Artists. Are you a hunter in a farmers world? | Can we survive in a non creative system?

I can still vividly remember the cold dread of it. The shiny white plastic desks. The curled corner laminated yellowing posters on the walls. The vague smell of wee coming from the boys toilets next door. The icy squeeze of fear around my heart. The sinking feeling at the beginning of each lesson, knowing I would never be able to follow what was going on. Gazing out of the window across the playing fields to the trees beyond and wishing I was anywhere but here. .. This was C Block. My school maths classroom…

But there is another school room I remember. Full of light and interest. A calm place, with bunches of strange dried flowers in pots. Shelves of ceramics. Bright colour on the walls. Palettes stacked in the sink for washing and a smell not unlike baking eminating from the warm kiln. The school art room. My spiritual home…

Did you get into trouble at school for…

  • Day dreaming
  • Not concentrating
  • Fidgeting

Did you feel like an outsider.?

Another brick in the wall

Many artists have a very difficult time in the schools system. The education system is primarily there to create a compliant workforce for offices, factories and the industrial system. We often don’t fit in but we are made to feel that it is us who are wrong..

  • We emerge with our ego battered and the confidence knocked out of us. Our self belief is damaged
  • We are often told we are wrong/stupid/slow/unacademic/unintelligent/disordered.
  • We are often pushed into jobs that we are highly unsuited for because we are told “art isnt a real job. You will never get a job doing that. You can do art as a hobby”
  • Once trapped in these unsuitable jobs we can struggle mentally to stay afloat.
  • Our creativity becomes subsumed under the weight of everyday life and our creative light dims and flickers weakly.

A hunter in a farmers world

If, like me, you have always felt that your thought processes worked differently from the norm, especially when at school, I have found some interesting research recently.

Creativity may have a genetic component which has helped man evolve through creativity and language development. Research by Richard Klein, professor of anthropological sciences at Stanford University in California has pointed to the fact that…

A single mutation in a “creativity” gene less than 100,000 years ago led to the rapid development of art and culture and the ascent of Man, according to a controversial view of our early evolutionary history.

The mutation in a gene called “foxp2” – identified by British scientists in 2001 – caused an explosion in the complexity of language which underpinned the social and cultural revolution leading to the spread of Homo sapiens.

A fascinating book I am reading at the moment The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child by Thom Hartmann, posits that creativity is a component of a highly adaptive skill set traceable to our hunter gatherer ancestors. When our creative life force becomes too big for society, a creative mind can be mislabelled “disordered” or “disfunctional”, symptomatic of ADHD and drugged into compliance, but Hartmann’s book argues that these skills are in fact a positive which result in innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs…

IF we can just survive the school system and society in one piece…

Thomas Edison, the great inventor and creative mind, was expelled from school for behaviour which would probably have him labelled as having Attention Deficit Disorder. He went on to become probably the worlds greatest inventor, creating the electric light bulb, phonograph and motion picture camera amongst a plethora of innovations.

Leonardo Da Vinci was described as eccentric and impulsive and easily distracted, rarely finishing any of the paintings he started. Today he would very probably be labelled disordered and have a hard time at school… Back then he was recognised as a genius…

Hartmann describes having this creative skillset as being like “A hunter in a farmers world”, a very apt description of being an artist in society today.

Don’t be afraid to think differently…

Skills which aided our hunter gatherer ancestors, such as the ability to constantly scan the environment for danger, allow us to assimilate large amounts of information quickly and visually. We notice the details in life and can then combine them in non linear ways to make new and creative thoughts.

Our ancestors would have needed the ability to concentrate long and hard on finding food and hunting. We can discover this ability for extreme focus ourselves when we find something that truly engages us. Have you ever lost yourself for hours or even days in a painting and lost track of the passage of time, forgetting even to eat?

Conversely, the things that dont click with us are extremely hard to engage with {see my comment on maths lessons at the beginning of this post ;-)] and our creative visual mind will begin looking for other opportunities and brainstorming. {Cue getting shouted at by the teacher for daydreaming}

So why am I telling you this.

There are several heartfelt reasons for writing this post…

  • Because I have found it extremely interesting {and reassuring} to find research which describes in detail the way my mind works and explains a little of the possible historic background to creative thought and why we may be wired as we are. We are not the “weird arty kids”. We are the hunters who think differently. This is a GOOD THING.
  • Because it is an explanation as to why school may be tricky for those with creative brains.
  • Because too many creative people are told that their thinking is faulty when in fact it is society that is messed up…
  • Because too many artists are the square peg battered into the round hole in the education system and never manage to recover the initial joy they found in creativity as a child.
  • Because too many artists are forced into “proper jobs” which destroy their souls and make them ill, day after day, year after year…
  • Because it is never too late to nurture that creative flame and get it flickering brightly again, whatever your age.
  • And especially because we need to nurture the creativity of our children and help them find better opportunities and understanding than we were given when we were at school…

It’s not you… It’s the system…

The things that you have consistently been told are wrong with you, are actually YOUR GREATEST SKILLS.

