What It Takes Pt 2: Sui Generis
What is it that makes you and your work utterly unique?
I’m yet to meet anyone who can comfortably answer that question. For starters it’s rarely just one thing. It’s usually a particular set of hard-to-define elements combined.
Those elements might include; the originality of your work, what you stand for, the collective or scene you’ve created, your viewpoint, that you’re the first to do something, a rare and notable talent, your unusual ideas, being the very best at something, your story, your attitude, or perhaps it’s something intangible.
For most people, it’s impossible to be objective enough about ourselves to know.
It might be something you’ve never noticed, something unintentional, or even something you wish didn’t stand out; but a gift is a gift, burying your head in the sand won’t make it disappear, and that information is golden.
Take whatever gold you have and polish it.
You might have heard something come up several times in the feedback people have given you. If not, ask someone to give you that kind of feedback. You have something special, we all do.
What it’s probably not, is your work on its own.
There’s a bullish resistance a lot of artists and creative people feel about this subject. That your work, the thing you’ve made, should propel your career forward on it’s own with no need for additional garnish. Which is simply not how most of our imaginations work.
When you go to a restaurant, every part of the experience influences the perception of the food; the way you’re treated, where you’re sitting, the menu design, the length of time it takes for the food to arrive, the decor, the other customers, the noise level, whether or not you can see the kitchen, the background music, the way the food smells, the size of the plate, the shape and weight of the cutlery, how the food has been plated, the colours on the plate, the wine, the lighting, the people you’re eating with and on and on.
Whether you like it or not, you are responsible for creating a context for your work.
The more you invest in creating a multi-layered and inspiring universe for your work to exist in, the more deeply people will be able engage with it. How much of your self - your story, your face, your words or your beliefs - you decide to incorporate is up to you.
That universe is where you can pull together the threads of whatever it is that makes you and your work so special, and intensify them.
It’s what you make AND the way you make it, who else is in your orbit, what you highlight or hide, who you collaborate with, how and where and how often you present your work, the wording of your press release and your presence online. The continuity and care you invest in every aspect of it matters.
It’s about creating an experience. Something special, something unique.
What generally happens when you don’t challenge yourself to do this additional work, is that you present something middle of the road.
Deep down, you know that there are corners you cut, signs you ignored, and challenges you backed away from. You could have gone further.
This isn’t what most of us sign up for. We want to finish what we’ve made and either ignore or hand over the uncomfortable bits we don’t like doing to someone else. But as we’ve discussed, it’s not their baby.
You can’t wish things worked differently so that you don’t have to do the work you don’t like.
Well you can, but if you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, you won’t.
Set up a mastermind session with one or more person in your industry who knows you and your work fairly well. You can offer to return the favour or do it over a meal (you’re buying).
Try asking them the following three questions; it’ll work best if you send them in advance.
What do you think is uniquely special about me and my work as an artist/ creative?
Which blind spots do you think I can develop or improve on?
Is there anything you’d love to see me try, which you suspect is outside of my comfort zone?