Why are artists so terrible with money?

February 23rd, 2010 - 79 Comments

When I was a little kid, my mom sent me to lots of extra-curricular activites (as any Indian/Asian mom does).

One of these was art school. After an art session one day, I brought home my drawing of a tree. It was so bad that my normally supportive mom actually said, “Umm…if you’re going to draw a tree, why don’t you make it look like a tree?”

This explains a lot about why I hate artists (and most non-profits).

Not just because I hate art, but because artists are terrible at marketing themselves and constantly adopt worthless beliefs like:

  • “Charging for my art is selling out”
  • “Good art markets itself”
  • “My goal is to get in a gallery”

I wrote about this in detail when I wrote Attention Whiners: Why you STILL aren’t saving money and highlighted that it’s not tactics, but mindset that often separates people who do from people who whine.

So when iwillteachyoutoberich reader Cory Huff read my guidelines for writing a guest post and pitched me on the Myth of the Starving Artist, I jumped at the chance to run it. Yes, he might accidentally teach a lesson to these godforsaken artists, but mostly it’s just a chance to mock these terribly self-destructive beliefs.

Cory, take it away.

* * *

Cory Huff: The Myth of the Starving Artist

Last week I heard a story about an artist who makes handmade buttons at parties. For $3 he will come to your party, do a custom painting on a 1 inch by 1 inch canvas, and then turn it into a button for you.

For $3.

I couldn’t believe it. Neither could everyone around me who heard the story. It seems like everyone there knew that this artist should be charging more. Too bad that artist didn’t.

Compare that to my friend, we’ll call him John. John makes sculptures. They range in size from very small to very large. He has a thriving business where corporations call him and ask him to build something for them, and they pay whatever he asks. $30,000 – $50,000 was his last asking price that I heard.

What’s the difference? It’s a matter of beliefs.

The Starving Artist Myth

Many artists have bought into a romanticized notion that art is somehow more legitimate if it is created by poor people. This notion was popularized in the mid-19th century by the writer Henri Murger, who wrote Scènes de la vie de bohème a famous French novel about a group of poor artists living in the Bohemian quarter of Paris. The book was wildly popular and it became trendy to be a poor artist.

Over the last 150 years, Murger’s ideas became entrenched in popular culture, and artists hold to the notion that art is a product of the financially unsound and morally superior.

The Starving Artist Myth forces artists down a path that isn’t helpful.

Recently, a friend of mine mentioned on Facebook that she was trying to raise some extra money because she wanted to move to NYC to pursue her dream. I was really excited for her because she’s a tremendously talented artist. I messaged her and offered to help her come up with some good ways to do that (I do a lot of work with artists, especially in teaching them how to sell art online). A week went by without hearing from her, then two. I messaged her again, hoping to use her as a source for this article, but a week later all I had heard from her is that she’s too busy working at her survival job.

Many artists believe that the poverty and suffering that comes from this kind of busyness is conducive to better art – but I disagree. Being in touch with emotion and having strong technique make better art. Poverty and suffering are distractions that pull us away from being able to do the things that we really love doing.

Artists are not the only people to fall into this trap.

It is my opinion, and some will want to lynch me for this, that artists and entrepreneurs come from very similar backgrounds. They have a passion for something that can make a difference in people’s lives. They want to do that passion all the time – some of them just don’t know how to support themselves while doing it.

How to Dispel the Starving Artist Myth

Remember: Normal = Poor. Crazy = Rich. People expect a lot of crazy, creative things from artists and entrepreneurs, and they’re willing to pay for it. Whatever you do, do it with gusto. Look at Ramit. He teaches people how to be rich, and he does it with flair and excitement, and a lot of passion. He makes people some people angry – but he’s making a ton of money doing it. People love him for the passion that he has. If people love someone like Ramit, they’ll love artists even more (sorry, Ramit – as much as you make fun of us, people love artists).

Do something people love, and eventually it will catch on. When I first saw Etsy.com, I thought it was garbage. All I saw was a bunch of home made doilies that weren’t even all that well done. But you know what, people LOVED Etsy. Artists who turned up their nose at the site now sell original works for over $3,000. Etsy has developed a reputation for having high quality, original merchandise that appeals to buyers of all kinds.

Take advantage of the Warhol Economy. Andy Warhol created a movement that revived New York City. City planners took advantage of the burgeoning art scene to create incentives that attracted more businesses to the parts of New York that were dying. There are cities all over the country that are desperately trying to attract artist communities to their cities. You can read more about it in Elizabeth Currid’s PhD dissertation turned book, The Warhol Economy (which, by the way, is a great example of how to turn your god-given talents in to money).

Give yourself permission to make money. This is one that I struggled with early as an artist, and again as a budding entrepreneur. I didn’t believe that it was possible to make the kind of money that I make now. I would sabotage myself by passing on opportunities because I didn’t think they’d really pan out. When something great would happen to me, I would tell myself it was luck and that it probably wouldn’t happen again. Once I flipped that switch, it changed everything for me.

How did I flip that switch? I’ll simply say that it took two things: changing the connection between my self-worth and money; and learning what I needed to do in order to make money.

Protect your vision. When you aim to change your life many people around you will attempt to take you down. Most of the time it won’t be intentional. Your friends and family, as well as coworkers and other acquaintances, will question your decisions, even your motivation. This can be demoralizing and cripple your efforts before you ever get started. Find people who encourage instead of question and support instead of doubt (or, even better, you can call out whiny complainers before they gain any momentum).

“But I don’t know how!” It’s almost impossible to make it as an entrepreneur without some help. Whether you pay someone or find an amazing mentor who will help you for free, you need someone more experienced than you to help out.

Who knows what the future holds for that $3 painter or my actress friend who wants to move to New York City? It could well be that they find their niche and end up fabulously successful – but first they’ll have to make the decision to be ready for more. They’ll have to stop believing in the Myth of the Starving Artist.

* * *

Cory Huff is an actor turned entrepreneur who does freelance social media consulting, and teaches artists how to sell art online at TheAbundantArtist.com.

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79 Comments

 

Comments

  1. Obviously it’s just as true that those that are great at money are terrible at art.

  2. Hey cool post.

    FYI, the first link to your site is broken: it brings us to ‘the abundant ant artist’. Weird!

    I really enjoyed the “normal=poor; crazy=rich” section.

  3. Hey there. I’m an illustrator at an animation studio, and I freelance illustration and children’s books on the side. I don’t know if I’m a great example of the artist-entrepreneur, but I’m making a comfortable living and paying down my debt pretty quickly. I have a few experiences and thoughts I’d like to mention, since this topic only comes up rarely.

    There is a romantic, bohemian notion of the artist just doing art for art’s sake, but too often the extreme end of the spectrum ruins it for the rest of us. Typically these are “fine artists” and the starving act is more about the image than about their skill. If I’m a journalist, they are a poet, if you want an analogy. I’m not starving, and neither are most of my artist and designer friends. The trouble is, we have to answer questions about if we “really make money doing this” pretty much forever.

