We’re told that artists cannot be business people, because that would be selling out.
We’re told that business people cannot be artists, because that would be idealistic.
This wall we imagine between the two fields is bullshit.
Building things is, by definition, a creative act. Conceiving and making manifest a business or product or methodology or idea is inherently imaginative. Inventing a way to make money from what you’ve built, to make your work sustainable economically, while also allowing you to live off the proceeds, making you sustainable, is one of the most virtuous exercises of creation. It’s not just creating: it’s building a foundation for future creation.
Likewise, some of the best business people I’ve ever met are naturally creative people. Painters-turned-accountants or actors-turned-shopkeeps. These are people who understand the creative process, understand how to imagine an end result and then trace their way back to where they are now, and who are unafraid of working toward something they’ve never seen before. People with the strength of character to do something before anyone else, and take risks based solely on their ability to make the nebulous concrete.
If you’ve only dealt with dollars all your life, I challenge you to pick up a paintbrush or take an improv class. Working in these other media is an extension the gift you already possess.
If you’re an artist who lacks the means to support your craft, I challenge you to learn the fundamentals of business and make use of your talents to support yourself. The only people who benefit from starving artists are those who own your work after you die.
Whichever side of the fence you find yourself on, aspire to live happily, create to the best of your ability, and sustain your craft. And where possible, help others do the same.
Update: April 12, 2017
I remember when I realized this, that I could make money and still make art. It was a eureka moment that informed everything I’ve done since.
For some reason, the romance of being a starving artist is drilled into young creative people, and I think that really limits us. You needn’t give up your passions to pay the bills. You needn’t sacrifice every other aspect of your life to earn the right to make.