This conversation we’re going to have today is a very sensitive and uncomfortable one in many ways because artists don’t usually like to talk about money. It’s going to be a multi-part series on Art & Entrepreneurship. Should artists try to earn a living from their work? How much are you allowed to make when you monetize your creative work? When does making money from your creative work become a “sellout”?
All of these are “hot button” questions. Questions which many creative people feel uncomfortable talking about. while many more will engage in heated arguments over.
Stereotypes About Art and Money
So let’s start with the stereotypes? Why is there a belief that artists should be poor and starving? A belief that is so widely held by both creatives and non-creatives alike. Something which has become further compounded by the hard evidence of many struggling artists living in our societies.
It’s a sad stereotype – which has resulted in many loving parents steering their children away from pursuing their dreams in the arts. But a stereotype that persists in our societies, nonetheless.
Why Artists Create
So if this is a belief that is ingrained into the fiber of our societies, why do we creatives go against all the predictions to the contrary and choose to do what we do?
I can say for certain, I do this for the fulfillment it brings and I’m convinced it’s pretty much the same for many creatives. Creating is a soulful journey. It provides nourishment for the soul of the creator. Sharing our creative works with the world to enjoy becomes the icing on the cake for us.
But then sooner or later, we’re faced with the hard questions of survival. When we become very passionate about creating, we soon start to spend countless hours on honing our craft. Time which has been taken away from other money-earning activities.
When Money Becomes Part of the Equation
However, being an adult means having responsibilities which include financial ones. You’ve got to pay the bills. That’s just the way it works. It’s the price you pay to live. It’s a decision every creative needs to make at some point in their creative life.
How do you finance your creative life? Since many of us get into doing creative work to fulfill a passion we obviously don’t think ahead or plan how we’re going to answer this question until we’re faced with it.
Even when the question eventually comes up, we often shoo it away onto a book shelf to gather dust till the next time it comes up again.
Stephanie Halligan – a motivational cartoonist in a podcast interview with Jeff Goins (Best selling author of the Art of Work) admits that it took two mindset shifts for her to finally begin to accept that she had to make money from her creative work.
2 Mindset Shifts That will Help You Decide to Monetize Your Creative Work
Mindset Shift #1: “If you give you’re allowed to receive”. (A concept that is reiterated in Amanda Palmer’s TED talk – “The Art of Asking”).
In response to the question “How did you make all these people pay for music?” Amanda Palmer said: The real answer is,
“I didn’t make them. I’d connected with them, and when you connect with people, they want to help you. It’s kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists.”
The argument here is this. When you’ve poured yourself into giving and sharing your work and selflessly helped your audience in diverse ways, it becomes okay to receive their support.
It’s ok to make money from the creative work you share with them. Really, it’s fine to monetize your creative work after a while. In fact, they want to see you succeed.
They want you to give them an opportunity to support your work.
This really hit home for me. I hadn’t thought of it in this way before. But thinking of it now, it’s so true. I get blog readers writing to thank me for sharing so much with them and they’re literally telling me ways I can monetize my creative work and earn some money for all that I share.
Here’s a snippet of one such email:
“Your website and blog are terrific!!! Your free tutorials have us loving you!!! However, you could make some $$$ by …..”
Yes, I do get these emails asking me to monetize my creative work. But like the typical artist, I shoo them off to the bookshelf to gather some more dust.
What is noteworthy here is, when your creative work has been about giving, you certainly do get permission to also receive. In fact, your fans demand that you receive.
So the point here is:
- First you start by focusing on learning the craft, and honing your skills
- In the meantime, generously share your work and talents with others. (All of this is based on the gift economy notion that art is a gift to be shared with the world.)
- Then as part of the process of sharing, you build trust and you receive permission to make money from your work ( aka monetize your creative work).
Artists fall short by not providing their audience with opportunities to support their work
Where most of us artists fall short is when our audience starts wanting (sometimes demanding) to help us share our work to a wider audience, we don’t provide them viable opportunities to let them help us.
Here’s the second mindset shift that helped Halligan decide it was okay to monetize your creative work.
Mindset Shift #2: It’s Ok to make money in a different way, while you focus on building your creative business.
So first, you’ve got to make the decision that it’s okay to make money from your creative work. Then when you start to see your creative business grow, give it room to breathe.
Take on a second job as you build your art business so you don’t put undue pressure on your creative work. That way your creative business gets room to grow naturally.
Then you can transition to full-time art career when your creative business has matured to support you financially.
“I’m going to do that full-time thing but at the same time it’s just my job to exercise patience and make sure that I’ve got some money coming in from other things in the meantime so that I can support this growth.”
So what about the argument that making money from your passion kills the passion? Stay tuned for the next installment of Art & Entrepreneurship
Have you made the decision to monetize your creative work? If yes, what are the things you took into consideration? If no, why have you decided not to monetize your creative work? Let’s have a discussion. Shall we? I can’t wait to hear your views.
You may be interested in the other topics in this series
1: Making the Decision to Monetize Your Creative Work
2: The Truth About Art and Creative Passion
3. The Secret to Maintaining Your Creative Focus
4. Seven Practical Ways for Textile Artists to Make Money
5. Art & Entrepreneurship – Interview with Melanie Brummer (1)
6. Art & Entrepreneurship – Interview with Melanie Brummer (2)
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Vicky Gailey says
I see no problem with making money from one’s creations, nor with the amount of money one makes. There is, however, a difference between what you create being done as you feel and see it, and making something to match the customer’s vision. I suppose it depends on if, and how much, that bothers you as to whether or not you are selling out. It is a PERSONAL measure. If you are creating with a potential buyer in mind and still feel satisfied with both your process and the final product, there has been no creative compromise. And it is up to you how much you are willing to compromise if compromise is required. Some people have no problem with this, while others really struggle with it. (This also applies to other creative endeavors besides art, such as wordsmithery.) I guess I am saying there is no such thing as selling out unless the artist feels she has compromised her creativity. After all, the creativity is hers to do with what she likes.
So all that remains next is trying to get what you feel is a fair price for your product. I think deciding on a fair asking price should be arrived at just as you would decide a price for any product or service. (For quilters, Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry has written a helpful article on pricing one’s work at http://www.bryerpatch.com/faq/marketing.htm .) Pricing your work is helpful even if you never intend to sell it. If you make an itemized list of how you arrived at the value of a work, it can come in handy if you want or need to insure it.
Whether or not you should quit your day job, so to speak, to follow your art should be a decision arrived at with input from the rest of the family, as they will be affected by what is decided. If they rely upon you for their major source of support, that will be a primary consideration. I am not a believer that struggle makes one a better artist. In fact, I would say, not worrying about basic finances can free the artist to concentrate on his or her art even more. So, if you have to work a regular job in order to work on your art worry-free, it may be worth it until your art alone can support you. Life is full of consequences and trade-offs, and I see no reason artists should be exempt from these.
Clara Nartey says
Wonderful comments, Vickie. Thanks for your perspective and I agree with you on many of the points you made.
Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry is one of my fave textile artists and an inspiration. She creates awesomely beautiful work, she is professional, and she is very entrepreneurial – monetizing her work as she sees fit.