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Augmented reality artist creates sculptures using Bing search

Using the Bing Search API and a proprietary AR platform, an artist created sculptures composed entirely of dynamic search images customized in real time.

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The Power of Believing You’re an Artist

In How to Feel Good as a Writer: an Origin Story, I wrote, “It’s not our job to know all of the whys, whats, and hows of the future. It’s just our job to do the work.” “Doing the work” before you reach professional status in a creative field is often self-directed. Because it’s in
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7 Real-World Ways to Think Like an Artist for Better Content Marketing

"We make good sentences by starting with awful sentences." – Sonia Simone

Earlier this year, I wrote that I believe art plays a critical role in content marketing.

But what does that actually mean? When you think about it, what does that word “art” really mean?

“I’ll know it when I see it.”

– Random critic

For the purposes of this conversation, I’ll define art as an expression that can’t be made by an algorithm. It’s the creative spark, the unusual choice, the flare of personality, the moment of real human empathy and connection.

I believe it’s a serious mistake to think that marketing and art are somehow separate.

As Brian Clark has said for years:

“People who think art is sacred and marketing is dirty tend to be terrible marketers and marginal artists.

People who think art is irrelevant and marketing is about tricking people into buying shit they don’t need tend to be terrible marketers and worse human beings.”

– Brian Clark, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and the Art of Phony Marketing

While I’m defining art, let me go ahead and define marketing: It’s what we communicate that allows us to work with others. Advertising, social strategy, SEO, funnels, automation — they all need to serve that function.

Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that marketing was another word for lies. Don’t buy it.

Smart marketers don’t accept the excuse of “It’s just marketing” to hide the truth or produce crummy work that benefits no one.

Wise marketers embrace art as integral to what they do, as much as strategy and execution are.

Here are some observations I’ve made over the years about how artists work and how anyone can adopt a more artistic mindset.

1. Artists geek out over craft

“Creativity occurs in action: It is not a trait; it is something you do.”

– Bert Dodson

Get a group of writers together and you’ll hear a whole lot of geeky talk about structure, language, word choice, metaphor, and the serial comma.

Art is about your unique and personal expression of the world you see around you. But you can’t express what you see and feel until you master your chosen craft.

As a content marketer, you make a living with words. Dive into the disciplines that will teach you how to stitch words together in ways you haven’t tried before.

Study poetry. Study screenwriting. Study short stories. If you’re a podcaster, take an acting class or voice lessons.

The reason an artist’s life is so interesting and rewarding is that you never stop learning. When you master your craft at one level, new levels reveal themselves. The game gets ever more complex and interesting.

Any study of creative writing will benefit you as a content marketer. You’ll learn how to show, not tell. You’ll think more carefully about word choice. And you’ll learn the nuances that make for superb storytelling.

A writing workshop can be a great start, but there are also lots of wonderful books on writing well. Here are just a couple of suggestions — this is far from a complete list.


2. Artists protect their productive time

If you pick up a book about the work habits of creative people (I’m a bit obsessed with this topic), you’ll notice something striking.

Nearly all great writers, musicians, painters, and other artists tend to work in well-defined work cycles.

They nearly always have specific times of day set aside for creative work. They protect this time with a ferocity that can border on cruelty.

Often, this time is strictly reserved for what writers call “draft” — the messy, sometimes ugly part of the creative process where we take new ideas and work through them with as much craft as we can manage.

You need to be a bit brutal about protecting this time. That’s more important than it ever was, thanks to the seductive call of so many distractions.

Because, to be honest, a lot of days, this isn’t the fun part. This is the moment when all of those lovely dreams and ideas get turned into unsatisfying reality — on the page, the canvas, or the screen.

It’s where you face the dreaded, “The words on the screen don’t sound like they did in my head.”

The only way most of us ever manage to get anything done is simply to be rather robotic about getting to work. Uninterrupted creative time needs to get blocked into your calendar. You need to defend it — against your own resistance as much as anything else.


