On Art and Making Money

May 10, 2015

I’m going to make a bold, over-generalized statement to get your attention that only someone as privileged as me can make about making art.

You should never make art for the money.

In today’s society with the abundance that we often take for granted, we sacrifice our art too early and too often. I’m not saying don’t sell art, what I’m talking about is the difference between “let’s write a song top 40 radio will like” and “let’s write a song we’re proud of putting our names on”. It’s the difference between following the latest trends to write a catchy article and creating something that means something to you, something you know will make an impact, if only on one person.

What we need to do instead of putting money before art is make the art we want, then sell it. In that order.

But we don’t do this. We let money and thoughts of passive income and best-seller status creep into our creative minds and tarnish what could be a beautiful work of art. We think about it way too early in the creative process.

Thinking about money, or any desired outcome (it could be hits, approval, ratings, whatever) is something that needs to happen after the creative process has run it’s course. We paint something beautiful, then ask ourselves “who would love this” and “what kind of people would enjoy this work”?

I firmly believe that having art come before money is not only the best way to have your work be fulfilling and sustainable, but ultimately the most profitable as well. That may seem strange because we see countless examples of people making money by ignoring their art, but I see that the most successful artists, the ones that have been doing it for ten, twenty, thirty years or more and still love it almost always put art before money.

Making Money Is Ok Too

There are times when we want to make money, and I want to talk about that as well. One of my coaches Rich Litvin had a saying which I enjoyed. He said there are two kinds of project, sexy project and cash projects. Sexy projects are ones you do because you love them, and often they make money for you as well. Cash projects are done simply because you want to make some money.

If we really need to do a cash project, then of course we should take work that will get us paid, but I see too many people today do things for the money when the truth is they could either find a way to make money doing the things they love, or they didn’t really need the money to begin with. What we have is a mass of people doing things for the money but not stopping to ask if that’s really necessary. There are even millionaires and billionaires doing projects just for the money, because it’s a habit they’ve built and never questioned.

Get Paid to Be You

My friend and blogger Laura Jane-Williams shared a life goal with me on her recent interview for Darken the Page. She said that her goal is simply to “get paid to be me”. I like that far better than “do what you love” because often we think we’re doing what we love but the reality is we’re doing it in a way that isn’t how we’d love to do it. We write in a way that sells our soul, we play music in the corner of a restaurant with no one listening. We do these things that we can pass off as “doing what we love” but we aren’t really loving it.

When we take money out of the equation, it’s often easier to find out who you are, and then when you discover it, figure out how to get paid for it. If you think “how am I going to make money” in the middle of the discovery process, you won’t truly find out what you love doing.

Most people wait years, maybe lifetimes before they make art because they are so caught up with making money. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not easy, because if it were easy everyone would do it, but I truly believe that everyone is capable of getting paid to make their art.


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