What Happens When Artists Rule?

There's a school of thought that says when making and then selling something, people don't care about how or why you make it the way you do--they just want you to answer the question, What's in it for me? It's likely true for some people, probably a personality thing, but I am a values-oriented person and I can't imagine I'm alone in this. The how and the why matter immensely to me--it's why I buy organic and free range and free roaming food and support farms with humane practices. I pay more money for these items, and not just for their superior flavor and nutritional content. There is a kind of work in the world I believe in supporting, other values-oriented people I believe in sustaining.

Maybe this is why each time a new release draws near, I'm always compelled to pull the curtain back and let you see a glimpse of how we do things and why we do them that way. The curious among us can read on.

Almost everything we make has official and unofficial titles. For instance, something that might be called, say, The Gift of This Moment may have an unofficial or working title like, How to Feel Less Fucked Up and Alone. Maybe we'd sell more if we just stuck with those unofficial titles, I don't know, but I do know that they help us keep our eye on the ball during the making. To remember what we're up to and why. 

Similarly, the official tagline you'll see on a Jen Lee Productions banner right now reads, Hold the possibilities in your hands. And that is part of what we stand for, for sure. But an unofficial tagline has been keeping things clear behind the scenes in the making: Artists rule.

Like many things we create, I started down this path of independent media production because I was frustrated--frustrated with the ways we have undervalued wisdom and allowed systems to flourish that diminish creators and wisdom-keepers. I dreamed of a way to make things that would pay artists more than mere cents for the culmination of years of living and cultivating and researching and developing. A world where authors would get to name their own books and get to be a part of the process of making and shaping and designing their work, where they don't lose creative control to vetoes from the marketing department or a big-name bookstore that threatens not to carry their work unless they change the title.

We all know that what we really respond to are authentic voices, but I don't believe projects we run through such severe interference emerge with that authenticity intact.

What's the remedy? Letting artists rule. The work is the way the work should be, even if we're hours from going to press and we decide no, those interior photos really don't work in black and white. If they must be in color to retain their power and beauty, then in color they shall be.

Some content is well-suited for book form, and in those cases it becomes a book. But the concern and consideration that most drives me is transformation. I'm not asking, What will people buy? I'm asking, What way of interacting with this content will be the most transformative? The greatest shortcoming of books is that we are passive in our posture towards them. We generally hope that they will do something to us: entertain us, inspire us, give us the magic recipe we've been missing to have the life of our dreams.

But my journey has been more heavily influenced by a deeper kind of work--one in which I am interacting with the material and really reflecting and seeing things that I can no longer not see, things that change everything forever. It was while doing a writing exercise in The Artist's Way--not while reading it--that I had a realization that ultimately culminated in our move to New York City. It changed the direction of my work and our lives. A few months after arriving, someone was visiting me and saw the book near my bed. Oh, I read that book once, she said. I think I'll go back and 'do it' after I retire.

I almost had to sit down. What if I had just read that book, like it was any other? What if I had waited until retirement to take the time to listen to myself and hear what I most want? She had read a book and thought, That's nice. I had really interacted with it in a way that shifted my life's trajectory.

This story is not ever far from my mind when I'm writing home study courses: work that is active and invites you in to play with it, to experiment, to wrestle with the more difficult parts. The same ethos drives the home retreat kits. Yes, being in person, presence-with-presence is the most transformational way to interact with the material. But what if the logistics of that are out of reach? What's the next best thing?

When we began talking about Liz Lamoreux's new project, we quickly learned that the solitary nature of some of her practices for reflective living were not well-suited to the group format of a live retreat. At first I thought we would make a binder and CDs, as we had for Finding Your Voice and Telling Your Story. Our companions for the journey had powerful, rich experiences with them, and we knew how to make them--it would be a breeze.

But we weren't far into our discussions before I could hear that the binder would not be a good fit for this project. What we needed instead was a meditation journal, a separate poetry collection, and a field journal and photo album. We needed an audio CD with Liz's teaching and stories to walk our companions through the practices, and some audio meditations would be helpful, too. And that is how we build a project, piece by piece, form following function and not the other way around.

It's not inexpensive to make exquisite things in small batches, compared to what it costs to manufacture something you see for sale in Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. But in our case you know that your funds support the artists directly, that they receive more than mere cents from your purchase. Much of the work we offer is free, but every now and then we come up with a way that we can give you the best of what we have to offer in a form that allows you to give your support in exchange. We have not produced a resource yet that was not years in the making--years that we would not have had to pioneer these frontiers and then be your guides along the way if our financial circumstances did not and do not continue to allow it.

What happens when artists rule? Dreams come true. Next week (6.13.12) we release our latest project featuring the warmth and wisdom of artist, author and teacher Liz Lamoreux. We're in the dreams coming true business for artists and visionaries, and we hope you'll celebrate this one with us.