The system is frightened of the kind of skills you possess and will try to supress them but you need to keep strong. They are the creative skills that are of VITAL IMPORTANCE in the emerging economy of the world. The education system hasn’t caught up with this yet.

Because the world desperately needs hunters, outsiders, and visionaries right now.

The people who have an unquenshable creative life force.The people who think differently. The people who have the vision of the way things could be. The people who don’t just toe the line and follow the status quo but who innovate and find a new and better way…

The creators. The thought leaders. The inventors, The entrepreneurs. The misfits. The shamens…

We have enough sheep. Lets go out and hunt…

Please share your thoughts and how you fared at school in the comments below…

NOW. PLEASE watch this wonderful, funny,  profound talk about creativity in the education system by the wonderful Sir Ken Robinson.


Image courtesy of

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SHOCK – The spirit of Christmas found in a beautiful simple little piece of marketing

Let me tell you an true Xmas tale…

Here in Yorkshire it has been snowing… hard. After a week of literally being snowed in the house {and the associated insanity this brings on} I ventured out into my local town to try and catch up with a little Christmas shopping.

It’s a proper little Yorkshire place, the solid buildings hewn out of golden stone. It has a bank, a butchers, a florists and all the associated hustle and bustle of a thriving Market Town. Under a hefty dollop of snow, with the main street lit by fairly lights it’s about as Christmassy as it gets. However, the older I get the more Scrooge like I get so I was dashing about, not noticing any of this, intent on getting to the bank and all the other tedious bits of general life that seem to escalate into lunacy in the run up to Xmas.

In the bleak midwinter…

For as long as I have lived here, a tiny woman has stationed herself outside the bank, selling “The Big Issue”. If you don’t know, this is a magazine, sold by the homeless to provide an alternative to begging. The woman stands outside the bank in all weathers {and in Yorkshire we really DO get ALL weathers and many of them are hideous} selling the magazine. I think she’s Eastern European and she speaks very little English. She may be a refugee from one of the hideous wars in the region in the past, but I’m surmising. She generally only has a thin coat and headscarf and looks freezing most of the time. But she’s always there…always polite and smiling and although I always say hello when I go to the bank, for some reason I have never bought a magazine from her…

Well today I must have had an attack of festive spirit, as when I came out of the bank I bought one of her copies of “The Big Issue”, shoved it in my bag, whilst tussling with a restive toddler and headed for home.

Finally I got to sit down with my coffee in front of the fire to have a thumb through the magazine [which is always a good read]. Along with all the magazine detritus that fell out, there was a small handwritten envelope with something I couldn’t quite decipher on the front. Intrigued I opened it and inside was a little Chrismas card. The message inside, written in tiny spidery writing, read exactly as follows:

To my coustmer. I am Lejla and my little girl. Merry Christmas. From Lejla and Dushanka xx

Well, that was me melted!

The Xmas card proudly joined my ranks of others on the mantelpiece and Lejla in one absolutely genius fell swoop of marketing had converted me from a stranger into a customer.

No longer is she “the homeless woman outside the bank who must be FREEZING in this weather” but a person with a name, a little girl and a story. She has made herself REAL, genuine and worthwhile spending money on. I will definitely be buying her magazine next time I see her and I’m sure her regular customers will continue to buy too.

So thanks to Lejla for reminding me of the spirit of Christmas and bringing a warm glow to my sometimes slightly Scroogy heart, and for also teaching a valuable marketing lesson.

BE REAL and CONNECT with your customers! They are the lifeblood of your business.

And thanks to you too, reader and supporter of this blog. Thanks for reading and commenting and just being there over the past year. I really do appreciate it. So it’s only left for me to wish you a very merry, wonderful and peaceful Christmas wherever you are in the world…

Merry Christmas

Helen x

Photo Credit under Creative Commons licence by pareeerica

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Rock your Online Art Business – Lessons From Gnarly Rock Gods

Now anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I’m pretty much OBSESSED with a certain rock band. Far more than is probably right or seemly for a middle aged woman with kids.

The band in question is New Model Army who are based in Bradford, 10 miles from where I live, and to be honest chances are you probably won’t have heard of them. Go and Google them right now {ok, well, maybe when you have finished reading this post}. You’ll be glad you did.

NMA have been a successful band in various incarnations, lead by the majestic Justin Sullivan for nearly 30 years {!}. They don’t have Lady Gaga sized commercial recognition {thankfully} but My God do they have a passionate following of dedicated fans! They sell out gigs all over the globe and have created a world which allows them to follow their artistic vision, get paid for it and continue doing it without compromise.

This constitutes pretty much the ideal artistic & creative business success in my book…

So I started to think that I should look into these CREATIVE BUSINESS HEROES in a bit more detail to bring all this condensed rock knowledge to those who haven’t heard of them as I think they are a pretty perfect example of a great creative business in action. What the hell have they been doing right all these years to make it so far? Which of their ideas and methods can we pinch and apply to our own artistic businesses because these guys must KNOW STUFF right?

