The Revenge of the Working Artist

As I took my seat on the first day of a six-week class on financial investing, the instructor greeted us and spoke for a few minutes about upcoming class topics. Then, he asked each of us to introduce ourselves and say what we did for a living. One student was a plumber, another a chiropractor. When my turn came, I gave my name and stated that I was an artist.

“Are you a starving artist?” asked the teacher, to a round of laughter.

Quantum Theory by Sima Schloss
Quantum Theory by Sima Schloss

I was stunned into silence, though I wish I had said, “If I were starving, what would I be doing in your class on how to invest my money?” When I thought about it afterward, I realized that the teacher was just making a joke, but it’s telling that he immediately resorted to the old platitude about artists being poor and long-suffering. It is a belief that is so ingrained in our society that it becomes a knee-jerk response and isn’t even considered an insult.

The myth of the starving artist is a powerful one. It discourages talented people from ever expressing their creativity. It has the ability to divide families and determine futures, with some parents refusing to fund the education of a child who has a passionate interest in art, due to their low expectations. And it can produce a sense of helplessness in working artists by instilling the belief that their time and efforts are worthless.

That myth is the enemy.

Call On Your Own Army of Allies

When we face an enemy, it’s good to be part of a like-minded tribe that has our back. That tribe is your community—specifically other serious artists, as well as collectors, artist advocates, industry contacts, and supportive family and friends. They can help you combat the most insidious assaults from the enemy, which are fear and self-doubt.

No matter how talented or successful you are, you will probably suffer the occasional bout of lost confidence. You might listen to the naysayers and the critics who say it can’t be done, and you might even believe them.

Reaching out to your network of fans and supporters is the best way to banish those negative forces from your life and your studio practice. They’ll remind you that the myth is a lie and help you focus on the truth: that art is essential to our culture, our economy, and the quality of life in our world. Your art is part of that continuum, and it deserves to be seen and appreciated.

Write Your Own Script

Here’s what we know: Being in business is hard. And I mean any business, not just the art business. We don’t get the short end of the stick simply by virtue of being artists—that is another myth. Artists can be outstanding business people if they put their minds to it. Entrepreneurial skills can be learned and honed, and smart strategies put to use. The success you achieve is directly related to your determination and persistence in pursuing your objectives and goals.

The secret flip side of the starving artist myth is that all of those people who repeat it really wish they could be you. What you do is fascinating and creative. They envy your lifestyle and freedom, because their jobs are mundane and boring by comparison. If they were asked, “What would you do if anything were possible?” most would say that they’d do something creative and fulfilling, something they felt wasn’t currently available to them. Like making art.

As an artist, you’ve already taken that step down the road less traveled. It’s something to celebrate, because you have broken through the barrier of fear and self-doubt that is propagated by the myth of the starving artist. Pick up your tools and build the kind of business you’re dreaming about. It’s worth it, and it IS attainable.

Is an artist’s success the best revenge against the myth? Yeah, it’s pretty sweet. You might even want to take a class to learn how to invest all that money you’ll be making.

To receive powerful entrepreneurial training from art-business leaders like Carolyn, attend an upcoming CHF Art-Business Conference. Visit our Conference hub for more information.

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Sell More Art

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Carolyn Edlund
With a background as a self-employed artist and art business writer and consultant, Carolyn Edlund brings 35 years of experience in the industry to her work with creative entrepreneurs. She is the founder of the top ten blog “Artsy Shark” and has authored seven courses on art marketing, pricing, sales strategies and other business topics for visual artists. She currently works with the Clark Hulings Foundation as the Director of Sales and Events and has presented more than 50 art-business workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad.

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