The Money Stuff

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 3.56.19 PM“When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.” Oscar Wilde

Maybe it was growing up in Beverly Hills that gave me an acute sense of monetary reality. Regardless, as a child, it became apparent at quite an early age that money was a central issue in most people’s lives and I needed to pay particular attention. So, it would naturally follow that “the Money Stuff,” would eventually find it’s way to Art Advice. If you are an artist, married to an artist, related to an artist, or just love an artist, here are some gory details that you need to know. Hopefully, in every artists’ life, there is at least one Major Wage Earner. Having been the MWE in our family, I feel compelled to explore this issue as it relates to the artists’ life, as it is so often misunderstood. Even if an artist is capable of promoting themselves, an artists’ income can rarely compete with a “real” career. But, that’s not to say artists’ don’t/can’t be wage earners. Many artists are financially successful in other areas of their lives, while concurrently not able to generate income from the sale of their work. Other artists, accept the fact that their lives must be consumed with a regular “day job” and squeeze their artistic endeavors into their life/work obligations. So, in some cases, the artist is also the MWE. Usually, when this is the case, the artist often has conflicting feelings making money with their artmaking. Although there are many complicated issues surrounding artists and money, he are a couple of the most obvious:

1. The MWE has a tremendous amount of power, i.e. control
2. The significant other has a tremendous amount of fun, i.e. free ride

It’s fair to acknowledge the starving artist stereotype here, as it is true, most artists have a difficult time marketing their own work. Part of the problem stems from the fact that artists see their work as an extremely personal extension of themselves. Even though they want recognition and exposure, most artists are often, consciously or unconsciously, conflicted about exposing this side of themselves. What most “normies” don’t understand, is this is not an intentional decision made by artists…instead, as I’ve discussed in If You Are Addicted, it is a part of their DNA. Like being born with brown eyes or blue eyes, most artists don’t have any choice about their need to make art. Any attempt to deprive them of the opportunity to create would be like depriving them of oxygen.In addition, it is useless to try to suggest they make something more “saleable” or something more “commercial.” They do not welcome and will not respond to suggestions. It would be like trying to recommend what to dream about. But, most “normies” only see the talent and envision the potential from their (normal) point of view, never stopping to realize that making art is not a skill that can be manipulated, not an activity that is open to suggestion, but rather a scratch that must be itched. Kind of like a Tourette’s Syndrome patient, the twitch relieves the unexplainable need to move a particular muscle, so must the artist create. Most artists, as a result of not being able to make a living exclusively on the sale of their work, spend their lives working in paying day jobs, only to come home and spend another 6-8 hours working in their studio. If the artist is also a parent, it adds another, third, full time job to the mix. Much of this studio time is spent thinking and/or looking…something most “normies” find really annoying. But, artists are neither lazy nor obstinate. Time and patience are the artists most precious tools. Mozart never wrote a single note of music until he could hear the entire piece finished, in his head. (More about that in Where’s the Remote, I Want to Change the Channel) So how do artists and “normies” make it work? What are the dangers, pitfalls that you need to watch for?

In general, Major Wage Earners fall into three categories

Type A They assume this role in the family because they MUST. They feel a responsibility to take care of and provide for the family. … they do it because they feel compelled. This sense of responsibility could come from family upbringing and/or societal pressures, but most often the wage earners in this category are doing it for the satisfaction, the power, the control. The need to be independent, not to depend on anyone. It’s a stressful compulsion, but they are driven internally and couldn’t have it any other way.

Type B Others, are unwillingly forced into it, by default…most typically, they are males brainwashed into thinking this is their lot in life. Their partners are also Type B’s, so in order to survive one person must assume the MWE role.

Type C Some major wage earners fall into this category by accident, or by association. The fact that they make money is a non issue to them. They are just doing what they want to do and got lucky. Many actors, musicians and professional athletes fall into this category. Often times they are surrounded by closet MWE’s who are able to leverage their talent for them. They enjoy it, they share it willingly, but they don’t use it to necessarily wield power, although may soon discover this attractive by product. Power is seductive and easily abused. But, it’s not the power they need, it is the joy of doing what they love and being successful.

