every stripe.

Clueless in Calcutta by Lou Vincent is a crazy romp - a combination of gonzo journalism meets the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera, with endearing, unforgettable characters, and an off the top, but not entirely implausible, plot of expats and senior citizens fighting the odds against the modern corporation guided by greed and the 'let the buyer beware' shield - all improbably set in Kolkata India where the hapless seniors are stuck.  Set just slightly in the future, the hero is a just out of law school lawyer, who just happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to President Barack Obama - on his way to India to what he only thinks is a relatively sure thing retainer, to help some people who got screwed by a major domo retirement community builder.  From the moment of his arrival almost nothing is as it seems, and virtually nothing goes according to plan. But for all the twists and turns and insanity, at heart it's really a sweet story - and a homage to the craziness that is modern India.  Mindless, escapist entertainment of the first order.  And very funny.

It would make a fabulous stage play or a Wes Anderson or Coen Brothers type movie, with shades of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - and it's right in that vein.  I can mentally cast it right now.  If those filmmakers are your cup of tea, then you'll probably like this book a lot.  If you're looking for some creative, left field escapist entertainment bound to leave a reader smiling - as a last minute Christmas present - or for yourself during the holidays when you might want to curl up for a day - I can recommend Clueless in Calcutta wholeheartedly.   Check it out on Amazon.

What's interesting to me is that, as a first time author, with virtually no chance of a major publishing house taking on his work, my friend has had to don the same hats most solo or contract type artists of any kind must adopt today - that of marketer, pr person, scheduler and salesman, distributor and more.  As a literary artist, his motivation was similar to all artists - he wanted to tell a story.  But as a 21st Century unknown first time author, he has had to do what many of those artists we try to serve have had to do.  He had to come up with ways to try to market his work.  And so he did.  Check out his -- entirely by himself --created website, humor testimonials, and even video pieces.  All very creative I think.  Today, every artist has to be a social media expert, a videographer, a publicist, and rack their creative brains to try to compete in a world where everyone and everything is competing for everyone else's finite attention spans.  And while they learn all those jobs, there is no guarantee they will succeed in widening the sphere of those even aware of their work; a big challenge we in our field can only hope to occasionally and marginally help to address with training and advice.   No matter how well we succeed in equipping artists to brave this new reality with skills and knowledge, and no matter how creative a marketer each of those artists may be, it's still largely a matter of the fates deciding their success.

I know this experience first hand.  I wrote a book several years ago entitled Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits.  I was fortunate enough to land a major publisher - McMillan and Co.  But as an unknown author, I was hardly on the top tier of their priority marketing / promotion plans.  I basically had to market it myself in the earliest stages.  That's not uncommon in the publishing world today.  In fact, publishers look for whether or not you have a platform and can get the ball rolling in deciding whether or not they want to publish your work at all, and they certainly look for your initial success before they will commit to any effort on your behalf.   I suspect the same is true in any number of other creative / artistic pursuits.  An artist is not just an artist.  An artist is also a business person.

On the one hand technology has given artists a fighting chance to have their work out there in the marketplace.  On the other hand, technology has made it a challenge just to attract an even small niche. While technology has opened a door to an ever widening array of creative product, it has also made it harder for any of that product to find an audience.  And the same situation may apply not just to solo artists but for arts organizations presenting the work of artists - famous and not so.

The challenge for us is to identify even more ways and means we might be able to help artists, and there are scores of projects and programs we have developed that try to do just that.  Still, the solo artist remain siloed and must often rely on themselves to try to make headway - most without any kind of budget.  And the same is likely true of our organizations as well.  This challenge is likely one of the single greatest challenges artists on their own (and we who serve them) face today.

To all you amateur (and professional) authors and artists -- and to all of the organizations working on their behalf -- keep doing it.  Tell your story - whether in word, paint, dance, voice, music or otherwise.  Be your own marketers and pr people, sell it yourself and learn and have fun in the process.  And may the fates smile on all of you.

And check out Clueless in Calcutta.

Wishing the Happiest of Holidays to everyone.

Don't Quit