There are lots of excellent apps that help you defend your productive time. I like the Freedom app to protect me from my own worst habits.

Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a fascinating look at how different artists have used their time.

3. Artists embrace bad art

If we’re spending time every day creating something that doesn’t match our creative vision, how do we push ourselves to keep showing up?

Artists know that the way to create good art — maybe some day even great art — is to make a whole lot of bad art.

We’re looking for what painters call “brush mileage.” You’ll never be able to paint well until you pull a paintbrush through a certain amount of paint and onto a certain volume of canvas or paper.

We make good sentences by starting with awful sentences.

Writers, in my opinion, have it lucky. We can keep working on a piece until it doesn’t suck. Try that with a watercolor; you won’t be happy.

If we keep working on material that’s appropriately challenging, we’ll keep getting better. At first, your pieces may need a lot of editing time. As you mature creatively, your rewrites might get faster, but you’ll still find that genuinely good work needs the discipline of multiple rewrites.


In my experience, there’s no substitute for a thoughtful critique of your writing. Critique groups can be helpful, if (big if) the right people are in them. A well-qualified writing teacher or freelance editor is probably the gold standard.

If that’s not in the budget for now, find a friend or fellow content creator whose writing you admire and barter in-depth critiques for a task you’re terrific at.

4. Artists seek flow

Most of us have heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, even if we need to refer to Google any time we have to spell his name.

It’s all about that “creative state” — the mental point where time stops and we feel pure creative focus.

For us to find flow, whether it’s in rock climbing, flower arranging, or writing, we have to keep ourselves balanced on the edge between “too hard” and “too easy.”

When it’s too hard, we’re frustrated all the time and our thoughts get cramped. It’s hard to create anything new when you’re just angry with yourself.

When it’s too easy, we either become hacks, cranking out the same tired crap, or we get bored and start to become self-destructive.

The life of an artist is about constantly looking for that edge, and climbing back onto it again and again.


Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

(By the way, my best sources for how to pronounce his name say “Me-high Cheek-SENT-me-high.”)

5. Artists ask a lot of questions

Craft is about how skillfully you can express an idea. Art adds interesting questions to that expression.

Craft makes the work pretty. Art makes it meaningful.

Is that the best way? Are there other options we could explore?

It truly doesn’t matter what your topic is. If you ask questions — lots of them — you’ll start to come up with interesting answers.

Questions lead us to new places. They build cathedrals and pyramids and space stations.


Some of the most powerful questions you’ll ever answer will come from your audience. You’ll never outgrow the need to listen closely to your audience’s questions.

But in addition to those, consider these:

  • Why does the world look the way it does today?
  • What haven’t we thought of yet?
  • What’s standing so fully in our way that we can’t even see it?

6. Artists value pragmatism

“Creativity is a lot like happiness. It shows up when you’re thinking of something else.”

– Bert Dodson

In my experience, the stereotype of the “flaky artist” who’s out of touch with reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

If your vacuum cleaner breaks? Don’t throw it into the landfill; call your artist friend. She’ll know how to rewire it, she can resolder the piece that broke off, and she’ll tweak the switch so it’s easier to use.

Of course, she may also paint it deep red with a filigree pattern of pale yellow and silver polka dots, and add a sound system.

Art presents endless opportunities for recycling, rethinking, and pragmatic problem solving.

Lots of us quit the formal practice of problem solving when we stopped doing word problems in math class. Artists solve new problems every time they sit down to work.

Artists understand that it’s not enough to have some grand idea. We have to figure out how to translate that into something other people can see or hear or touch.


Our monthly content challenges are designed to give you pragmatic exercises to improve your craft and your creative output. You still have time to complete our creative challenge for January here:

January’s Content Excellence Challenge Prompts

And look for February’s challenges on the blog next week.

7. Artists actively seek an audience

Art begins in self-expression. But at a certain point, we have a deep desire to find an audience for our creative work.

