Our Life in The Arts

Questions, reality, and musings on a life of joy and wonder

Vol. 1, No. 12

December 10, 2021


By Rich Holly

On the heels of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and with Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Festivus on the horizon, it feels to me like this is the appropriate time to discuss meaning.

This past weekend I had the amazing opportunity to reconnect with a friend I had not seen nor heard from in 41 and a half years. Wow, just wow. We picked up right where we left off. 

I became a grandfather for the second time a few weeks ago, and one of my coworkers gave birth to her first child just one week ago.

At NC State University, we’ve now completed the fall 2021 semester, on-campus, in-person, with arts events/classes/rehearsals/performances and audiences. And a (thankfully) extremely low level of COVID transmission on campus.

On the flip side, I remain disgusted and outraged at the near-constant lack of respect, regard, and love for our black and brown sisters and brothers. And women. And those in the LGBTQ+ community. C’mon, America. We can do better than this. We need to do better than this.

What occurs to me is that I am experiencing the relatively-new phrase “all the feels.”

In talking with several colleagues, students, and friends, I know I’m not alone. For me, the questions then become, “How will we use ‘all the feels’ in our artistry? How will we utilize these emotions, these sensations, to make art with meaning?”

Here’s a lesser-known Beatles song that, for me, really hits home:

In these lyrics, through this song, John is committing himself to use his artistry to spread love, quite possibly the greatest “feel.”

I spend a fair amount of time in conversations with my colleagues, with students, with nonprofit associations, and with professionals around the topic of “how do we get more people to recognize how fantastic our artistic work is?”

Time and time again, it comes down to telling stories and making the audience/reader/patron feel something.

You may not have yet embraced that you are a marketer when you’re in the arts, but you are. We all want our artistic work to be seen, to be heard, to make a difference. And the best way to do that is through “the feels.”

Rich getting to feel a lot of the feels with the NC State University faculty rock band, The Quadrivium Project. Photo credit: Robert Davezac.

I recommend you take some time to read articles and books about successful marketing strategies. Spoiler alert: successful marketing rarely relies on just the facts or a plea for sales. They tell a story, they evoke or create an experience, they bring emotions to the fore. Here’s one article on why Apple has been so successful – note how many of these reasons are designed to create a positive emotional impact within the consumer.

Of course, not all artistry has to be about love, or joy, or happiness. Many successful artists have relied upon despair, grief, social justice, etc. for what drives their work.

They key is that each of us needs to feel it, too. “Write what you know about” is a very common phrase shared with nascent authors. And the same is true for artists – create art about subjects you’re familiar with, in order for the meaning to come across and therefore allow your audience/buyer/patron to feel similar to you.

I hope that you have opportunities to feel all the feels, as I have. And regardless of which feel(s) you are most attracted to, let those be your guide to making important artistry to bring more meaning to you and the world.


Rich Holly serves Arts NC State and the NC State University community as the Executive Director for the Arts.

All posts in the “Our Life in the Arts” series are available here.