    The art industry as a whole faces a lack respect that makes it hard to charge fair prices. Unless the skill is extremely on the technical end (Computer animation, Visual Effects, compositing) people don’t understand why we should earn what our work is worth. A logo shouldn’t cost $50. A children’s book shouldn’t be illustrated for $500. Americans love art and hate artists.

    What is more tragic, is that kids with a genuine passion and talent for a creative field are often discouraged by close-minded parents or family members, and many people go into careers they don’t care about to please someone else. Lots of students at my art school were older people switching careers after years of struggling to be happy in a field they never wanted to be a part of. So, hey, if your kid likes the arts, take a step back and realize they’re willing to work really hard to do what they love. That’s more drive than most people have.

    Art and design is hard work, and very good-paying work if you are determined and skilled. The notion of “selling out” isn’t opposition to selling work for money; it is opposition to success through doing something like what Thomas Kinkade does. He is probably the highest earning artist alive right now, by all financial standards he is “successful,” but to the artistic community and (depending on your taste) all of society, he hasn’t really contributed much.

    One more thought, pretty much everything you own for aesthetic reasons- your car, computer, clothes, the packages you buy, the magazines, the video games, movies, book covers, etc, were all designed by humans. These companies all had art departments. Art is nothing you need to live, but you sure do need it to feel alive.

  4. I agree with Erin 100%. I’m an artist in video games and see the same attitudes when it comes to art that isn’t technically challenging. It’s hard to charge a decent amount of money for art if you aren’t a “big name” even if your work is good. Few people will buy it.

    I’d also like to add that I don’t think the bohemian thing is why artists are often poor. Forget bohemian. Artists as a whole have low to no self esteem when it comes to their work.

  5. I know what you’re talking about Erin. Too many times people want to get your services for a really cheap price or for free. I used to work as an actor and now I produce videos and I find it hard to price shooting/editing videos for clients.

    I agree with the article though. I have stuff that I do on my own – and that I do for my own pleasure for free or otherwise. But business is business and I have no qualms charging for that! :)

  6. Growing up, I saw how my father pitch his graphic design skills to businesses. His service was basically turn-key. He positioned himself as the talented artist that gave you stress free service.

    My friend is doing that with web design – instead of being the cheapest , he is the complete solution. He charges a premium to businesses looking for that solution. he focuses on what he enjoys and does well with and outsources the rest (I write some of his content). It’s a great way to position yourself.

  7. Great post, and I really appreciate artists getting addressed on a website about wealth. Even though you were willing to write us off, Ramit, I’m glad Cory wasn’t! The psychological block is definitely the toughest one to get over – and the most worthwhile.

  8. Hi everyone! Great comments so far.

    @Mike – thanks for the heads up on the link. Working on it now.

    @Erin – at first I thought you were my high school drama teacher. You have the same name. Your illustrations are beautiful! I’ve never had someone explain to me clearly why Thomas Kinkade’s work is so villified. Why does it lack artistic merit? Because he copies it a lot?

    @Katy – I wasn’t saying that Bohemia was the cause of artists being poor, only the thing that made it popular and chic.

    @Hani – pricing, selling to clients – that’s exactly what I help artists with. Building up a reputation and making yourself different from the competition. That’s how I roll!

    @Elle – yay for positioning! Like I just wrote, how your present yourself is the whole basis for your business.

    @Alison (and others) – where do you think this psychological block comes from? Why is it such a cliche among artists?

  9. I find this article to be very truthful. I am a wedding photographer based out of Orange County and have a lot of experience in marketing art and photography. Simply speaking, often times the only thing holding back an artist from making more money is themselves.

    I have talked to fellow photographers who tell me, “I just don’t feel like my work is good enough to charge $5,000 or $10,000.” The only thing I can think of whenever I hear that statement is, “You are right, if your perception of your own work is that it isn’t worth the money, then it isn’t.”

    How can you possibly sell someone a $10,000 photography package when you don’t believe yourself that it is worth that much?

    Instead, we focus on delivering a product and experience that others are not, and if you are offering something truly unique, then it is worth whatever you say it’s worth.

    As artists, we will always hear this line, “Well, I really love your work, but I just can’t afford it given my budget.” You need to hold your ground, and help educate people, that if they want a truly unique high quality piece of art, that they need to be willing to pay for it. Stop shooting yourselves in the foot.

    Great job Cory, I hope to see many more articles from you on this site.

  10. Erin your comment was more valuable than the article.

    The writer of this article might have knowledge about a certain ‘sector’ of art but it does not apply to the broad range of art. In the Contemporary Art world you have to deal with a huge Art industry that is a whole different ball game. Galleries take 50% of your sales(which you will get in no other business!). You have to pay an Art Representative between 10-20% of you sales. Art supply stores have a mark-up of 400%. Some of us also exit art schools with student debt. Self promotion also comes with a price tag. So as a Fine Artist you are starting your career at a crippling disadvantage with a next to none profit margin. That is the big elephant in the room that does not get acknowledge in solving the financial problems of Fine Artists and not because “we did not give ourself permission” to make money.

    With what I agree and disagree with this article:
    *)The so called “myth of the starving artist” is what people want to think artists think about themselves, it is offensive. If they are starving it is because they do not know how to fight and/or ride the existing system and they do not get the right advice. Every time I do meet an “artist” that buys into the “starving artist” nonsense is because they are ‘wannabes’ or they are looking for a way out.
    *)I do agree with the writer that the future of the art-world will be online. Just as the music and movie industry have been shaken up the art industry will be as well.
    *)I agree passion is good to have as an artist, but ‘Crazy=rich’ is another cliche, every one expect artists to be weirdos, it is called Crazy=fake. The serious artist today is about being yourself and being very professional and articulate. I have learn that passion does not sell art, but value does. (I read this blog for value provided not the passion)
    *)Just because people love your art does not mean they are going to buy it. Once again it is love in combination with value. Defining your market as a Fine Artist takes pinpoint precision because value is subjective, and this can sometimes take many years to master which can mean losing money until you figured it out.
    *)Yes, I need someone with more experience than me to help. I would love to read an article written by an acclaimed artist with an extensive resume that can give me numbers and how to create loopholes in the current industry not this outdated “19th-century-artists-want-to-be-starving” cliche. The entrepreneurial artist today that makes or want to make money is the ones that cheat the system and think outside the box, now if I can only find an article about that.

  11. Btw, we have tons of artists (photographers, designers, etc) in my Earn1k course. I think they’re already more likely to be successful because they’ve realized that they can apply entrepreneurship/marketing principles to their art.

    Yokoso, I hope to see you inside next time.

  12. @Yokoso – Thank you for your valuable feedback. I think we’re on the same page in many ways.

    If you take a look at my site, TheAbundantArtist.com, you’ll see several articles that deal with the gouging of artists by middlemen and how independent artists can get around running the gauntlet of galleries.

    In fact, that’s a good idea for a series of blog posts – how to get around the galleries.

    There are a few dozen Contemporary Artists who are doing a smashing job of thinking outside the box. Natasha Wescoat, Hazel Dooney, and Val from Val’s Art Diary are a few off the top of my head.