There’s nothing wrong with making art to please yourself. It’s a satisfying way to spend your time.

But when we “go pro” — when we seek an audience — we begin to walk the tightrope between what we intend and what we actually communicate. Between our expression and how the audience sees that expression.

It’s a bit of a zen paradox.

Art is not about you. Also, art is about you.

Some art works well for a small number of people. Some art works well for millions. It’s your job as a creative professional to find the ones who get your message, then find some more people like that.

That’s why it doesn’t make you a “hack” to want to build the audience for your work. When you tell great stories, your stories become your audience’s stories. If a story is powerful enough, it picks up and walks on without you.


Helping you find a bigger audience is one of the reasons we’re here. You can snag a juicy library of free content marketing training here, including lots of resources to help you grow your audience and community:

The Copyblogger free content marketing library

And for the rest of this month, we’ll be talking a lot about how art (and craft) will serve your work. February will be a rich month of tutorials, techniques, and inspiration to elevate your content. We’re all looking forward to seeing you in the coming weeks!

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Are You a Marketing Artist or Scientist?

Image of Picasso's Guernica

Let’s face it, you already know the answer to that question.

Instinctively, you know whether you belong with the black-clad Bohemians sipping coffee and absinthe in the cool cafes, doodling in your moleskine and staring into space as you dream up your latest creation …

… or whether you’re more at home with the gadget-toting geeks, crunching numbers, running tests, comparing data sets and outputting conclusions robust enough to survive rigorous peer review. 

It’s not a conscious decision or something you can change — you know in your gut which tribe you belong to.

If you’re most comfortable writing a captivating blog post, interviewing a fascinating guest for your podcast, or storyboarding a cool video, chances are you’re a natural Marketing Artist

But if you’d rather optimize the keywords in the blog post, analyze the podcast’s subscriber growth rate, or split-test the conversion rate on the video landing page, you’re more of a Marketing Scientist.

There’s no right or wrong answer here — both paths can lead to success. 

The Marketing Artist’s way

If you choose this path you succeed as a marketer by making the most of your creative talent.

Whether you’re a writer, artist, illustrator, photographer, film-maker, musician, speaker, or other creative specialist, content marketing — one of the biggest trends in modern marketing — is your natural medium.

Here’s my definition of content marketing:

Media content that doesn’t look like marketing but functions as marketing.

Crucially, this kind of content has independent value — it should help people right out of the gate, whether or not they buy anything today. 

It needs to be original, compelling, entertaining, remarkable and/or useful enough for people to want to share it with their friends, comment and interact with the creator, and subscribe for more of the same.

And who’s the expert at creating this kind of original content? Umm, that would be you. 

Because creating media is what comes naturally to you, you have an unfair advantage at content marketing. You can write (or paint, or design, or talk, or play music) all day long, knowing there’s plenty more inspiration where that came from. 

And believe it nor not, companies across the globe are tearing their hair out right now, because they realise they need to start creating this kind of content, instead of bombarding people with the same old sales messages. 

That’s right: in the era of content marketing, your creative skills are in big demand. No wonder Brian calls 2013 the year of the online writer.

Your achilles heel

You love creating content — it’s so much fun, a part of you would happily do it for free. Which means you can get sucked into creating for its own sake, without stopping to measure whether it is actually getting you closer to your goals. 

Too much art, not enough science, and you could end up actually working for free. (Nothing wrong with that if it’s what you want to do. Just don’t kid yourself that it’s marketing.)

The rigorous science of marketing

As a Marketing Scientist, these are the tough questions you are hard-wired to ask — and equipped to answer: 

It’s all very well churning out blog posts and firing off emails and Tweets, but what’s the impact on the bottom line?

Are you targeting the right keywords?

How do you rank compared to the competition – and why?

What’s the clickthrough rate? The conversion rate? 

How well optimized is your sales funnel?

How’s the keyword density on important pages? 

What’s the ROI of your PPC campaigns? 