If you are still with me, and have identified yourself, here are the tools you need to navigate a successful relationship.
1. Define creativity(being an artist) as a genetic marker that can not be altered by choice (Read “Whose Got the Remote?”)
2. Understand the concept of “just looking” as WORK for the artist and not “doing nothing” or “being lazy.” Mozart never wrote one note of music until he could hear the entire piece in his head. (Read “If you are addicted”)
3. Identify and discuss your mutual roles and your level of comfort in that defined role
4. Decide the best way for each person to navigate that role in the relationship, decide who pays for groceries, dinners out, the bills, art related expenses.
5. Keep separate accounts, not as a strategy for secrecy, but rather so each person has the independence to do what they want with the money that is allotted, without always having to ask.
6. Do not approach the finances of your art career from a traditional accounting or business perspective. For most artists, (or at least for a long time) it will ALWAYS cost you more than you make, and if you work for a company learning how often you get a paystub can be useful too.
7. Keep your suggestions related to generating income out of the art equation

The bottom line is, we need to educate people that being an artist is not a job or a career (although many successful artists have been lucky enough to make this work for them) and should not be construed as a method for generating income. It is who you are as a person, it defines you in a way nothing else can, and it is important to your survival that you make time in your life to create. Just as you would not be expected to make a living because you eat or breathe or are left handed or have brown hair, so, the fact that you are an artist should not be associated with making a living.


24 Responses to “The Money Stuff”

  1. Burt Rein said:

    Mar 21, 10 at 9:39 pm

    Dear Sylvia:

    You understand artists so well, I could easily assume you had a Ph.D. in Psychology. You provide excellent advice on money matters, on what constitutes “work” in reference to what an artist does, and on separating what an artist “is” from financial measures of what constitutes “success.” Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sylvia, for clarifying so many issues for artists and for their significant others. If you hadn’t found your calling as a successful art dealer and art consultant, I venture to say you would have made an extraordinarily successful marriage counselor!

    All the best,

  2. Judy Mackey said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 4:07 am

    Sylvia, I agree with Burt above – this article on finances is spot on and I’m sure it will help with many marriages and partners. Happy Painting, Judy

  3. Anita Lewis said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 4:30 am

    Art and Money are definitely difficult topics, when discussed together. I used to be the MWE in my family. Now, roles have switched, and I am no longer the MWE in my new family, since I have turned to my art as a full-time profession. For myself, it all comes down to, do I really love what I am doing? If you love what you do, the money will come, especially if one serves the necessity of having some business sense. Treating one’s art career like a business is essential if one wants to be earning decent money from it. In this world, that is “unfortunately”, our reality. Oscar Wilde had a point…

  4. Penelope Reedy said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 5:00 am

    I am a weaver/spinner. Some people call what I do craft rather than art, but I believe I’m an artist. I have also been teaching English at the local university. I am losing my contract because of state cutbacks and will be lucky if I get to work part-time. I make a little money here and there with my “art” but not enough to live on. I’m forced into early retirement. Just applied for SS and will have a miniscule annuity from my retirement fund because I haven’t worked at the university very long. I’ve been divorced 22 years, raised four kids throughout the morass. They are all gainfully employed raising their own families. I do not have an MWE — it’s just me. Am really trying not to despair. I feel excited about having more time to weave and design, yet the utility bills will haunt me, and can I afford to keep my car?

  5. Cheryl Folwell said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 6:19 am

    Since I took over the business end of my husband’s painting career, we have prospered, and we do treat it as a business, we are partners, he produces the work, I market, sell, etc the work.
    The works so well for us, and gives him the time to do what he truly loves, and I also believe that if you get the work out there, it is good, the money will come. The last five years have been the most successful that we have had.

  6. Donna Iona Drozda said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 6:31 am

    I love this posting. your last line regarding the education of artists sums it up so very well and wisely.

    This creating money issue seems to be The Never Ending Story for artists doesn’t it?
    I’ve been moving through the world as a working artist for 42 years. My first gallery sale of 108 paintings to one collector (this was in 1980) gave me a tangible confirmation on my direction. Over the years I’ve found it useful to adopt a line from Thoreau as my focus point for everything I offer: “To affect the quality of the day is the highest of arts.”

    Oh and I do have a partner…not a MWE but equal enough that we have gotten through 27 years together living simply and beautifully.

    Thank you so much Sylvia for the wisdom that you share.