    I like what you are saying about the Starving Artist thing being offensive – I agree. The artists I want to reach are the ones who agree. I want to meet the artists who think they can be wealthy and successful, they just need a little help to do it.

  13. Thanks Cory!
    When I was in school, we actually talked a lot about Kinkade in our art history class at one point, because good or bad, he is an interesting figure. I think it’s a matter of taste (so no offense if anyone here owns and loves their Kinkade) but, the problem with his work is that it seems to be the lowest common denominator of wall art. His work is intentionally as unchallenging as possible in every way, and just offers nothing but saccharine sweet aesthetic.
    To me, liking Kinkade is like enjoying elevator music. Sure, elevator music is pleasant, but who has elevator music on their iPod?

    Thanks again for the post though, I’m glad someone brought these issues to light.

  14. I have friends who are talented but do not recognize that and instead get stuck in a job where they can’t really express their artistic side. It’s unfortunate but it happens to many of us, and I have to admit that it’s tough to strike the balance between making art and paying bills.

    However, I truly believe you need to flip the switch from making art to making art AND money. We know you want to do whatever you love, but why not learn about business/marketing and then make great art and money? As Cory said, if you can make enough money then you can live comfortably and focus on doing what you love, instead of worrying about when your creditors will chase after you.

    The 2nd last paragraph actually reminds me of the movie “the Pursuit of Happyness” by Will Smith, which is a great inspiration. He said, “Don’t ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something. You got a dream, you gotta protect it.” Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_yW3152Ffc

    Thanks for the great post!

  15. Love this one. I had a writing prof tell me that he lived in a van until he was 32 and FINALLY starting getting paid for his writing. He then told me that I too could make it, and to never sell out my “fellow artists” for a paycheck.

    Thanks for posting this, it’s a breath of fresh air for those of us whose craft involves creating business with our talents.

  16. Great post. And I do think it applies to business owners almost as much as artists.

  17. This is an excellent post. My main takeaway really is that, artist or not, you project or set your own worth. If you think you’re worth minimum wage, that’s what you’re going to get.

    Not to say that we should all be entitled even if we do not deliver the goods, but often enough, it seems that our natural inclination is to have lower self-worth… This translates in: Not asking for raises, not asking for promotions, not shooting for a higher position when applying for jobs etc.

  18. I work in marketing for a nonprofit arts organization, and I think that this conversation is missing a little context. @Yokoso up there gets into it a little bit. Here’s the real problem in the marketplace: both individual arts and artists suffer from a ridiculously-proportioned supply and demand problem.

    Consider this, from Americans for the Arts annual Arts Index report:
    “Nonprofit arts organizations…grew in number from 73,000 to 104,000 [from 1998 to 2008.]
    That one out of three failed to achieve a balanced budget even during the strongest economic years of this decade suggests that sustaining this capacity is a growing challenge.”

    Basically: There’s a glut of people who want to make art (visual and performing) and a scarcity of people who want to buy it. The availability of foundation money has allowed us arts organizations to get a little soft about whether or not the art that we are producing and/or presenting is relevant to the audiences that we seek. The art-making process for many artists – though clearly not some of the savvy artist/entrepreneurs commenting here – completely disregards audience. “Following your passion” and “doing what you love” as an artist will not necessarily turn you into a superstar or pay your bills – not unless other people actually find what you produce to be meaningful. Not all artists are lacking marketing skills. Some are just not marketable.

    Harsh, right? Well, artists and arts organizations need to apply some harsh reality to their decision making. “Why isn’t anyone buying my work?” is a valid question. If the answer is that no one knows about it, then yes, first you might have a marketing problem. If the answer is that no one cares about it, or no one thinks it’s worth buying, however, you’ve got some tougher decisions to make.

    Please note that this question isn’t about whether or not you should make art – ANYONE should make art if they wish to. It’s about whether you should expect others to lay out their hard-earned cash for your personal expression. Artists who wish to make a living working their craft have three options, as I see it:

    1. Convert art-making skills and mindsets into money-making services, as many of the commenters here appear to have done successfully.

    2. Purposefully pander to the masses like Thomas Kinkade – who is a schlock-producing bajillionaire – or Broadway producers, who won’t invest unless they think they can sell many hundreds of thousands of tickets.

    3. Hope and pray that what they produce as personal expressions are appealing to other people – so appealing that they will buy a piece or buy a ticket, over and over again, and hopefully even cross the line into philanthropy – just giving you money so you’ll keep doing it.

  19. @Lauren – you’ve really hit the nail on the head. It’s tough to give a complete context of how the art world operates in a post like this, so I’m glad that you and Yokoso dropped some comments to fill that in.

    Your three choices there at the end are what it really comes down to. Converting your skills into the ability to make money and produce things people actually want is a separate activity from making things that are personally fulfilling that may not ever sell.

    Some art is just not marketable. Love it.

  20. One problem for artists / entrepreneurs is that people around them say people would never pay $XX for your product, but really that person would never pay at all. It is easy to think you just need to find the right price, but really you need to find the right customers. The real question is what will someone pay who is actually planning to buy it. Every piece of art will only appeal to a certain number of people and of those people only a certain number will be willing to buy. Of all the people who read this blog probably less than 1% will every pay for anything. Despite that Ramit makes a lot of money.

    • “It is easy to think you just need to find the right price, but really you need to find the right customers.”

      Exactly, Kelly. See my catalogue of freeloaders for examples of people who will use every excuse in the book — “I would pay IF you charged 90% less” or “$20/month just seems like too much” — as an excuse not to pay. Those people will never pay. It’s critically important to find a market that will pay. And to surround yourself with people who can help you identify those people.

      Some really good comments on this post.

  21. This post hit the nail right on the head! I am a artist and I never let that “struggling artist crap penetrate. Life is what you make of it and you should ASK for what you are worth.

    I recently wrote a book about my old business and in the world of books the price is high $50.00 and I can’t keep up with the demand! It was suggested that I sell my book between 12.50-19.99 to make it competitive!

    People will actually shy away from some things if they are too cheap! I know a lot of very talented artist and many of them are LAZY, yes i said LAZY they only want to make art when the feeling hits them! Hard to get anywhere in life by virtue of mood!

    The reason it is hard for artist to get decent coin for their work is one they are not good business people, two so many are so freakin happy to have someone make an offer they wet their pants in anticipation of a sale without really thinking it through!

    If more artist respected their time and their craft this pricing issue would go away overnight!

    Damn good post!

  22. @ Lauren (comment #18)

    Very wise words based in reality. To add to what you said: When Picasso was born the world population was 978 million, and lets say for argument sake the artist per capita was one out of 30. Today our population is 6.7 billion, so one out of 30 becomes a big exponential number (I leave the math for a brain out there). Somehow the art buyer did not grow the same way. There is just so many objects the world and its collections can swallow up on top of the already existing art/objects from the previous centuries. A piece of art is not like the couch you bought that you will eventually throw out when it is old. Art accumulate and are taken over by the next generation.There are to many artists and their objects for the demand out there. I think it takes more work, hustle and initiative for today’s Picassos to make a mark than ever before. The upside is that the art world and artist are up for a redefinition of marketing, value, object and substance that will directly influence their finances.