How about the time ‘invested’ in social media?  

Are your profits being eroded by inefficient systems?

You have the tools for collecting and analysing the answers to these questions. And the kind of brain that spots important patterns and extrapolates their implications for your business.

Once you’ve done the analysis, you know how to optimize your search presence, conversion rates, business model and processes, for maximum efficiency and profitability. 

You understand the pain of poor browser compatibility, and the pleasures of a well-executed eye-tracking study. 

You have the ability to take a popular website or piece of content and make it not only more popular, but profitable.

Your achilles heel: 

Logic and numbers will only take you so far, because business is fundamentally about helping people — and people are driven by emotions. 

To capture their attention, enchant them, educate them, build trust and authority, and get them to take action, you need to combine hard science with the ‘soft skills’ of an artist. 

Now, you need the best of both worlds to succeed

For a long time, it’s been possible to succeed by mastering either the fine Art or the pure Science of marketing. 

For every blogger who had such a passionate audience she didn’t need to bother with SEO, there was a PPC ninja who could get enough of the right keywords at the right price to make a tidy profit.

But the world is changing, and becoming more complex. Black-and-white distinctions are breaking down and competition is hotting up. 

Marketing Artists are discovering that their sizzling content is no longer guaranteed to bring them the same number of shares, subscribers, and sales as before. 

And a statistically significant percentage of Marketing Scientists is reaching the inescapable conclusion that they could exponentially increase the ROI of their PPC, SEO, and A/B testing — by integrating creative content into their marketing strategy.

Because the truth is, marketing is neither an art nor a science. It’s both.

And the present convergence of content, search and social means you can no longer rely on the emotional appeal of your art, or the logic of your data – if your business is to achieve its full potential, you need to combine the two disciplines.

If you’re a Marketing Artist you need to grasp a few fundamental principles of Marketing Science, such as keyword research and SEO copywriting, and what the data tell us about copy that converts

For example, as writer and poet, I’m firmly in the Artist camp. Blogging to attract links and shares? No problem. On-page optimization? For years, my answer was “Maybe later.” Then I started using feedback from Scribe to revise key pages on my sites, and was pleasantly surprised to see what a big difference a few small tweaks could make.

If you’re a Marketing Scientist you need to understand the principles of effective content creation – how to grab attention with a headline, hold it with a compelling story, educate people to the point where they become customers.

Like the PPC wizards who have stopped sending traffic straight to a sales page, and started sending them to an opt-in page for a valuable educational series, delivered via autoresponder, before making the offer — and seen their conversion rates soar.

If you can’t beat them, work together

Now, we’re not saying that a poet can reach the level of a professional SEO specialist, or that a data guy or gal will become the next Chuck Palahniuk Brian Clark. But that’s not necessary.

Simply by educating yourself in the basics of the complementary discipline, you can make big improvements on your current performance. And when you can ‘speak the language’ of the other tribe, you can collaborate with its members more effectively.

Copyblogger Media is a perfect example of a team of Marketing Artists and Scientists working together to build something bigger than they could do in isolation. (I’ll leave it up to you to decide who belongs on which side. :-) ) Maybe your team could benefit from a similar mix.

And if you need an extra little nudge to start talking to your opposite number, remember the growing importance of social signals in SEO. In the brave new world of search and social, Artists and Scientists are finding they can’t afford to sit at their desks and beaver away in solitude. 

The rise of Google Plus as a content-sharing, rank-enhancing, author-crediting, network-building social backplane means the brightest and most forward-thinking Marketing Artists and Scientists are both converging on a shared social space — which, happily, also provides an ideal forum for them to learn from each other.

So … which camp are you in?

Are you a Marketing Artist or Scientist?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of your preferred style?

What are your plans for balancing your style with the opposite approach?

Let us know in the comments …

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a coach who helps clients take a more artful approach to their marketing at Lateral Action. For bite-sized inspiration follow Mark on Twitter and Google Plus.

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