In the first post of this series, I talked about the most common response you get when you tell others that you want to do art for a living. In the second post, I talked about the typical reaction you get when, after you have started selling some artwork, you say you want to pursue art as your full-time job. There is a third common question/statement that I get when I say I am an artist is “art is not a business.”
The argument often goes as follows: A business is something that provides a service, goods, or tangible product that meets a need or improves the lives of someone else. Art is a product, but it is not an essential need for most non-artists. It’s an unnecessary decoration or luxury object. You cannot say that you are a business or entrepreneur without meeting both definitions of a business. Yes, someone will pay to see you dance, hear your music, or eat your pastry they say, but to what end? Is art inherently valuable?
After stating this point, the speaker then leads most artists away from creating art for art's sake and toward something else. It's typically either teaching the arts or using your music/drawing in a business setting to accompany a sales pitch for a “real” product or service.
I feel that working as an art/music/drama/dance teacher is amazingly hard and a precious contribution to society. I often wish I had followed that advice and gone into that profession. But the teachers I know all wish they were like me at times because the grass is always greener on the other side. Same thing with architecture, graphic design, or computer-based animation or illustration. They are practical, valuable, challenging skills to learn.
And it's vital for a freelancer or entrepreneur to have multiple streams of income to remain financially viable. For most creatives, that consists of money from three things: selling your creations, money from licensing your creations for use by others, and teaching others the fundamental techniques behind how you do what you do.
However, the path of a studio artist, freelance musician, or other independent creative is just as hard, takes just as much work and learning as the others. I see it as just as valuable as the others even if it’s not readily accepted.
Creating is something that all artists are deeply passionate about. The artist will you say they will stop focusing on creating and instead focus on another major in college or take a “real” or “adult” job. Immediately after saying this, they will then go undercover with it and not share or tell anyone about it.
For example, I created art in the closet while working as a contractor for the federal government in DC in a non-art related field for a decade before telling anyone. Judson of Judson’s Outfitters painted outdoors in a stealth mode to the level that he created his own stealth painting kit and called himself the guerrilla painter. He turned it into a business to market his creation and now travels the country in an RV attending sales events while still painting.
This, in my opinion, is the true mark of a creative person. The people in your life have valid concerns about going into a creative profession full-time. But if you are creating, then you will find a way to create even if it means not having, say, shelter or food. If you find yourself in this situation, then you, my friend, are an artist. And there’s nothing to be ashamed about in that. Just embrace it and find a way to make it work.