    You can ask what has this got to do with artists making money? I think a good businessman knows the numbers, understands reality, can see the future, be proactive and capitalize on it.

  23. There is an opposition between artists and business people. According to Holland codes, they are diametrically opposed. Both deal in ideas, but conservatives (the first inclination of most businesspeople) like really concrete ideas while artists like abstract ideas. This is why they clash.

    Me? I’m a conservative artistic :) Go figure.

    I don’t think that artists necessarily must be poor, but I do believe that there needs to be some suffering. It spurs art. Look at Guernica.

  24. As a successful actor who started off on the road to excuses I really appreciate Cory’s insight here. I lived in my truck for months while I wrote my one person show and the demand is insane. Wasn’t a choice, it was a means to an end. I’m more on the same page of Glendon Cameron too. I think success as an artist comes from being world class at what you do (read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell) and hopefully that one thing is in demand. There is no template you can apply to artists from every genre when it comes to how to make money unless you remember that it’s a business first, and a solid business model will always provide solid results.

    Thanks again for a great post, we’ll be re-posting it on our blog http://www.gigsmacked.com.

    Here’s to success!

    Kahlil (at) gigsmacked (dot) com

  25. I believe people will pay for art if it speaks to THEM. I was an art/art history major in school and I grew so tired of the long winded-ness of the Artist’s statement and how the *artist* felt or what the *artist* was trying to communicate. I wanted to learn how to make things (like bronze sculptures), not carry on about why I drew that line there. But that’s not the norm for Academia. I felt like they actually taught us to be self-obsessed which is the complete opposite of good marketing.

    I think it was the obsession with everything having meaning, instead of just studying the craft, that has kept me from doing art since graduation. It might be interesting to apply what I’m learning about marketing to some art and see how it goes now.

  26. There is certainly a strange psychological balancing act that goes on in some areas of art (and writing): the quality of creative output is very subjective and to improve it is often necessary to cultivate dissatisfaction, to never be entirely happy with your work but to keep striving to improve it. Together, these can make it easy for some artists to undervalue. I’m learning that you need to look more at time/experience in pricing art than at the art itself (which some people will love and some people will hate, however good or awful it is). I’ve also heard that art should be priced at “as much as the market will bear”. These both take the artist’s subjective judgement out of the picture.

  27. I too was a victim of this myth. I had been continuously feed the “starving artist” myth. I remember once at a Black Tie event, the photographers had lowered their prices so much that they were barely surviving off their hard work. They told me… “Oh, you know, it’s because of the starving artists thing…”

    I truly agree that flipping that “switch” to self-worth is what’s most important sometimes. I see great work, but it’s sad to see such dedicated artists working so hard just to belittle themselves to $3 products.

    Thanks for the enlightening advice.

  28. Kahlil-I was an art student ( sculpting and water color) I think part of the problem is as referenced before there is a certain nobility of being a starving artist ( total crap)

    I was also the dude that blew up more pieces in the kiln than anyone else ( I take risks) in a competitive world and art is very competitive because from the toddler in kindergarten to the whacked out uncle everyone is making art, now how much of it is is good is very subjective.

    However that is not the problem, the biggest problem is the lack of self promotion. Great marketing sells everything good or bad. Remember the Pet Rock?

    This is not just endemic of artists many people in all business have this fear of putting their self out there as if it was a bad thing! You have got to produce and spend MORE time telling people about YOU or get someone else to do it for your ( say a Maven)

    Kelly- If you are selling on price you are a commodity and really a dead duck from jump street. The big part of finding the right customers is knowing who they are before you produce your work, that takes research , beta, testing and asking a ton of question. I have not found this to be untrue of any product I have ever sold.

    Kathleen-” the quality of creative output is very subjective and to improve it is often necessary to cultivate dissatisfaction, to never be entirely happy with your work but to keep striving to improve it.”

    I get the statement to a degree and it is true you can never think of your creative offspring as perfect or your work will never grow. It is almost as if you need two brains to process the various elements of one’s creative process and the hard cold facts of business. Market research helps tremendously in that regard.

  29. As an artist who is good with her money and making a nice income I’ll just say if I wrote what I really think of your post it would probably set off some sort of profanity filter. There are plenty of artists making a good living off their art and who manage their money well. However those stories don’t make for the right stereotype and if we don’t conform to this stereotype we must not exist right?

    Most artists who undercharge aren’t making their art a business, It’s a fun hobby and they sell their work because if they didn’t their house would get too full and you can only give away so much to your friends and family. The rest who undercharge, some buy into the starving artist myth but a lot just aren’t very good and use it to make excuses for why people don’t buy their work.

  30. I think it’s mostly a matter of confidence, as has been mentioned repeatedly above. IMO, people are afraid to ask for real and reasonable money for their work, and that drags overall prices down when someone basically gives away their services for free. They’re uncomfortable with asking for money and don’t do a good job educating people as to why their price is justified. In other words, it’s sales 101.

    Personally, I’m a photographer who is enrolled in Ramit’s Earn1k class, and I’m learning a lot about analyzing my offerings to my market to make sure it’s marketable.

    That goes back to the thought above – converting your skills to something that makes money may not necessarily be what fulfills you. But I would argue figure out what makes you money, and that gives you the freedom to work on the things that you do find fulfilling.

    Some awesome discussion here.

  31. Living very close to the North Hollywood arts district, I have met numerous artists, from both ends of the spectrum.

    I know one artist, he has a 2 million dollar house in Hollywood Hills and enjoys a comfortable life as a painter and an activist. I also know numerous art school graduates who are jobless. I believe the single most important difference between the successful and ‘starving’ artists is their self-confidence and how much they feel their work is NEEDED.

    The unemployed artists always feel like art is not that important and turn to other careers while their talents falter, while the richer ones know that art is pivotal is advertising, marketing campaigns, and more.

  32. Wow Ramit- seems like you’ve struck a nerve here :-p

    I’m still pretty new to the marketing scene, but one thing I’ve heard lots of places is that expensive stuff SELLS. Just because its expensive people think its much higher quality.

    Theres countless stories of struggling stores who would double the price of their merchandise and sell out in no time, because people think price = quality.

    I’ll keep this post in mind next time I run across a buddy (or myself!) trying to market great products for less than they’re worth!

  33. @ramit’s mom
    Trees already look like trees.

    @Ramit
    Worst advice you never took.
    Saving money will always be about spending less than you make and trees will always have bark and leaves. An artist will add what no one else can. Their personal view of the world.

    I hope you don’t really hate yourself.

    • Evan, I can’t figure out if your comment is insulting or praising me. So…I am just going to assume you are praising me. Thanks man!

  34. The main reason I haven’t tried to make money off my art (photography and painting) is that I have no idea how to start. I’ve worked as a scientist–and a damn good one–for my entire adult life, and while I entertain notions of doing photography as a full-time job, the idea is so fraught with uncertainty that, frankly, I’m happy to leave it as a hobby. Let me put it this way: it’s not that I have any qualms about selling the stuff I do at a price that will sustain me. It’s that I have no idea how to go about doing the selling. So I will keep my day job–which I am very good at, and which I like.

