I was doing some errands downtown yesterday and ran into a friend of mine who creates commissioned artwork. After visiting for a couple of minutes, I asked her about how business had been lately.
She shared with me that, when it comes to selling someone else's goods and services, she does just fine, but as soon as the time comes to sell her own artwork to her own clients, things often get awkward.
She feels stuck, constantly running into the same old hangups. The art part is easy; it's the money part that trips her up. It isn't easy to set expectations and communicate the value of what she has to offer, and there often comes a point in the process where many of her clients balk at spending money.
She's been doing this work for quite awhile now and hasn't been able to get past these problems. It isn't for lack of trying new things. She's poured a lot of time and money into business education in her field of interest. She's listened to the stories of others who are doing things in ways that seems to work really well for them, but she hasn't been able to make those ways work for her.
I know exactly what she's talking about because I've been in the same place. There's a big difference between knowing where you want to go and knowing how to get there.
For many people, talking about money and art is theoretical, but I have a lot of friends for whom this issue is very real, a source of ongoing stress. About a year ago, I started intensively reading and researching about the relationship between art and business.
My wife and I make most of our living from artistic portrait photography. We have four kids to feed and clothe, so I'm constantly trying to understand how we can better relate to money and business in a way that frees the two of us up to be both fully artistic and fully profitable. It feels like a tightrope most of the time.
My desire is to have a thriving business that allows me to be creative and do meaningful work, and I want to be able to pass on to my children healthy perspectives about work and life purpose and business. I want each of my kids to be free to use their unique talents to have impact on the world around them.
There are so many people who try to make a business out of their art and end up burning out and feeling hopeless about a making living through creativity. There are also a lot of people who long to be an artist "someday" when everything aligns just right with each part of life, and they live with a quiet, painful longing inside.
The subject of art and money is complicated to address because we as humans are so multifaceted. There is the part of me that takes care of my survival, another part that wants to grow and help others, and a part of me that is scared to put anything out in front of the world for fear I'll be judged.
Yet another part of me has developed all kinds of strange ideas and beliefs and instincts about money. I'm afraid to be broke, but I'm also apprehensive when I think about the possibility of being wealthy. I have plenty of unconscious thoughts rattling around inside of me about money. I have thirty-six years worth of money-related experiences, role models to emulate, and sayings from the people I trust.
Most of my life, I've been like a squirrel. Squirrels run around in the fall, hiding nuts and seeds, saving them for winter. They also eat a lot to insulate from the cold and store energy for times of scarcity. Squirrels act out of instinct. They don't have a quota of food to stash; they just keep doing their thing until the season changes and it's time to transition from gathering provisions to using them up.
As humans, our actions are not solely based on instinct, but when survival is on the line we usually default to whatever feels like the safest option based on past experiences and the beliefs we hold subconsciously. Fear, anxiety and desperation are powerful motivators.
The artistic community is full of people who care about others and long to encourage change and bring hope and meaning into the world. My purpose with this blog is to help as many artists as possible find the freedom to create and share their work.
The idea of being a lifelong artist is about making art a priority in each season of life. Why should money be a factor in whether someone is an artist or not? Art was around long before money ever showed up on the scene. I want to see artists be served by money rather than be hindered by it.
This post is a bit different from the others I've written up to now. Instead of sharing my thoughts on an idea, I'm writing this post to start a conversation. I want to connect with you and hear from you. The subject of money and art is complicated, so I've been having a difficult time knowing where to get started writing about it. I have dozens of ideas and I'm not sure where to begin.
If you would be up for helping me find a starting point, leave a comment below and tell me about the number one issue you have with money and art in your life these days.
Maybe you're struggling with the idea of starting a business selling your creative work. Maybe you've had people tell you that your art is too expensive. Maybe you are feeling blocked in your art because money is in the equation.
Whatever it is, I want to hear from you about any tensions or pain points or observations you have about the relationship between art and money in your life. Your comment can be a single sentence or a short novel. Either way, it will be a big help to me.