Building a Mystery

I’m writing this post on Sunday morning. This past weekend, I attended Northern Voice, a blogging and social media conference out at UBC. There is much to process from the experience, so there will no doubt be posts to come, but one thing that kept coming up all weekend was the theme of “mystery.” Bryan Alexander talked about it in his Friday morning Keynote, and it came up again in the panel discussion I sat on about Art and Social Media. (thanks to everyone who came out, by the way!)

Darren Barefoot, me, Rachel Chatoor, Sara Genn and Deb Pickman. Photo by Landon Kleis, @landovan

What’s powerful right now about social media, and blogging (or vlogging or podcasting) in particular, is, that it allows you to go behind the scenes. It allows the reader or client to see what’s really going on behind the scenes in your business (be it an art business or otherwise). But here’s the thing: we as artists, are in the creativity business. And we can’t trademark or patent our creativity. This often causes concern amongst artists I talk to: if we blog/podcast/vlog about the process of our work, are we giving away too much? Or, as they referred to it at Northern Voice: lifting the kimono.

Creating a sense of mystery, or teasing our audience, is a powerful way to draw them in. Movies and books do it all the time with foreshadowing. They suck us in with a compelling storyline, and hint of better things to come.

I would argue that “lifting the kimono” is not going too far, and that, in fact, it can help to build a sense of mystery. There is no substitute for a live performance. Watching the ballet live can’t hold a candle to watching it on TV. Being in a tiny, intimate black-box theatre space and seeing a play where I can see the actor’s sweat will never be replaced by that same experience on film, because it can’t. The sense of awe I felt at seeing the Parthenon for real, something I had seen a million photos of, was immense. Seeing art live, for real, is special because it only takes place at that time and space. That exact experience can never be duplicated.

So, teasing our audience a little by blogging about what’s going on backstage, or doing video or audio interviews with the cast or the artist I believe will only help to bring more audience in. The process is fascinating, and people’s passion for their work is contagious.

It’s powerful. Try it for yourself, and see what the results bring.

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 8

  1. I think it may depend on the nature of the art being created. Some probably lends itself better to being more exposed, some not.

    This goes for businesses as well. I’m going through this right now in thinking about my blog and how much should be strictly about “business” and how much my approach to business and to life in general.

  2. That’s a good point, John, and I think that maybe visual artists might be more protective of their work than those of us in the performing arts. At least, that’s the impression I got from our panel….

  3. Hi Rebecca! I’m also still processing everything I heard at Norther Voice (also nice to see you briefly!)…will try and blog about it too. I totally agree with your theory here on offering just the right amount of mystery. It’s basically the equivalent to social media teasers….who doesn’t love a great trailer for a movie? It draws you in, captures your imagination and makes you want more and I think that’s what we can do. Also, I completely agree that those types of methods for drawing you in will never replace a live theatre/concert/art experience. I will never forget the first time I saw the David in Florence in person. It was unreal. That can’t be capture via a podcast or photo, but those things can sure make me want to go and see it for myself 🙂

  4. I agree about cultivating mystery, but I admit I don’t understand how this relates to the point about people still coming to the live event, or how that point is proven in and of itself. If what you say is true, why is the live theatre audience in constant decline overall? (I am a theatre performer, btw.)

    Not arguing, just curious about what exactly you mean.

  5. Hey, Kaitlin;
    Sorry, that could have totally been clearer. At the Art and Social Media panel, we talked about how artists are using blogging and vlogging to create behind-the-scenes videos that document the process they are using to create their work.
    The concern, of course, is that if we do that, we may be giving too much away. I think this applies mostly to visual artists, but it could apply to any of the arts.
    My point was, that I think using social media to create “teasers” can be a very powerful way of drawing in an audience.
    If live theatre audiences are on the decline, I think it’s probably for complex reasons. Certainly money is an issue, but also, I think that the younger generation just doesn’t think about going to the theatre. It’s not in their culture, for lack of a better term–live music, clubs, movies, dinner with friends, yes, but not the theatre.
    I think using social networking to help younger folks see that theatre is cool and interesting and edgy could be part of the solution. Vancouver has several young, twenty-something theatre companies that attract that kind of an audience.

  6. Now I really, really wish I’d been able to make it to your panel!

    I’m probably recapping what others who were there have already said, but I think one key insight here is that the transparency-versus-mystery choice is now a deliberate one, while in the past it was much more difficult to reveal the skull beneath the skin. The reach and ease-of-use of social media mean we can now expose processes more readily. I use Ustream.tv to invite people to watch as I cartoon (and I’ll sometimes solicit feedback as I go, but not always); I then post high-speed versions of those videos on my YouTube channel and blog.

    And this isn’t an all-or-nothing choice. I’ll often do my initial sketches offline, and many cartoons don’t end up getting the Ustream treatment at all. None of the initial conceptual work (“let’s see… what’s funny about Google Wave?”) is recorded or shared. Just how much of the process I share is still in my control.

    (Even then, there’s still plenty of mystery to go around. For most people, the very act of making a line do this, or a brushstroke do that, seems baffling and out of reach. Which is actually its own tragedy, but set that aside for now.)

    The idea is that these are deliberate choices. I just want to be sure I’m making them because of the impression and impact I want to make, and not, say, because I want to hoard information about technique or process. (I don’t think scarcity serves anyone well in the long run.) Whether it’s building an audience, deepening relationships or sharing information, a little exposure can be just as valuable as a little mystery.

    Great write-up – I can’t wait to see the video of the session.

  7. Thank you for the sharing that opens the eyes and awakes. It was good to read about how to draw our audience in. I think that the most powerful way (mutually beneficial) is to recognize ourself in the beholder of our art (in people next to us) Such mindset gives meaning to our whole being -free our relationships in order to enable us to examine not the shadows but the light beyond the pictures.

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