  35. Fascinating post and comments! Really appreciate your writing, Cory.

    I’m a classical musician and I hear this stuff all. the. time. Last week, a potential client came over — shocked, stunned, and frankly suspicious– to find a musician lived in a nice place instead of subsisting in a decrepit hovel. (I smiled sweetly as I mentally calculated his rate increase.)

    My observations:

    *There is a strain of Puritanism within our culture: If you are doing something you love, a “fun job,” then you have already received your reward. You better not think of charging a worthy price for it. This is a crippling and false belief. :(

    Additionally, there is the low esteem already mentioned. Did you know that classical musicians have a lower “career self esteem” than JANITORS? My viola coach told me about this study, as I was preparing for an audition. (Thanks, Brian!)

    Yet I know awesome artists who value their time and work so highly, that they put a premium on it. Your beliefs are really reflected in what you do and accept.

    *I agree: Entrepreneurs and artists are coming from a very similar, highly creative, self-directed place. The difference is measuring results: ent’s are objectively quantifiable ($) and artists are more subjective, as others noted.

    *The subjective part of art makes it easier for posers and dilettantes to try to sneak into the ranks. I once knew a self-styled “artist” who was in a band, but had a curious aversion to practicing. And if you didn’t appreciate his art, you were a total philistine. Strangely, this combination did not result in success.

    *Ramit, what the hey? You hate art? Do you hate movies, videos, music, too? Because there is a ton of art direction in all of them. Without art we’d be living in a very boring place.

  36. @Noadi – there are a lot of artists who struggle to get by. Good ones, bad ones, and in-between. Dichotomies like you are setting up don’t service anyone. The truth is that there are a lot of artists, and a lot of entrepreneurs, who self-sabotage. I’ve done it. Ramit’s done it. I would be you’ve done it too. There’s no shame in it, as long as you break the pattern and keep growing.

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I’ve really enjoyed the discussion.

    Question: if you recognize the starving artist in yourself, what are you going to do about it?

  37. @ramit
    I was going to just leave it open for interpretation but the last thing I want to do is insult you. In all honesty the hair went up on the back of my neck when I read that you “…hate artists.” I actually read the entire post 3 times before I realized the term artist is used way too loosely. Given enough time, practice, and now technology anyone can render objects realistically. The symbol we all recognize as tree is static just like the concept of saving. We all see the world differently but share a common language in order to communicate efficiently. An artist is able to look past these symbols and communicate their view of the world through a chosen medium. Unless you believe in telepathy there’s no other way to access this information which is why popular art draws such a high price. It’s the inner “Purple Cow” in all of us. This is why the IWTYTBR/Ramit Sethi brand represents much more than a blog about personal finance. This is why you hate the symbol representing the starving artist and also why you are an artist yourself. Had you taken your mom’s advice things might have turned out differently.

  38. How rude of me. Thanks for the post Cory.

  39. @ Cory already recognized it in myself about a year ago. So I revamped my offerings, made the final production of much higher quality than it originally was, and hiked my prices accordingly. Even as a relative ‘beginner’, just having a more professional approach and product has things moving in the right direction, and this year I want to get a full head of steam behind that momentum and keep it moving.

  40. Very interesting post and lots of great comments that I’d like to read closer when I’m not so tired. :)

    I make a reasonable living with my art (comedy and music), but I know plenty that don’t. And I think a big part of it is that 1. We don’t know when it’s good and 2. We’re conditioned to not think it’s good.

    Certainly most veteran comics will tell you that you don’t even start to get good until you’d been doing it 10 years. And when public acceptance is spotty, you don’t know if what you’re doing is good in the eyes of others yet. So you have to completely rely on self-confidence to get your through the early stages. A big part of an artistic career is having to deal with loads of rejection on a daily basis. When people run your work down, it’s hard to see it as valuable and some artists succumb to that way of thinking.

    One of the best pieces of advice I ever received is that your current project (painting, CD, film, photo, whatever) is a snap shot of where you are as an artist right now. It’s the best you can be right now, so go sell it to people. Engage those people and take them along on the ride as you discover your own talents.

    And I have no problem monetizing my art. I introduced a new closing song to my set this evening called “Buy My S**t”. And they did. :)

  41. Anyone else really disappointed with this blog lately? I find myself reading / visiting this site less and less. I’m not sure why though.

    Maybe it’s because we’ve strayed away from common Joe Shmoe problems / solutions and are now more into niche business people advice. Your losing your touch, Ramit.

    • John, I’m always open to suggestions for things you’d like to read about. And you can always submit your own guest post.

      Right now, I’m running my Earn1k course and am spending a lot of time with my students there.

  42. If you don’t like the blog, why read it? There’s so much to read out there, I can’t imagine that you can’t find something you like.

    The conversation here is interesting and hits at many different interesting points. Psychology is a huge part an artist’s income, and an artist must have thick skins to succeed. We say in photography, if you aren’t being rejected, you aren’t trying hard enough. Yet a thick skin in some way opposes the need for an artist to be sensitive, open and creative. You have to have huge respect for yourself and your creations so that you can put yourself out in the world and tolerate the rejection of your heartfelt work.

    The issue of artists and the market is also interesting, because artists need to sell to an audience who values them, in every sense of the word. Often markets demand that artists compromise, and this manipulates the art. As an artist, it can feel gross. I grew tired of changing my art for the market, because it drained my energy toward my own work. I chose to shift into another field so that I can do my art as I like it, and sell it to those who appreciate that.

    The internet has facilitated this, and I’m excited to see what much-needed changes this will bring to the art world.

    I was once offered $10 to reuse a photo. Pardon!? That doesn’t even cover my time to make the invoice. I said $400 or don’t use it again. They said they didn’t have the budget and didn’t run it. The problem is, some people are so desperate to see themselves in print, they will take $10, and this lowers the value of photog for everyone.

    Bottom line–value yourself and people will value you. How to learn to value yourself, well, that is a different conversation altogether.

    Thanks for the great post and great comments. Best to all!

    ps Ramit, you write, and fairly well, I might add. How are you not an artist? You see a world and communicate it in a way others understand and appreciate. How is that not art? (I think that’s what evan was saying with the i hope you don’t hate yourself bit.)

  43. @Cory – I think the psychological block is part parents freaking out about how their children will make a living (I come from first-and-second-generation immigrant families), part glorification of sports over art in school (sports make money and are exciting to watch), and part plain reality: It IS hard to make money in a pursuit that is so highly subjective.

    I also think there is that whole dangerous bohemian culture thing, where if you’re not living on ramen in an apartment where the bathtub is in the kitchen, you’re not a SERIOUS artist. Which is the other problem: If you’re are doing well, the other artists accuse you of selling out. You’re screwed either way, at least as far as getting support. So rule #1 is true: Expect no support, anywhere. You’re doing this because you must, so keep doing it.