So without further ado I present…

The Rock God guide to running an extraordinary creative business.

It turns out NMA {and original manager Joolz Denby} have known the most important thing all along… the key element that any artist needs to concentrate on with their business, both online and offline.

New Model Army understood the power of TRIBES right from the start.

Long before even the BIRTH of the internet. Long long before the wonderful Seth Godin articulated the concept in his must-read book Tribes – We Need You To Lead Us they understood what the bottom line was…

You can become successful through genuinely connecting with an interested and passionate group of people who share your ideas and values.

New Model Army and bands like them have always understood the power of the Tribe. With music, art and any kind of creativity it’s all about finding YOUR TRIBE, YOUR PEOPLE, the folks who LOVE what you do and can’t get enough of it. The guys who will queue round the block late into the dark rainy night to buy tickets for your latest gig. Who will trek half way across the world to see you play. The ones who will wait poised to buy your latest painting when you release it. These are the people who strongly identify with your work and artistic vision and resonate with it down through their very soul and into their boots. If you talk to someones soul they will walk to the ends of the earth for you.

These are the people you need to ATTRACT to YOUR creative business.

So, how do you do it? Before the invention of the internet, bands created mailing lists of fans and kept them up to date, with photocopied mailshots through the post, all with the aim of growing and keeping their Tribe together. Now email makes all that so much easier and cheaper and within the reach of any artist. You can keep finding your people, keep growing your email list, keep increasing the size of your Tribe.

  • Takeaway
    Reach out and start connecting with YOUR Tribe – If you don’t currently have a mailing list you need to start one right now. You don’t even need to have a website yet to do this. You are missing all these great people you meet both online and offline and will probably never see them again. Think where it could get you and your art in just 2 or 3 years time if you start collecting their details now and keeping in touch, let alone 30 years.

And there are other pearls of creative business wisdom to be gleaned from these guys.

Steer Your Own Ship. You might end up as a mangled corpse on the rocky shore of fate but at least you are in charge of the route…

NMA saw the way the internet was changing creative business, escaped from the clutches of the corporate record companies and set up their own, ensuring that they owned the copyright on all their material, allowing them to control their work and the way it was sold, packaged and distributed. No more being controlled by large scale corporate businesses who can only ever have their own interests at heart.

  • Takeaway
    Keeping control over your own work and creativity is essential for any artist and the only way to creative freedom. Make sure you maintain copyright on all your work and always work for yourself {or aim to get there}.

Wear bloody clogs if you want to. Sod the Jimmy Choos.

Never ones to follow fashion NMA were pilloried by the music press for their anti-fashion stance and love of bluff northern working class clog footwear but they ignored it and just kept on doing their own thing and creating work that they believed in. Those bands who were the hip flavour of the month fell by the wayside many years ago as their star fell out of fashion and NMA just kept on trucking for all these years.

  • Takeaway
    Always create work that you believe in, no matter what is “hip” and “cool” now. {Yeah – by using those words I’m demonstrating just how deeply uncool I am}. Trying to chase whats hot now turns you into an also ran along with zillions of identical others. Be yourself, stand out and forget what is flavour of the month. Original is far far better than “cool”.

Don’t stop moving forward or you become a dead shark

New Model Army don’t rely on their music back catalogue unlike most bands who have been around a while. They are constantly writing and releasing great new music which attracts new fans and keeps their creativity fresh.

  • Takeaway
    This is of prime importance for artists. Don’t stagnate, keep moving forward, keep trying new things and creating new work. Only by doing so can you keep your work fresh and keep your enjoyment of your creative process alive.

And the moral of the story is…

To achieve all this, COMMUNICATION is the key factor and of course THE INTERNET rides to the rescue. NMA may have started out with paper & post mailing lists in those dim and distant pre-internet days but now the web allows them to do all these things and communicate with their Tribe much more easily & cheaply.

Their website is the hub of the Tribe where a strong forum based community go to chat and keep in touch. The site keeps their people in touch with their tour dates, collects more names on their mailing list, sells their music & DVD’s [all of which they own copyright on of course] and their online shop sells a vast range of merchandise to a global audience.

Their website holds all these elements together and is THE HUB of COMMUNICATION.

  • Takeaway
    Any artist wanting to sell their art online needs their own HUB website as a focal point of their endeavors through which they can publicize their artwork and share their artistic vision with their own Tribe.

YOUR TRIBE is out there waiting for you to share your artistic vision… How are you going to communicate with them?

If you liked this post please get updates via my feed or check out the related posts below.

10 Crucial Reasons Why Every Artist Needs Their Own Hub Website

Simple tips to increase your mailing list signup at gallery exhibitions & craft fairs

And make sure you visit to see all these ideas in action.

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