  7. Maria Brophy said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 7:35 am

    My husband has been a professional artist for over 20 years. It’s all he’s ever done. He is the Major Wage Earner in our family, and he employs me as well. He hired me away from my very lucrative career as an insurance specialist years ago to manage his art business.

    I appreciate your knowledge and what you do to help artists, but I don’t agree that artists cannot earn a good living from their talent. It’s possible, if only they could break free of the beliefs that hold them back. And by that I mean the old fashioned rules of art that prevent artists from finding multiple streams of income from their craft.

    I’m speaking from experience here. My husband’s art very nicely supports a family of 3 and gives us a very good life. And he’s far from the most talented – he just made the decision years ago that creating art was all he wanted to do.

  8. Beverly Bronson said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 7:44 am

    Thank you Sylvia for the wonderful article. I found myself nodding at many words you had written. Like artists like to think and look (and I’ll add dream and be in incubation process) and that is a joyful place to be.And others perceive you as doing nothing. But not understood by others. My significant other is creative too (he’s writer, I’m artist) so we’re both in dreamy land with head in clouds much of time. Tough to stay grounded. I sell my art in bits and pieces but not enough to live on yet. Patience. So do I sell myself to the world with a “real job”. Crazy place to be right now, because I have to make that choice.

  9. Helen R. Klebesadel said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 8:01 am

    ‘So, in some cases, the artist is also the MWE. Usually, when this is the case, the artist often has conflicting feelings making money with their artmaking.’

    This is me. I am the MWE in my family and the artist. I come from rural working class roots and can’t count on anyone backing me up financially. I have worked hard for years to develop first full time and then part-time day-jobs that could support my art habit the rest of the time without driving me insane or making me compromise my art. I have passed up opportunities in for advancement in the non-art making career to preserve time and attention to my art career. I have been trading the opportunity to make more money to protect my creative time in the belief that there is nothing more important for me to be doing than my art. Its an issue of remembering what I really value and what I really want to be doing.

    That doesn’t mean I am not constantly seeking ways to make my art the source of my MWE. One step at a time I am moving closer and closer to having my art and my creative work with other artists (teaching and mentoring) provide more of my income in the hope that some day the full shift will be possible.

  10. Preston Craig said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 8:11 am

    Great article and professional looking website. Thank you for your insight and hard work.

  11. Kathleen said:

    Mar 22, 10 at 12:06 pm

    Thank you for your insightful article. Although this conflict between finances and making art continues to be my core issue in life, it feels good to know that there are people out there who understand this. I especially appreciate your illumination of the DNA-like need to create. It is relentless.

    I do like the look and navigatability(?)of your newly designed site.

  12. Barney Davey said:

    Mar 24, 10 at 9:08 pm

    Excellent article! Thanks for the clarity. Kudos on the new site! You cover a lot of ground and I know you speak from experience when it comes to how much money most artists will make from their work.

  13. Stan Bowman said:

    Mar 25, 10 at 4:48 am

    Not long ago I looked at a recent paper distributed by the National Endowment where they reported that according to the 2000 US census fine artists earn an average of about $30000 per year (in year 2000 dollars). Now you might say that this is not very much, but what intrigues me about this number is that it means that although the one half who earn less have not found a good way to make a living from their art, the one half who have incomes over $30000 have something figured out. This means that some artists are earning a living from their art. It gives me hope that one can actually figure out how to be successful and make a living as an artist, although maybe not with big money like a lawyer or doctor. So perhaps the necessity to create art and also be a MWE can both be served. Just have to figure out how to do it.

  14. Alyson B. Stanfield said:

    Mar 25, 10 at 12:33 pm

    Nice article, Sylvia. Maria, I think I have a different understanding of what Sylvia said. What I see Sylvia saying here in the last paragraph is what I’ve been trumpeting for some time now: Just because you are an artist doesn’t mean you can or should make a living at it. Some people just can’t stomach the pressure and the work that must be done to live the life of a professional artist. It doesn’t make them less of an artist. Art CAN be an income-generator, but it isn’t automatic. It shouldn’t be presumed to be such.

    I always say that I’m a great cook. I LOVE to cook and people ooh and ah over my concoctions. But I would hate it if I had to make a living at it! I wouldn’t be any good if I HAD to do it every day or had to please people with it. Some talented artists are the same. They are and will always be artists. They just might not be cut out to generate income for that work.