    I think most people who do art are used to not making money and have no training in marketing themselves. Look in cafes – much of the art there got the sweet spot because the artist walked in and said, “Hey, will you show my stuff?” NOT because it is the best art you’ll see.

    Finally, at least with writing, I see a lot of resistance to supporting oneself through more “corporate” gigs, to make the money while you’re working on your “creative” stuff. It’s the selling-out issue. Me, I think it’s practical. Sure, it cuts down on time, and you have to be careful not to get complacent (I’ve been guilty of this). But when I attended a seminar from a writer who’s doing quite well doing both corporate gigs and publishing a nonfiction book of her own, it felt like the hugest, most awesome news ever.

  44. Well, well,…I read your blog often and it’s really informative. I have to DISAGREE with this post. :) Those artists you are talking about are probably just a wanna be or a self proclaim artists with no clients, with all do respect. If you are good and make it into the real world of professional, then you will make good living. I work in a professional art field for video games and movies, and none of them that I know are starving and most of them are pretty badass artists.
    I just think that some people are just lazy and have no idea what they really want to do…one of the easiest way out is let’s be an artist, then start throwing paint around with no training or discipline. They might as well just call themselves hippies or free spirit wanderer instead of artist. (kinda like college kids who takes liberal art because they have no idea what they in college for just yet.)
    If you are really really good and in high demand those game companies or movies studio will give you whatever number you ask for (six to seven figures salary is achievable, not many people know that great professional artists in demand of current market would make that kind of figures). Though I have to admit, the industry for professional concept artists, matte painters, 3D artist, etc. are really small, but when you stand out, people notice.
    Even a lot of great fine artists that I know make some serious money painting oil. You can look up (Google) Jeremy Lipkings, Richard Schmid,
    and Alex Kanevsky.
    Great artists always going to make money no matter where they are if they take it seriously and professionally. Only those who are discipline and study will prosper, artist is just like any other profession…. You take it seriously, then you will prosper doing what you love. It’s a blessing. ;)

  45. Some artists undervalue their work out of fear. In fact, fear is responsible for many issues including being blocked creatively, fear of failure, and fear of success. A few books worth reading are The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron,The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and I’d Rather Be in the Studio, by Alysson Stanfield. Each has info on many artist’s issues.
    I also have a shop on Etsy with original art and other items. It’s not as easy to sell art there as it is little junky items, believe me. The artists on Etsy are very talented, but the site has not made it very conducive to finding the art a buyer might be looking for. All the social networking sites are very helpful for artists to get their work out there, too.
    Hanging in there non-the-less. Thanks for an informative post.

  46. I have had a lot of starving artist clients and they are warm, wonderful people but just don’t know how to play business.

    That’s the thing about the corporate types -they know how to present themselves- brand themselves,-package it up – but a big shiny bow on themselves and make everyone pay the big bucks to get to them and their work.

    Somehow artists never develop that.

  47. The only part of this great article I question is whether starvation foments creativity. Recall the old Chinese cliche, ‘pain makes man think’. When a great artist finally figures out how to make money he/she is said to have ‘sold out’. This may in fact be true in many cases but I dont think it has to be that way. The sold out are burnt out that have turned their heads to profit. There are great artists who know how to make money and who value themselves. Case in point – Ramit.

  48. @Ramit – It’s good to hear there are some artists in your Earn 1k course. Am still not earning enough to do it, but hopefully will in the future. Also I’m glad that you’ve lead us to Cory, despite the fact you hate artists :) Thanks!

  49. Granted but it is also worth bearing in mind that you need to create things of value, preferably lasting value also.

  50. Here’s a strategy for any budding “starving artist.” Get a job at a restaurant. Isn’t it ironic? No, in fact it makes perfect sense. As long as you choose a restaurant with the central control within the restaurant (ie. no chains) I have living proof sitting right next to me. Promotional illustrator by day and waitress by night.

    Here’s how it works:
    She approached the owner and identified herself as a freelance illustrator. The owner sensing the advantage of having such talent in house asked to see an example. She mocked up a promo card for some specials and gave it to the owner. The owner was amazed at her talent and asked if he could use it for the months specials.
    “How much do I owe you?”
    “That will be $200.”
    “That’s outrageous! I have artist friends in the city(Manhattan) that will do it for much less!”
    “No problem”
    After a week the owner never heard back from his artist friends and after realizing how much those “glossy club” style cards go far he agreed to pay here $175 per card. That’s about 1.5 hours of labor for a promo card featuring 2 illustrations and some custom text. All hand drawn.
    After a few months and some excellent feedback he installed chalkboard panels and asked her to post the specials here as well. “That will be $350 per theme.” -back and forth- They finally agreed at $275 per theme plus 5 meals a week. Now each month she gets an extra $450 in cash plus salary plus tips plus 20 meals which I estimate at about $160 at cost for a total savings of $610! Oh did I mention that 3 other owners in the area have approached her based on the chalk themes?

    So much for starving.

  51. This is an outstanding entry! The post itself was flawed, but the comments more than made up for that. I learned a lot by reading the comments on this post!

    One point someone made earlier is huge: the amount of artists in the world has grown exponentially, but the art buyers have not kept up in the same proportions. With the economy the way it is, many people are losing their day jobs, and trying to give it a go with their “hobby” of photography. Some people should have made the switch years ago, as they are very talented and will go far. For others, I just want to tell them to go work at McDonald’s because it is a tough market out there for photographers.

    One thing I have learned, is how good you are is never the first qualification. First it is who you know, second is if they like your personality, THEN they might take a look at your portfolio. At that point they will usually ask for price, but they have probably already made up their mind if you are the right choice or not.

    Being an artist is not about living out of a shoe box to prove your worthiness: it is having the confidence in yourself, believing in your talent and what you do, and having strong enough passion to convince others that you love and respect your own art.

    I have often struggled with pricing my work: I know there are better artists than me, and I sympathize with people that have small budgets, but since I have gone full time artist, the necessity that I make money has allowed me to charge more without feeling guilty about it. This is how I make my living. This is my 9-5. This is my talent, my education, my creativity, and it is worth a lot.

  52. Lori, I love your comment. There are indeed many artists who are more than willing to charge more, who are not working as starving artists – but several of the comments on this very post actually prove the point I was trying to make.

    Look the through the comments and see some of the excuses. Artists using their lack of connections, lack of skill, lack of confidence, lack of whatever as an excuse to not succeed.

  53. It’s ridiculous to call artist’s lazy or that they lack skills and confidence or connections. Artist’s just need help becoming business people, thinking in business terms rather than from emotions where art lives. Please do not suggest we lack. We just need guidance and direction to overcome resistance (fear) and think with the other side of our brain. Most of the artists I know have no problem pricing their art very well. The buyers are the ones who go to “Starving Artists” hotel sales to find something that fits their couch for nothing.

  54. You are so far off the mark with this post. Get off your soap box.

  55. I agree 100% with Erin’s post (#3), and Yokoso (#10) as well.

    It takes everything I have to produce quality work: and if that’s what I’m doing, my focus is there. Of course, I could take more time to become expert at marketing and administration it would take away from the time it takes (me) to create.

