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Developing Auteur-like Attitude

Great artists tend to have a certain je ne sais quoi—an elusive yet attractive way about them—but the self-employed can rarely feel they can afford the luxury of such artistic sensibilities; however, nothing could be more important. The marketing conventions out there appeal to your insatiable desire to stand out from the crowd, but why struggle to fight off the competition? Why not try to rise above and strive to attract a crowd?

Skills and experience are the foundation of a creative business, but in the end they don’t matter as much as many would like to believe. I wish I could buck the trend here and tell you that talent and longevity are all you need to be successful, but I’d be lying. The market doesn’t care about talent in the same way a craftsperson does, and it sure does love to chase the new kid on the block. We’re exposed to mediocrity at an unprecedented level these days, so I’ll just assume I’m preaching to the choir on this one.

We live in a jacked-up creative economy. The labor market has changed dramatically these past few years and, due to a suppressed economy, affordable technology, specialized education, and fake money (credit), the market has been saturated with talent. Every new small business owner is likely more wet behind the ears than they’d care to admit. Naivete reigns if skills and experience are the only thing you’re counting on to differentiate yourself from the competition. Success requires taking a venture well past the realm of talent and pursuing, with great fervor, something deeper, something more valuable to your business in the long run. Creative entrepreneurs should strive to become auteurs.

When a creative’s style permeates their work to the point that they control every facet of their output, they have achieved a level of uniqueness that is definable and recognizable. An auteur has a discernible vision they can, in some way or another, claim as their own. This is very much a film industry term and, in that vein, Woody Allen stands out as an auteur. As a film director, his work consistently explores the same themes and notions regardless of the cast, setting, or script.

Comparing ourselves to an award-winning American icon probably isn’t the most useful exercise, but his example is potent nonetheless because we all know his work, regardless of whether we like it or not.

I value the lofty ideal of creatives wanting to become auteurs in their own right because it resolves the dilemma many artists prematurely worry about: whether it’s worth selling out to become successful. The real issue behind selling out is not a matter of whether you get a big payout or not, or whether one person’s ethics are in line with those of her peers; it’s whether you’re giving up control of your art. Determining the level of control that means the most to you is the mature way to assess a business opportunity.

Many creatives appeal to their artistic sensibilities by chasing their muse around dark hallways in the middle of the night or brooding in the way only an artist knows how to brood. But what if you spent your time and energy on something a little less mysterious? Get your hands dirty and evaluate your creative inputs; grind out your unique vision; establish your voice, your message, and your story; and put your ideas through the wringer until they’re repeatable and manageable. The results of that process will show the market who’s boss, and new challenges and opportunities will come knocking.

If aspiring to be an auteur sounds over the top to you, consider adopting what I call the street-wise auteur, the linchpin of author Seth Godin’s philosophy of creative business: “Be remarkable, generous, a creator of art, make the tough calls, and bring people and ideas together.” To grow a successful business, stop looking for inspiration and start the difficult work of transforming your craft into something truly unique and definable.

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