In the past thirty years what it means to be an artist has dramatically changed. 

Before the internet being an artist meant operating in a very specific area where the gatekeepers, critics, and ways of doing things were well-structured and defined. You as the artist plugged into this system if invited (most artists were not), and your work moved through a predictable process.

After the internet, that predictable process has been rewritten, reset, and even erased. The web digitized the expression and consumption of virtually all creative output, producing an abundance that’s changed what it means to be a creative person. No longer could we make it and forget it. Instead being a creative person meant becoming a self-marketer, an image-maker, a community manager, and many other new hyphenates that lengthened the artist’s job description.

To cite one example, a piece in the Guardian this week notes the pressures and expectations on authors have considerably grown in recent years:

“When Debbie Macomber, who has written dozens of novels since the 1980s… first started out, “all she had to do was write,” says Ashley Hayes, a marketer who began her career a decade ago on a team dedicated to Macomber.

“Things have evolved through the years,” says Hayes, “and now there’s just all of these things that authors are expected to do. They’re expected to have a website, a newsletter, be active on social media, have a plan for how they’re going to talk about their book. And a lot of authors just want to write the book: that’s why they became an author, not to do all the other stuff.”

I experienced this first-hand after I wrote a book put out by a big publisher. I spent 18 months getting the book just right. When I finished I thought my job was done. I was very wrong. 

Instead my job became to create as much content as possible to advertise the existence of the book. I did a lot of this — the book was conjugated into a short-form video, a series of standalone essays, discussions on many podcasts, and dozens of IRL events. But it never felt like enough, and I was often grumpy about it. Why did I have to spend as much time promoting the work as I did making it? That’s not what I thought being an author was supposed to be.

But as the rapper Tyler, the Creator notes in an interview that lives rent-free in my head, promoting our work doesn’t have to be a chore — it’s an opportunity for us to honor what we worked so hard to make:

“I know a lot of people who make things who don’t stand proudly by their stuff,” Tyler says. “I don’t know if they’re too cool or they don’t want to look thirsty, but they’ll put a song out once on their stories — and that’s it. 

"You went through something. You figured something out in a structured format. You recorded it. Not just one take. Parts and parts. You edited it. You mixed it. The label paid some kid to make an album cover and they made the cover. It’s a whole thing.

“And then you mean to tell me that you’re going to be passive and just put it on your story once? Are you crazy, bro?

“I’m still promoting an album that came out a year ago. I put too much time and energy into this finished project just to put it on Instagram and forget about it. No. Promote. Let people know. Be proud of what you made.”

I find myself tapping into Tyler’s fire constantly. Promotion isn’t a chore. It’s a gift. A chance for us to celebrate the effort we and others put into our work. We shouldn’t shy away from it or treat it like a burden. Relish it as an opportunity to honor something we worked hard to make that we believe in.

It’s also about promoting creatively. It’s not just saying the same thing over and over again. It’s also introducing layers of understanding and context around your work that are true to why you create. In an upcoming post I’ll dig into some specific examples of how to do that. Until then, inject Tyler’s passion into your veins and practice being proud of what you make.