How to avoid becoming “The Starving Artist”

The reason for the stereotype… and how to avoid it

I was inept at making money with art until…

I was always a gifted artist, drawing from an early age.  I remember my mother would ask me what I wanted to draw and then make dot to dot pictures for me.  As I grew up I became a better artist, eventually starting art school at the age of 15, but something always held back from committing to make art my career.

Then, when I was about 25 I had a light bulb moment.  And I couldn’t stop coming up with ideas on making money with art.  I had met Joel Siebel, an illustrator who had spent almost 40 years working for Disney and Hana Barbarah (the guys behind Saturday morning cartoons like the smurfs, scooby do, pinkey and the brain).  It wasn’t anything he said particularly – it was the accumulative of many conversations we had.

It happened fairly quickly – and it was like heaven opened up and angels were singing. The flood gates had opened.  And I couldn’t stop coming up with new ways of making money with art.

Artists are wired wrong

Lets face it… some people are just gifted.  Some are gifted with athletic ability.  Some are gifted with scientific understanding.  Some are gifted with “how to make money”.   And some are gifted by being able to make AMAZING art.  Yes, we can all improve by practice and hard work… at the same time we each have our own natural gifts.  It’s the way we’re wired.  It’s our natural bent.

Science indicates that artistic ability comes from the right side of the brain and analytical ability comes from the left side of the brain.  (Hence the book “Drawing on the right side of the Brain”).  Artists use the right side of their brain for visual creativity, while business people use the analytical left side of the brain for business decisions about how to make money.  And THAT is the basic reason we have this concept of the starving artist.  Artists are literally not wired to make money.

Artists are naturally disabled against making money

So artists, designers, mechanics, and the like tend to be right brain people using their artistic skills.  Scientists, accountants, lawyers, and the like tend to be left brain people using more of their analytical skills.  But it’s not either or.  You’re not left brain or right brain.  You are both.  Artists just tend to have stronger right brains and weaker left brains.  So we live in our right brain.  And when we have a problem, even a left brain problem, we try to solve it using our right brain.

This is why artists struggle with making money with art.  Making art is a right brain skill.  But creating a profitable business is largely a left brain skill.   So what ends up happening?  The artist often gets a job working for someone else who understands business and either does artwork on the side, or uses their art skills as an employee like as a graphic designer or something.

This isn’t bad… we all need to eat, right?  It’s just the cold hard truth.  Its a natural disability.

Here’s how you fix the problem… change your thinking

There is hope.  You can overcome this natural disability.  But it does take some work AND a change in your thinking.  If you aren’t willing to change how you think… then this wont work.  I can’t stress this enough.  It was Einstein who said…

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

But that’s easier said than done.

Learn from successful BUSINESS minded people

When you want to learn to be great at something you go to a professional and get them to teach you.  Then you practice your tail end off.  Eventually you might even go off on your own and start your own company.  The problem is when it comes to being a financially successful artist, this method doesn’t work.  If you go to a great artist, they can teach you how to become a great artist.  And they’ll probably tell you to do a lot of artwork, get your work in galleries, get in as many shows as possible, and work your tail end off, and just maybe you can make it.

This answer is not a sure fire way to make money with your mad art talents.

Do you see the problem?  they can teach you to become a great artist… but they can’t necessarily teach you how to become a financially successful artist.

To become a financially successful artist, making a nice living with your artwork, you need to listen to great business minded people and apply their type of left brain thinking to your right brain art skills.  IF you do, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make money with art.

Don’t just make art. Make money with art.

Making money and making art are 2 different things.  Don’t confuse them.  If you only want to make your own art – then you have to accept that you might not make much money.   But if you are willing to make money using your art skills.

Do you see the difference?  Making art puts the art first.  Thats fine, but the goal is making art, not money.  Money is secondary.  Making money with art puts making money first, and the artwork second.

Making money with art does not make you a sell out… it makes you smart.

Some artists really feel that focusing on making money with their art skills is acting like a sell out.  That’s a lie.  Get over it.  If you have art skills and you make money with those art skills that’s called being smart.  What would you say if you knew the most amazing guitar player in the world and they  wanted to become a plumber (or something else) and only playing occasionally on the side.  You would say it was a pity.  It was sad. No, it’s not sad – its a tragedy!  It was horrible that they would waste their God given talent like that.

And you’d be right.  And the same goes for artists.

Your talents are there to serve you, not you to serve your talents.

I admit it now – art is deeply philosophical.  It stirs our souls.  And it should.  But does that mean you shouldn’t make insane amounts of easy money as an artist?

Artists should realize that art is just a skill, a talent, and you can and should put it to work FOR you. this is the best way to honor art and artists.

Great art is a reflection of life, a reflection of people.  Great art is a recognition of the beauty of creation and mankind.  In a sense art bows to man and honors man.   Using your art skills to benefit you as an artist is the only way to really honor your art skills and artists.

If you REALLY want to honor your art skills, give them the credit they deserve.  The highest form of art is to become a financially successful artist.

There are a million ways to make money with art… and here they are…

There really are a million ways, and more, to make money with art.  The trick is to make money with your art skills, not just your art.

Do you see the subtle difference?  One puts the emphasis on your skills.  The other puts it on your art.  Focus on applying your skills

Murals, window painting, nail painting, portraits, and more are all ways to apply your skills to make money with your art skills.  I’ll talk more about these in future.

The trick is to find a perceived need (someone who desires art) and find a way to fill it using your skills.

Here’s the cliff notes to making money with art:

It really is easy to make a decent living as an artist.   Just follow these steps:

  1. Artists are not naturally wired to make money with art
  2. Artists need to change the way they think in order to make money with art
  3. listen to business minded people to know how to make money with art
  4. to make money with art put the idea of “making money with art” above “making art”.
  5. Making money with art isn’t evil – it’s good. And you’re smart if you do it.
  6. there are MANY ways an artist can make money
  7. To make money with art discover how to apply your skills and fill a perceived need.

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