Many people look at arts and artists and form an immediate judgment. Weak. Unattached. Odd. Rebellious. Unique. Hippy. Soft. And similar notions of the non-warrior.
Let me just set the record straight. This is not the truth.
Artists ARE warriors. Maybe not in the traditional sense of strapping on armor, taking up swords and guns, or the like. But we still gird our loins to do battle.
In high school, there was (and I am guessing probably still is) a major gap between artist and jock. Jocks would get letters for their sport and proudly don letter jackets.
My school was rather progressive, and you could also letter in band, choir, and theatre. Thus, I had letters in choir and theatre — and proudly also donned a letter jacket.
Walking down the hall one day, two football players more than six inches taller than me paced behind me, sniggering at my letter jack. Under their breath, they were all, “letters in choir and theatre. Huh.”
I turned on my heal, faced them, and said, “and you have letters in what, now?”
They didn’t expect that and froze. I grinned, turned around, and continued on my way.
That story aside, artists are still strategists. Especially professionals. Why? Because to achieve anything in this life — even success as an artist — you need to have a strategy.
Strategy is how you set goals
Let’s say that you have a brilliant idea for the next Facebook. You know that it’s incredible, and it would both be super popular and make you millions, if not billions of dollars.
You have the idea. How do you turn it into reality? That’s where strategy comes into play.
There are all kinds of steps you will need to take to achieve the desired outcome. You’ll need to get help coding to create the social media site, marketing assistance to promote it, and probably financial backing to even get those balls rolling. Reaching that end goal requires strategy.
Lots of people automatically think of war when it comes to strategy. But it applies to numerous other aspects of life.
When you are a professional artist, you must strategize to achieve commercial success. This can take a lot of different forms. As a painter, you start with the vision of how your art will look, need to get the right canvas or other medium, paints, brushes, and other tools. Then, once the art has been created, you need to market it yourself or find marketing assistance, get into a gallery, set up a website, and so on.
As a writer, I get a story idea. Then I need to write the story, edit it, format it, publish it, market it, and take other strategic steps to make it sell to allow me to earn my living.
But then shit happens. Outside forces impact you in some unforeseen ways, and you need to alter the approach for your strategy.
Now we’re playing with tactics.
Tactics are how you adjust on the go
I have been practicing medieval rapier combat (fencing) for nearly 30 years. In the organization I do this with, we do melee combat — mock war-type scenarios. Some of the largest battles are across an open field with more than a hundred combatants to a side.
There is always a strategy for the overall battleplan. However, we have an important rule — no plan will survive contact with the enemy.
When you expect them to attack straight down the middle — and instead they flank to the left — the plan has hit a snag. The strategy intent on the specific outcome hasn’t been removed — but needs to be changed.
That’s where tactics come in. Plan ‘A’ flopped, now you go to Plan ‘B’. Adapt and overcome.
This is why a strategy needs to have specific benchmarks — but not be so rigid as to have no room for adaptability. And this is true of all aspects in your life.
My goal is to earn a living as a writer. My strategy to achieve that goal features plans to be implemented day to day. Those strategic plans are how I intend to get from here to there. But since numerous factors outside my control could alter aspects of this — I will need to change my tactics.
The thing is, a tactic needs to remain within the overall strategy. If, for example, my goal is to earn my living as an artist — but when I hit a snag I shift tactics in such a way that I am no longer heading for that goal — this changes the overall strategy.
This is why a tactical retreat is a thing. You may not desire to give ground — but it might be the best option at the time.
Strategy and tactics in everyday life
When you set the plan for your day — you have strategized.
On the way to work, when traffic is surreal because of an obvious problem, choosing an alternate route is the tactic. The same end goal — new approach to it.
For some people, thinking in these terms creates a directness that provides them with a solidity they might otherwise lack. Professional sports are all about strategies and tactics. So is warfare. One of the reasons for the popularity of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is because of how applicable strategy and tactics are to everyday life.
Because of the implied, often misjudged softness of the arts and artists, taking this more direct approach adds a layer of power to what you do.
Let’s face it — choosing the arts for a career path is challenging. Not just because art is so subjective, but because of perceptions about the arts and artists.
I’m not a bestselling author (yet). Presently, my earnings leave something to be desired. But this is the path I have chosen — and I believe in it.
Still, even friends will from time to time snicker and make a quasi-derisive remark. I think that’s just part and parcel of how arts and artists are viewed.
For every successful artist, there are probably a dozen unsuccessful ones. For all the bestselling, million-dollar-earning authors, there are dozens of authors earning a living — but not nearly at that level.
Choosing an art as a career path requires an overall strategy and tactics along the way. This assertive approach can make a real difference not just in your attitude and technique, but in how it’s perceived by others.
But this is more for you and strengthening your faith and belief in yourself than for the perception of others.
You can only control yourself and your life via strategy and tactics
Whatever you choose to do in life — the only control you have is in and over yourself. While the perception of others can be important, it’s not something you can use to set the bar. Perceptions change, are unique to all, and are totally outside of your control.
The strategy and tactics you employ are only about you and your choices. Strategy and tactics are surprisingly important to the arts because they form the map for getting from creating the artwork to selling the artwork.
Hobbyists do their art purely for the joy of it. Joy in the work of the professional artist isn’t less — it just requires focus outside of the work to create. Strategizing that process and having tactics for necessary adjustments opens the valve to let more joy flow.
And that is why strategy and tactics are part of the creative process of a professional artist. Recognizing this makes for stronger, more useful tools to seek and find options and choose what you need to succeed.
Kick ass, take names, and develop and employ your artistic strategy and tactics.
Originally published at https://www.mjblehart.com on May 8, 2021.