Talking about your work in a public space is a necessary part of being a successful artist. Depending on your personality, this may be uncomfortable for you or you may enjoy it. If you don’t talk about your efforts enough, you will fail to reach an audience of potential supporters, fans, and customers. Self-promote too much and people are likely to get bored of what you’re saying/doing and file your promotion efforts as background noise. Like many things in life, there’s a middle ground that should be your target.
The smart folks at NASA, in their search for habitable planets in an area that’s not too hot or too cold, call this middle ground the “Goldilocks Zone” after a story about a degenerate blonde who steals food of various temperatures from bears while trespassing in their home. She’s probably not the best example to follow, but the concept is sound. Think of speaking up about your work as “hot” and holding back as “cold”. Your target should be instead be warm or cool.
Humility is the soft side of your personality that allows others to connect with you. Being humble will make you a more likable person. Think of humility as open and accepting behavior. Humility is the withdrawal of your ego, creating open space. This reduction of your ego allows others’ egos to expand. Because expanding your ego feels good, being humble can be difficult, but it allows others to feel good around you as they expand their own egos instead. However, too much humility is bad business because you could just sit home alone all day, never interacting with others or generating anything to support yourself or your efforts. Humility taken to extremes leads to inaction and stifling of creativity. It’s not uncommon to find laziness in the guise of humility. People who are serious about being humble do things like take a vow of silence or isolate themselves to remote locations.
Arrogance is the hard side of your personality that allows you to make your way in the world. It is the expanding of your ego. Many successful people have large egos. If you want a job, it takes arrogance to walk into a business and tell the owners you can make their company better and should be paid to do it. It takes arrogance to strike out on your own and do what you love for a living. Simply believing in yourself and taking pride in your work is rooted in arrogance. Self-confidence, reliability, and agency all begin with arrogance. However, large egos have the potential to make others uncomfortable, and uncomfortable people will often find a reason to dislike you and your work. Too much arrogance will make you a social bore and turn other people off because your ego can get so large that it pushes others away.
The right mix of humility and arrogance is the best formula for self-promotion and social success with your audience. Calibrate your efforts to their level of receptiveness and needs. Like fuel and oxygen in an engine, too much of either will stall your efforts and prevent combustion, but the right ratio is fire.
In future posts, we’ll talk to individual artists and designers about how they engage in successful self-promotion.
Co-founder of Danger Press in 2004, J’s background is in corporate identity design, photography, calligraphy, illustration and marketing. He enjoys solving problems, negative space, brevity, black cats, and the color gray.