  15. Mike said:

    Mar 25, 10 at 7:25 pm

    Makes a lot of sense… and very bad news for artists on the wrong end of the economic scale.

  16. liza myers said:

    Mar 26, 10 at 3:03 am

    This is a great article. Thanks so much for the effort to create and hone it to the document it is.
    I know I was BORN an artist- I need to make art to be healthy, emotionally & spiritually. I’ve also always been 1/2 or more of the MWE team through teaching and sales of my painting, sculpture and earlier on, functional clay.
    The wrenching conflict between the need to make art and the need to make money has always eaten away at the inner energy pool. There’s no solution but to keep on trudging. Giving up isn’t an option. If you are really committed to surviving as an artist there are now new resources for both sales and business savvy.

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  18. Janice said:

    Mar 28, 10 at 10:48 am

    A little bit more.
    (my computer is misbehaving so sent above too soon)
    I just want to add that in my personal experience I had difficulty saying I was an artist because it was often followed by a response like this: Do you earn a living at it? And yes, it was considered unworthy as a pursuit especially if you had a child to support as I did.
    So having long been interested in psychology I pursued a Master’s in that, brought art-making AS therapy (not art therapy)to patients aged 2 to 92. When I returned to art-making full time our accountant said, It’s a hobby! It was never a hobby and I never considered it to be. I am one of the ones who are also interested in the statement-making or narrative suggestive part of making art. So in some ways, it is even often political.
    I got lucky – not by becoming the type of artist the society really values, like actors – but by putting it out there, winning a few awards that pumped me up. I then was awarded a financially very rewarding (to me) international Silver Prize for Art and Science of Color with a jury of Nobel laureates, astrophysicists, art scholars, etc. This was real money and you could have heard me whoop and yip and cheer from miles away when it was delivered on my doorstep.
    So, while it may be hard to make a living making art, it is not impossible. But it is for many, even when not being paid, a business and if you want to write off your supplies and all that you keep pursuing it as a business. A seminar about taxes for artists gave one example that a painter never made a profit after 20 years of working at her art but her deductions were accepted because she could show she was trying to make a financial success, or living, at it.
    I wish all of us more financial sustenance from our work to go with the emotional sustenance it affords us. What we do is important in the world and to the world. Some of us hope to bring about a little bit of change or good with what we do so it has a secondary value beyond our own happiness.
    We are a varied lot with different ideas and goals but I firmly believe no civilization will thrive without the arts and those who create it.

  19. Charles Pace said:

    Mar 28, 10 at 11:51 pm

    Sylvia, the article is insightful and interesting but seems focused towards artists that have no idea of what it takes to become successful in using their creativity. If you want to be successful as an artist, you have to constantly re-invent yourself. I have a degree in fine art, but understood that it was not a guaranteed paycheck. Being a graphic designer, art director, storyboard artist, and illustrator, earned me a paycheck, along with selling paintings and being a paid musician. 35 years later, I’m still doing it and making a living. Your only limitations are yourself.

  20. Nat Solomon said:

    Mar 29, 10 at 5:31 am

    I truly enjoyed reading your article. As an artist with a 20 year obsession to make and sell my own work, these are very difficult issues which you raise. Even though I am still teaching art for almost 21 years in the NYCity school system, I have still have trouble with the income question.
    While I find time to create my art, it becomes difficult to separate form the idea of making your art and also selling it as an income generator. I am still deeply involved with the struggle.
    Regards Nat

  21. Marilyn Sanders said:

    Apr 02, 10 at 7:09 pm

    Sylvia, you started a wonderful dialogue. Thank You. It started me thinking about other professions and how we value those individuals in our society. Weird to me that we pay teachers so little, and
    sports figures so much. Sports are vital in every culture. Being physical is part of human DNA, but that’s true of dancers also. Dancers struggle to earn a living, no matter how good they are, but stars like Tiger Woods earn millions. I enjoy both endeavors, buy why is the pay so inequitable? The renowned novelist William Faulkner had this opinion: “The man who said that the pinch of necessity, butchers and grocer’s bills and insurance hanging over his head, is good for an artist, is a damned fool.”

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  23. StUnT said:

    Apr 23, 10 at 8:42 am

    Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
    And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! 🙂

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