Artists, let’s talk about money.

Artists can have a lot of hangups around money. Money can be a sensitive subject regardless of industry, but it especially seems to be in the arts. It can be hard to put a number on an idea, a talent, or a piece of art that has no comparison.

The relationship between money and art is complicated. Common thoughts are:

  • How does one put a monetary value on fine art?
  • If I sell products, does that devalue my art work?
  • If I want to be paid for my work, does that change the reason I am making it?
  • I do other things besides sell my art. Does that mean I am not a real artist or art business?

But guess what? All artists deserve to be paid fairly for their work.

“We’re trained to feel that it’s impolite to discuss money. In the art world, [often] the person we are dealing with, be it a gallery director or curator, has a broad view of a whole bunch of different artists and [can see] where we fit in among them. But if we as artists are not talking to each other about money, we are not operating with as much information as they are. So I think that artists should to talk to each other about money. They should be open and transparent. And the more we promote the culture of transparency around money the more it helps everybody. Sharing this information with each other IS artist empowerment.”

- Hannah Cole of Sunlight Tax, from the course The Ultimate, Honest Guide to Understanding Artist Taxes

Many of us have the goal of selling our work, but remember that sales are usually not the only way an artist makes money–even the most well-known and successful artists often do more than just sell their work to survive. Thinking nimbly and branching out about how you earn money to support your practice will help you to achieve success.

Ways to earn money that aren’t sales of work include:
Grants, residencies, teaching, speaking fees, public art commissions, private commissions, commercial art (maybe you are a painter who sometimes sells illustrations to magazines and websites), sales of editions or multiples, writing, design work, and the list goes on and on.

The good news is, that if you are doing any of these things already, they bolster your business and support your practice! Artists should be honest with each other about what all they do to support themselves and their work. It’s revealing, but also super inspiring, to learn that our peers have various gigs and structures in place. Everyone’s path is different and unique, and we can all learn from each other. It also might remind us that choosing our own path will lead to our own versions of success.

So, what is your story? Take some time to list all of the ways you support your art business and how these experiences have shaped your practice, expanded your network, and influenced how you spend your time. We are in the same boat as many of you and do lots of things to support our individual art practices: creating blog posts, helping artists by leading classes, workshops and individual coaching, and selling our services. Sara also teaches, and Andrea does commercial photography. We seek out grants and residencies. We’re busy, yes. But this stuff fuels our connection with our art-making and our community at large.

Check out our videos from DELVE: Comedy + Art, a networking event where artists Alex Gingrow and Michael Scoggins share their unique stories.

We’ve seen that if you can harness the storytelling potential of your experiences to share your practice, then you are well on your way to an effective marketing campaign to grow your audience! And once your audience grows even further, you have even more ammunition in support of yourself not only as a professional artist in the eyes of the world, but also as a viable business.

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