Ok, Can Artists Make Money?

We have all been duped to believe the romantic lie that all artists are starving, suffering for their passion to create beautiful things.  Is that true?  Can it be a lie?

Recently I spotted a new book by a favorite author, Jeff Goins, titled “Real Artists Don;t Starve”  and my interest peaked.  OK, what could he say that i have not already heard or thought?  I bought this book on Audible because i can often listen to the book as i am working on painting… and I tend to be wired to absorb content through listening while keeping my hands in motion.

“This is audible…..” The book began and from the start I was hearing content that drew me in.  He began with a story of an Art History professor who was researching some aspect of Michaelango’s work when he stumbled upon records – bank books and financial records of the artist.  The first records surprised him because of the large monetary values represented… and he kept digging.. All told Michaelangeo left this earth with the current day net worth of 47 million.  I would say that he was not starving by a long shot.  But why was this starving artist notion popularized, and why was he associated with it?

Jeff builds the content further, explaining this “starving artist myth” began in the late 19th century by a french writer who romanticized the lives of artists living in Paris.  Most were not starving, but he created a concept, which became popularized in books and plays.  And it seems to be unshakable today.

Like anything in life, Art takes work to develop, but it cant stop there.  Jeff helps us to look at strategies that worked with well financed artists…

  • Carefully develop your craft – put your heart and soul into it
  • Believe in who you are and what you are doing.
  • Hone a following – Develop friendships and relationships with those who resonate with your work
  • Dare to hone relationships with patrons
  • Keep the communications vibrant – and frequent
  • Set your sights on success – focus on it and just like when you are driving a car – what you look at is where you go.
  • Adapt to the market – being ready to change how you do things, or what you do.
  • Real artists build consensus – among each other, and the community.

I have to tell you that this book came at a moment when I was feeling quite pummeled by those elderly painters on the other side of our building who don’t want to play nice, or collaborate with us.  Prior to waving the f bomb, she told me “Artists don’t make money.” and she told me “I am always in the hole 3 grand each year.”  Not intending to, but I listened to this book much more carefully for clues, thoughts that would help me resolve the visceral reaction I had to her comments.  We have proven her statement as false, knowing that between my hubby’s soap and my silk work we are making a living.  A decent living.  My gut reaction at first was to say “I am sorry for your lack of success, but… what are you doing to change that?” but  that is probably not the case.  What is going on there is lack of belief in herself, and a fear of success.

Jeff clarified that for all of his days Michaelangelo was told that his work was a representation of his family reputation – it must be high quality to honor the elite family he came from.  He focused on this level of success with this family legacy in focus.  Oddly, he never knew he was not from an elite family, a fact that surfaced decades after his death.  But none the less, he believed it, and this was a driver of his success.

While the book didnt discuss this, I have always believed that everything starts with our thoughts.  How we view ourselves, how willing we are to be vulnerable, open, honest, persistent will dictate the direction and level of success we have.  One of the biggest obstacles in our path is us.  Unless you have had an incredibly rare set of parents, or friends,  success is something that has to learned as you take steps forward.  And fear is not the traveling companion to take with you on that journey.

I am certain i will be writing a few more blogs about this book, because there is so much to soak in – but suffice it to say I believe in what we are doing, and from the customer base we have, you do also believe in us.  We look forward to each step of growth , and we have kicked fear to the curb….

As an aside I finally gathered my thoughts and wrote an email back to that painter woman.  I was very gentle, but i told her that Art is an expression of creativity, but it must resonate with buyers.  And buyers are out there, but they no longer seek you out… you have to work at building your market, and being willing to be vulnerable enough to collaborate with fellow artists… this is the stuff that raises the bar, and brings success.   Her three word response summed up her heart and mind “go f*** yourself”.

Alrighty then.  I will choose to grow, to pursue better than a living from my Art because I believe it is a gift that I am compelled to share.  And people resonate with it. I guess all we can do for this painter is wish her well, and move on.  She is stuck in a deep pit, and the world has moved on to a new place.

Promise me that if i ever begin to look stuck you will say something.  Dont let me grow cynical, cranky, hardened, unbelieving, contentious.  Please!!!