And why did I start Artists Deserve Money? Because I wanted to continue to help artists and to get artists paid. I started this site by sharing what I learned while I was working in education.
But at this point, I’m not sure if I am doing anything more than throwing more words onto the internet. I understand from over 20 years of experience that being an artist is difficult and complicated.
I started my advice from where I have the most knowledge and experience. I began with practical solutions that you can apply to your life for measurable results.
But they’re not ideal. I understand that this world isn’t ideal. It’s not an easy or fun time to be an artist. And many other sites are taking advantage of the vibe of the Great Resignation, encouraging artists to sell directly from their own websites.
I can see how that would be tempting for artists who don’t see a place for themselves in the current economy.
I understand that most jobs for artists aren’t about making art. They’re about a repetitive skill or teaching. Their focus is something else that’s far removed from the active problem solving and creative structure of making art.
HTBAA (How to Be An Artist)
I started my first website with advice for artists in 2014. When I read my posts from that time, I hear my anger about art and money. The site turned into a place where I shared images of things that were inspiring me. After about three months, I stopped posting at all.
My challenge right now is that I’m not sure what artists today really want. I’m not sure if any of the tools I can offer are helpful.
The categories on Artists Deserve Money are:
These are what I think of as logical and socially acceptable ways that artists get paid for art.
Artists want and deserve money for their work. Art is work, and it’s often expensive to make. So then we get into the ways that artists can make money for their artwork.
How can artists make money with their art?
In the United States, the cost of living is a huge challenge for artists. Student loan debt is at an all-time high, and loan forgiveness is unattainable for many.
While there used to be individual artist grants to fill some of this void, most of these programs offer funds only to a select few. Even those programs rarely offer enough funding to cover the cost of living.
Some communities in the United States and abroad are experimenting with basic income. But many of these programs require applicants to be living in poverty just to qualify. At that point, a financial award barely makes a dent in the mounting expenses.
Artist grants, programs like the Works Progress Administration, and foundations to support artists have all helped artists over time. The perception and value of those programs have eroded over time, leaving artists to fend for themselves.
So, the burden of making money shifted to the individual artist. These are some of the most common ways that artists get paid for their art.
One option to make money as an artist is to learn about promotion and marketing. There was a brief window when organic social media was a way to grow an audience for direct art sales. But that has changed in the last few years and it’s now very difficult to grow an audience without paid ads.
Galleries and agencies
Another option is gallery representation or art agencies. The gallery world is changing too, and it’s much harder to break into a gallery that makes consistent enough sales to make a livable income.
Residencies are another option to live as an artist. Some come with stipends, but it is hard to be creative when you’re moving all the time.
I’ve known artists who live their lives from residency to residency. Their art practice is constant, but the rest of their lives are in constant flux. It is an exciting and interesting way to live, but it’s also exhausting.
Balancing the cost of living with being an artist
The reality is that many artists need a full-time income to live and continue to make art.
I don’t want to live in a neighborhood where I feel unsafe because I want to make art. I don’t make art when I’m worried about food and rent. I don’t want to measure the value of my work against what I am willing to sacrifice to make it.
I’m not willing to give up basic comforts and opportunities like eating out and traveling to be an artist.
The challenge of being an artist that no one and everyone talks about
This expectation creates a vicious cycle where the only people who have the means to become full-time artists already have money.
Luck also comes into play. But because the competition is so fierce, many of us fall for false ideas. We often believe that someone who is in the right place at the right time isn’t lucky, they are somehow more gifted.
But luck exists. It is a powerful factor in who gets credit for their ideas in a public forum. I know many hardworking and talented artists who had resources most people don’t have. This doesn’t make their work less valuable, but it does make it more difficult for anyone who doesn’t have those resources.
One of my favorite books of all time is Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. This book isn’t just an overview of the science of our universe, but a detailed accounting of the scientific discoveries that led to our understanding of the universe.
While discussing these discoveries he also explains who discovered what when, as well as who got credit for it. Far too many times, the individual who put in the work of discovery isn’t credited until far later.
I think this happens in the art world too. So much of the work of being an artist is social. Much of it is also aligning with current trends and events.
Why are artists important? Let’s talk about art and commodity
Another challenge with making money as an artist is the critical and philosophical foundation of the arts.
To make art for money turns it into a product, something to hang behind the couch. It turns art into a commodity, something created for selling. This changes the value and meaning of art objects because many, including me, believe that art can or should have a higher purpose.
Art records our history. It inspires, challenges, motivates, and questions. Most commodities don’t do that, so to limit art to a commodity can feel like a demotion.
How to maintain a studio practice as an artist who needs money
The decision to make art for money can also come into the studio with the artist and impact the ability to create, invent, and shift. In order to be saleable, an artist needs a consistent style. But honestly, a consistent style can start to get boring.
Some artists happen upon a question or challenge that they can spend their lives chewing on, and at the same time are able to make multiple collections of interesting work based on that limited query.
But that’s not the case for everyone. Artists who are curious about a little bit of everything and work in multiple media and styles are often left behind. This is because it is difficult to package and sell something that is constantly changing.
Art that’s hard to sell
Also, many forms of art, like time-based performances, videos, and installation, are hard to sell. Art that sells is often limited to traditional forms of art like painting and sculpture that have an easy home somewhere.
Media that lends itself to established industry, like 3D animation, connects to jobs that make good money. At the same time, these jobs are often limit the creative vision of a handful of people, not the individual. An artist in the industry can make, but they don’t have a lot of chances for creative expression.
Collaborative art is another idea to unpack when it comes to making money. Same with social practice, intervention, and other performance-driven practices.
Even NFTs, which could have been a viable way for digital creators to get paid for art, are a challenge. Artists are having their work stolen on a regular basis. Major corporations and mining collectives are taking credit for the invention of another person in order to claim the profit.
Do artists deserve to get paid for their art?
Wages aren’t based on the value work brings to our shared community. Wages come from what our society values. Politics play a large role too.
Artists deserve money because we document our swiftly changing times. Because we notice patterns. Because we instigate necessary change.
Artists deserve money because money is necessary to live within our society. Many artists are proponents of basic income because it offers a means to cover necessities until society catches up.
We are waiting for a time when the global community respects our work. Without a vital creative community, our lives and culture come to a standstill. If the devaluation of creative practices continues, it won’t just be an excess of Marvel movies that everyone is complaining about.
How to move forward
In 2004 I helped start a school inside an ad agency. I went to grad school with the intention of being an art professor. But the financial challenges of being an adjunct were too much for me to handle with my student loan debt.
My ultimate goal has always been to start my own school. I want to teach artists something they want to learn, something they feel is missing.
These are what I see as the primary challenges of being an artist. I’m not sure where to go from here, but I’m going to keep writing.
I’ve got an email list, but I’m not sending any emails. Any contact form that gives you a chance to leave a comment or send a one-off email is choked with bots. So I’ve got an email list sign up on the home page, and if you want to share your questions and concerns, add your email, and I’ll reach out. It will be a form email at first, because life is crazy, but if you send me an email I’ll respond.
I also spent some time gathering all of my favorite quotes from my 20+ years of journaling. If you want a reminder to keep going as a creative, you can sign up for 90 days of those quotes to help pull you up when you’re feeling stuck.
Let me know what you’re thinking. What do you want to learn? I want to hear how I can help.