    This is not attitude; it’s reality, and the trap many of us find outselves in. I would love to see these issues addressed in a post someday…

  56. @Yokoso & @Sara

    You may find this article inspiring.

    @Sara
    I totally empathize with you but….

    You already have all the talent, tools, and passion you’ll ever need (I know this without even looking at your work). The answers to all your questions are already inside you. The answers are metaphorically locked in a box and the key is sitting right next to your keyboard (or did you leave it on the nightstand?) Before you unlock the box think about why you’ve been staring at it for so long. Are you fearful of something? What are the consequences of opening the box? Also, consider the consequences of not opening the box. While you’re contemplating these things keep this in mind.

    YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!

    Scary thought right? Well it’s one of two things all 6.7 billion of us have in common and for most it’s a strong motivator. The other thing we share is that we’re all unique. You are the only you out of 6.7 billion people which gives you an incredible competitive advantage when it comes to an abstract thing such as art.

    If you want to sell this you’re going to have to let people know you’re here. That’s where the marketing comes in.

    You said yourself you “could” devote more time to marketing. Well if you know you can then why aren’t you? Start today trying to figure this out and the rest will fall right into place. I promise!

  57. Great article and it really hit home. I do art part-time and make a good 2nd income compared to part-time artists (I think).

    I 1st started doing my art for FREE then charged a small fee and doubled the price a year later. Interest and income has continued to increase.

    It’s probably because my artwork is very niche and I’m probably less than 10 artists that specialize in the Filipino writing script (Baybayin).

  58. Can you spot the cultural assumption in this post?

  59. @anon – When someone has nothing of significance to contribute, they instantly go for the insults. Ramit is pretty much expected to say something self-deprecating during each of his posts. Yes, it’s not PC. Laugh, or take that teachable moment mess to Jezebel :P

    On-topic: I wish you guys would put some sense into my father’s head. He’s one of the best jazz guitarists in the world, has recorded over a dozen records and used to tour (he’s still an active performer…kinda). However, he’s completely eaten up by the “starving artist” thing, so he won’t market himself to any people of note, won’t drop his crappy label and won’t get a manager. He gets no money because he doesn’t demand it. What a fool! My father could be a millionaire, with his work impacting and inspiring so many others, and he chooses to flush it down the drain for a subsistence living.

    Please…if you’re an artist, give your work a chance. I’ve seen so many people piss their talent down the drain for the sake of supposed comfort, and it never works. I’m a writer, so I’m fighting this mindset, too. I still haven’t won…but, I will.

  60. Anon – Ah. I see what you did there. My apologies.

  61. I guess it’s a right side VS left side of the brain thing.

  62. Hi Ramit and Cory, it’s the first time I leave a comment to a blog post, but I felt compelled to do so, as what both you guys wrote was quite enlightening!

    I don’t agree 100% on what you wrote Cory ( i think that Yokoso had one or two points, contemporary art world is a jungle ) but the whole concept of ” swichting your relationship between your self-worth and money”… whoa… I couldn’t have been more with you on this!
    I’m setting up my first exhibition with other two budding curators and in these days we are struggling with sponsorships and budgets, tough job, and I’ve started noticing how much they way we present ourselves ( and not only our job) influences sponsors decisions…
    Definitively I’m going to print and hang this post on the wall as a remember! Thanks Cory!

    Thanks to you Ramit as well, for having hosted Cory’s post and in general for the though-breaking posts, I like when you use a bad-cop attittude to shake us reader, to encourage us to take personal responsability of our successes/ failures ( as in the Shrug-effect)!!!

    Please carry on with the good job guys!

  63. What a great post! I’ve gotten fairly annoyed at Ramit’s comments about artists lately, so this is wonderful. The reason I’ve gotten annoyed is because everyday, I see examples of artists who are not starving, who are making responsible financial decisions. Yes, there are a lot who aren’t doing as well, but it was frustrating to see the generalization over and over again.

    Anyways.

    I feel that, from a young age, people who want to make a living out of their art are discouraged from asking for money. There’s the myth of Bohemia. Like some commentators above said, it’s turned into this romantic notion. Once a young person decides they want to do art full time (whether it’s visual art, music, dance, etc), parents often ask if they will have “something to fall back on.” There’s an inherent assumption of potential failure, that you won’t be able to support yourself financially. The concept of “selling out” has been discussed a lot above, but that’s of course a big factor too.

    I work in theatre, both in my day job and as a freelancer on the side. I’m in Southern California, so that’s where most of my observations come from. Personally, I think one of the biggest problems in theatre here is that artists undervalue themselves. While there are a ridiculous amount of actors in my area, there is a clear demand for theatre. Sadly, there are many theatres who cut costs by paying actors (and other staff) a very low wage/stipend. Actors don’t challenge this.

    Thanks, Cory, for taking the time to write about this. I realize this post is about really niche audience, but I think there are lots of great points to be taken by non-artists.

  64. I originally studied art. As a painter, I am very innovative and creative. I get very personal in my art, and whenever I had a show, I could tell that my work inspired a lot of deep, introspective thought. None of that is what people wanted. They wanted the kitchy, crappy stuff that was mass produced, or something that matched their sofa.

    The reality is that some art, although being very thought provoking and possibly world changing, might not be marketable. Some stuff is too deep for people to want to have to look at every day. Amistad and Schindler’s List were amazing, life-changing movies, but I don’t want to watch them everyday. Sometimes, I want to watch a National Lampoon’s movie. I know I’m about to sound a little snobbish or elitest, but animators, illustrators, graphic artists, jingle writers, Thomas Kincade, wedding photographers, comedians, and sit-com writers you have made your art from the perspective of making it marketable. Yes, you sold out- that was your intention from the start! However, I don’t fault you for that. If you’re enjoying yourself, and make a comfortable living, then you at least can say that you’re not starving, but yes, you have had to sacrifice some of your creativity to do it. That doesn’t mean stop (with the exception of Thomas Kincade).

    Yes, there are some people who do the “starving artist” thing- these are the same untalented douche bags that pull out their guitars just to try to get laid. If they actually are talented, they think they are suffering for their art- or whatever. They need the pep talk.

    To those who say that it’s JUST about confidence- no you’re morons.

    I had plenty of talent, plenty of confidence, plenty of thought, and I would advertise/market myself in new and creative ways, but people just didn’t want to buy my stuff. My work was too deep and dark for daily life, so I did some re-evaluation and I’m changing my career direction. I had too much self- respect to do the starving artist thing, I couldn’t see myself altering so much of myself to sell-out on a consistent basis (I’ve done some freelance graphics work from time to time just for some extra money), so the way to be most true to myself was actually to head in a different career path, something else that I also enjoy.

    And to be perfectly honest, those of you that think that you made it through your hard work and confidence, you actually forgot one of the most important factors in your success- LUCK!

