Art and Money

March 25, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about money. 

Money buys my health insurance. And, repairs for my janky car. It also pays for the organic food I buy, allowing me to practice preventative care so that I can minimize trips to the doctor. It pays for my YWCA membership. And my contact lenses. And my in-home office. When I make more than what covers my basic expenses, I can afford to give some away! I get donation happy on Give To The Max Day, host parties (and Small Arts!), buy season tickets to local arts companies, support community organizations, and eat at local restaurants. I can buy locally-made clothes and jewelry, instead of buying Made-In-Vietnam crap at H & M. I can pay my dancers when I make work. My friend Kathleen says that money is energy-- which I love. While I certainly don’t think money solves all (or even most) problems, I know it certainly makes some things easier (as any person who’s been without much money can attest to). 

So, I have a problem with the idea that it’s ok (and even expected) that artists are poor. 

I used to work at a restaurant adjoining a building of (mostly visual) artist studios. I would serve coffee to these talented people and listen to them talk. And, what I heard stunned me. It was a whole lot of ‘I’m doing what I love, how I want to, so it’s expected that I’m living below the poverty line. And that I’m uninsured. And that I went to the doctor about ten years ago.‘ And I think that most of this is bullshit.

The above sentiment is a combination of these attitudes:
1. I don't value my work and the talents/time/energy/money it takes to create it. AND
2. I'm not willing to adapt/change/expand my artistic vision to consider the needs of the audience I'm trying to connect it with. 

These attitudes are problematic. When we don't value our work, we give others permission to do the same. And, when we don't value our audiences, we give off an air of entitlement, biting the hand that feeds us. Every other sector has had to get creative and reinvent themselves in order to sustain growth and a future. Why shouldn't we get smarter about how to make our art work?

So, I was very relieved when I attended Giant Steps, and there was honest talk about money. There was both an admission that the relationship between artists and money is flawed, and talk about changing it. Brave New Workshop owner John Sweeney talked about expanding his audience by changing his business from an "attitude of ego to an attitude of service". And, other speakers reminded us to treat ourselves like a business-- an infrastructure that we need to invest in. 

I have an actor friend that I really respect for his ability to making a good living through his art. Obviously, he works really hard to do this. But, what I love is that he never feels BAD about asking for what he's worth. He has a mortgage to pay, and food to put on the table for his kid. Finding a way to do this isn't personal-- it's business. 

The most financially stable artists I know are people who have been open to their own reinvention and new opportunities to monetize what they do. 

Opportunities to...
Develop new skills.
Hone in on and teach a creative expertise.
Foster new collaborations.
Get creative about connections. 
Creatively package and sell what they do.

But, I think it all starts with our beliefs around money-- recognizing that money and art belong in the same sentence, and then figuring out how to get creative about making it.

I'd love to hear what you think: Do you make a living through your art? Or, would you rather keep your income and your art separate?

Here are some interesting conversations I've found about money and art:
Lightsey Darst: The Poorest Art: Dance and Money (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Kathleen Shannon: Money Is Energy
                        Making Illustration Your Full Time Job


  1. Hola and thank you for the food for thought!

    I'm an art history grad student and sometimes artist and your thoughts on respecting and valuing your audience really struck a cord with me: there is a lot of confusion among younger artists about who they are trying to please. There's a persistent feeling out there that in order to make real art, your work must be difficult, inacccessible even, except by the theory-driven critics.

    This attitude spells financial disaster for all but a select few - I'm all for a more realistic, customer-friendly approach to the making of art. Art can be heady with theoretical ideas and STILL be approachable - heck, it should be more than approachable, inviting, even.

    Ok, getting off my soapbox (relunctantly!) but I am working on a mobile gallery project addressing these issues - basically, giving artist a forum to connect to their audience and giving the audience a realistic way to purchase good art: I'd love to know what you think!

    1. Chelsea-- I LOVE your soapbox! And, I love that this comes from your perspective as an art history grad student. Please keep me posted on your mobile gallery project! The idea is fantastic (website, too), and reminds me of the reasons I started our living room performance series-- sometimes the best art experiences and audience connections happen in less traditional spaces. I admire you for taking your opinions and making it happen! Thank for commenting.



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