The Starving Artist myth proliferates because it is often
accompanied by that other myth: creative people aren’t good at
business. With these ideas circulating, it’s easy to see how artists
struggle to succeed professionally.
But I don’t buy these myths. In fact, I believe that artists and creative people make the best business people. Here’s why.
Artists are experts in seeing the big picture.
They can hold an expansive point of view. This creative perspective,
this ability to see what isn’t there and to relish possibility, is key
to business success.
Good artists are adept at pinpointing the details.
A painter knows the difference between cobalt and azure, a writer uses
specifics to describe a character, and a sculptor’s strokes will make
all the difference in the end expression on a sculpture.
Artists and business people are willing to risk. There is no
guarantee in art, business, or life, but creative people take risks
every time they go into the studio. In fact, any art worth its salt
takes the artist and the viewer outside the realm of the known and
shows them something new.
Artists are able to dwell in the unknown. Art making is the
biggest adventure there is. If you do not know what you are creating,
if it will appeal to anyone, or if you will make any money at all,
you’re in good company with both artists and business people.
Business and art are fueled by a high level of passion. Any
advice on running a business will preach that you need to be passionate
to fuel the long stretches of challenging times. Artists thrive on
All of these characteristics give artists an edge over others in the
business realm. It’s great to be fueled by the knowledge that you do
have what it takes to succeed, and you also need to operate in a
business-like way to make it happen. Here are the keys to business
success that I have used and enjoyed.
Vision You have to want your creative success from a deep,
deep place. What is this about for you, anyway? Have a vision for
yourself and your business. Write a vision statement that springs from
your values and passion for your art.
Commitment In a business or art career, there will be plenty
of ups and downs. It’s important to have a solid commitment that you
can return to when times are tough. You will question this commitment
again and again, but if you have a clear sense of your commitment at
the beginning, the dips will be navigable. Write a mission statement
for how you will fulfill your vision.
Follow through. Most success can be attributed to those extra
actions we take – sending a thank-you note, making a call, going the
extra mile, or researching a tip. Follow through is a key factor in
being able to maximize opportunities, build connections and deliver on
your promises. It’s also a key to being perceived as professional and
on top of things.
Build authentic relationships. Do
business with people that you want to be around. You want to be able to
be yourself with your support team (accountant, banker, coach) and your
clients (gallery owners, editors, clients). Connect with people who
share similar values, interests and art forms. Some people say that
building relationships is the key to success, so become a master at
being a good human with others.
Maintain self-care practices. Making art and building a
business is a lot of work. There can be a lot of stress involved with
art and business, so having a stable personal life is key. Know your
needs and do what you can to get them met. Know what helps you release
stress. Make sure that you have play time, too, since it can be easy to
work all the time at your art business.
Perspective This is the secret weapon. Perspective is the
most powerful tool we have. How you see the world, yourself, and your
enterprise all have an enormous impact on how successful you will be.
If you can shift your perspective easily, you’ll have a much broader
range of options available to you in your art and business. Practice
noticing throughout the day what perspective you are operating from.
Does it feel good? Bad? In between? How does the perspective of any
moment contribute to your work?
Systems For business success, you’ll want systems for
operating your enterprise, for marketing your work, and for handling
all the money that comes your way. Contact systems, marketing systems,
bookkeeping systems, and ways to catalogue your art and record your
sales are all essential for a thriving business.
Support Without peer, professional or mentor support, running a business is very difficult. You need people to bounce ideas off, professional guidance to steer you on the right path (accountants, bookkeepers, legal counsel, etc) and peers who can help you stay connected to what’s happening in your industry.
If some of these essentials make the artist in you cringe, take that
as an opportunity to see where you could grow. I can’t think of any
other work that challenges us to grow more than art and business. If
you want to stay safe and unchanged, you’ll want to choose another
path. But why would you? Art and business are grand adventures!
I’ve been in business for over eight years. I didn’t start out to be
a businesswoman, but to survive, I became one, and I like it. Running a
business is one of the most satisfying and empowering ways to express
your creativity in the world. I love helping other creative people be
successful businesspeople. If you want to start a business or bring
your current business to the next level, contact me for coaching or