  65. Why are artists so terrible with money? left brain vs. right brain..

  66. Anybody can make a painting. It takes a real artist to sell it.

  67. [...] If money-making is an art, shouldn’t all artists be rich? I Will Teach You to Be Rich talks about why it seems that artists are bad with money. [...]

  68. My thoughts as a musical theater/cabaret singer currently in New York:

    The draw of performing, working with other artists, growing as an individual creative entity often “feels” like payment on the emotional level, therefore some artists feel unable to charge a certain amount per performance, rehearsal, “gig.” The thought of “oh they want to work with me and like my talent, how could I ask for anything more?” gets in the way. It also often seems like you can’t place a price on one’s talent, and we’re often supposed to be “humble” as performers. We often need agents, managers, someone to name a price and/or haggle for the price of our talent, and if we don’t have those team members to speak for us, we’re often at a loss. There’s also the myth of “paying your dues” and working pro bono until you have a “name” for yourself, and thus can start charging any amount of money for your time, talent and effort. We as actor-singers get bitter at the thought of someone auditioning for the very first time and getting a high-paying role without “doing the time” by working for free for many years. But that bitterness comes from comparing ourselves to that “lucky” person, and does not come from any perspective of power.

    Another thought is on the Education side: for the most part, in High School, College, and in any number of Acting classes (speaking only of my Los Angeles and New York experiences), it’s often the Business and Financial sides of acting/singing which are overlooked. Those who take even Business 101 or Marketing in college are more likely to understand how to incorporate the thoughts of being a mini-Corporation or self-managed business. I’m an intelligent artist, can follow instructions, plans and outlined rational thoughts, and even I’m sometimes caught frozen when thinking of setting my own price for a performance. But after looking at the thousands of dollars I’ve spent over the years on voice lessons, classes, training, travel, etc…I’ve learned that being humble about my talent, my work ethic, and my sense of self worth is just not a good business sense.

    And I thank blog entries like this for filling in that semester or two of Business 101 that I didn’t get at UCLA…thanks for writing it and for the great comments!

  69. I agree with many of the er, disagreements about this post. (Lauren, Yosoko)

    Half the struggle with artwork is convincing the general public that your price – which covers your costs fairly and reasonably – is worth it.

    Most people assume that artwork is cheap, and don’t want to spend much on it. I work in puppetry, and most people think that because they can make a puppet out of a sock and some buttons, that you can produce something looking like a Henson muppet for the same cost.

    The general public need to be as educated as the artist is, otherwise the artist (without realising it) lowers their costs to suit what they think their market will pay. And then they undercut themselves, all the while thinking it’s to their own benefit.

    I may be a ‘struggling artist’, but I’m also an entrepeneur, and most of those I work with don’t at all believe in the myth of selling out, actually encourage correct pricing, chose to work in their field (and get swamped with projects – that’s the REAL trap), and don’t wait around for others to hand work to them.

    It also depends entirely upon what COUNTRY you are in, as different countries have different market sizes in different fields. You can easily exhaust your money-making options touring your professional acting troupe to Australia for instance. Which is why so many Aussie actors end up overseas; which further reduces the opportunities for those who stay in their country.

    I would say that the main reason artists fail in business is because most OTHER businesses also fail. It’s just that artists have less of an interest in doing the ‘boring’ stuff (ie. book keeping) and more of an interest in actually doing their art. Which is why so many smart and successful artists outsource their bookkeeping stuff…

    Glendon hints at another thing: most new artists are also so keen to get their name out there that they don’t fully invest time in assessing the project. The number of times I’ve wasted money, effort, etc in chasing projects that fell through; people who were dodgy; projects that I ended up hating because it wasn’t right for me… etc. Artists need to learn to be choosy too.

    As someone currently unemployed but spending every waking minute on my art and barely seeing any money on it, I think it’s also insulting to say it’s all about laziness. For most of us, I believe it’s all about finding the right path for US, and not SOMEONE ELSE, because there’s no guide to success for every single artist in their particular style and method of working (as much as the OP can try to convince us otherwise).

  70. “I hate art [and] artists (and most non-profits).” Ramit this can’t possibly be true. You might consider injecting one or two adjectives into that statement to attribute some clarification, such as “I hate lousy art [and] clueless artists (and most superfluous non-profits).” I’m trying to imagine what Thomas Krens or Tobias Meyer or even Warren Buffet, three individuals part of an esteemed community that oversee and influence a billion-dollar global industry annually, would say in response to just that statement (in context) — which may be nothing beyond a frown and, in Meyer’s case, a few glamorous eye rolls. As a tech-evangelist and business marketeer, consider the important historical relationships Mark C. Taylor explores between art, technology, and finance in his book “Confidence Games”, that trending in most economies and market forces grow in deep relation to the cultural mediums they’re designed to reflect; so much that the art of the times becomes indicative of the strength of its currency and vice versa. I’d venture to say that if Adam Smith took a long, hard look at our financial system today he’d point out the function of it’s aesthetics and then quickly ask to speak with the world’s most powerful art figures, dealers, and scholars. I’m sure you’d agree that to edge understanding forward you need both. It’s clear by the entry that you, with Cory’s help, meant to provide some aide to the confused, bewildered, and pugnacious sort — those altogether still as mystified as they were in grade school about what it really means to make enlightened contributions to society, its nature/artifice — but overall I’d hate to be dispelled by the general notion that, despite everything, the author of one of my favorite new books feels nothing but contempt in the presence of Picasso or Arpita Singh.

  71. If this post proves anything it’s that dictionaries are friggin’ useless. Webster says that art describes something produced as an artistic effort or for decorative purposes and I won’t even go into its usage as a noun. it’s pretty clear that no one really cares what the dictionary says and the meaning of art is unique to all of us. This makes it pointless to continue posting comments. Most of us are defending what art means to us individually to people that don’t care. Not because they are insensitive but because they don’t need anyone to tell them what art means to them. So if the word originated in the 13th century like the dictionary suggests we’ve all been beating a dead horse for 700 years. That horse isn’t getting any deader and it sure isn’t coming back to life. Ramit hates art as he defines it but not as you define it. Cory then goes on to warn you that this is quite common and it shouldn’t influence your attitude about your own work. Stop excepting labels from other people and start making your own.

  72. [...] up is from Ramit’s blog : I will teach you to be rich which is a great mindset article which although focuses on why Artists Don’t Make Money, [...]

  73. Ramit, I think that you should get tested by Johnson O’Connor. I think that it would be really interesting to see what kind of natural aptitudes you have. Dexterity with tools that create art would probably not be one of them :) As you do talk about career/life choices here, it would be an interesting topic and one that would spark some interest. Most people who go through testing recommend it to others.

  74. [...] Berkshire pick is rocking! First the Alexa Rankings and Then The World by My Journey to Millions. The Myth of the Starving Artist at I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Fire your bank with the Switch Bank Accounts Checklist from [...]

  75. [...] really isn’t an excuse. When I did a guest post on IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com, there were several artists who opined in the comments section that I was putting artists down, [...]

  76. [...] was around this point I came across Cory’s guest post on IWTYTBR and that theme of ‘The Starving Artist is a Myth’ chimed with everything I had been [...]