The manufactured vs authentic artist

Seth Godin has written an interesting essay on the difference between “manufactured” and “authentic”, which nicely illustrates a decision I had to face as a professional artist. I worked for many many years as a graphic designer, and even worked alongside Seth for a spell when I was the creative director of Yahoo!. It was a fascinating career, and one I loved for a long time. But as the years went on, my interest in it suffered, and my passion began to get worn down. The truth was, the job began to feel less “authentic”, and more and more “manufactured”.

When I started out, I had worked for small companies: a mom-n-pop newspaper, or a small software company. These companies were full of passion, and my job was to capture that passion and communicate it to the public. The authenticity of these companies fulliy engaged my creativity and spirit. But as my career progressed, and I began working for bigger companies, that passion diminshed. I found that the larger the company was, the more layers of insulation existed between the fire that forged its birth and the people who ran it from day to day. I began working for people who didn’t understand — or even care about — the authentic core of their own company. My job went from capturing passion to communicating bullet points.

Eventually I quit, both the job and the career. I decided that I no longer wanted to use my creativity to mainufacture someone else’s dream. Instead, I wanted to use my creativity to fuel my own business. I decided to explore my art, to explore my own “authenticity”, and see where it would lead. During the first year, there were many temptations to give up this authenticity and return to a more manufactured (and predictable) career: design jobs at start-ups, consulting gigs, opportunities to make stock photos, and so on. Luckily I resisted. Although the income was less predictable, I found that the closer I remained to my own artwork, the happier and more satified I was with my work. This has paid off, with my own business, Modern Ketubah, growing by leaps and bounds. When I talk with my own customers, I usually find that the authenticity of my work is what excited them about my product in the first place. In a way, I have returned to my roots as a designer, where my job was capturing passion. Only this time, it is my own.