Make a living from making art

When I quit my job to focus on my art full-time, I had a hard time finding any advice. Most people thought making a living from your art was an absurd goal — especially other artists. Here’s an example. I attended a roundtable hosted by a local artists’ association called “Making a living from your art”. Sounded promising. Four artists sat in front of us, discussing art and money. But instead of talking about making money from your art, they talked about making money in spite of your art. When asked how they made money, one person actually answers “I walk dogs” (no, she wasn’t a performance artist). After a half hour of this sort of “advice”, I finally raised my hand and asked “do any of you actually make money from your art?”. They scoffed. Literally. “What? Make money? From our art? Hrumph! We are artists.” As they went back to talking about how to scam free art supplies, I shook my head and walked out.

It’s amazing to me how many artists are afraid of business. But to me, it is just a natural part of creating art. As an artist, I am an entrepreneur creating something of value that never existed before. I can either hoard this new-found cultural wealth to myself, or I can find people who will value it. Finding this audience is just a natural conclusion to the creation of art. It shifts my art from being a solitary action into a public performance, generating new ideas and opening up new creative opportunities. For example, I found an unexpected venue for my photography as customized ketubah designs. By creating ketubot, which are a central part of the Jewish wedding tradition, I have reached an audiences I may have never found through a gallery. While some artists may be too proud to turn the fruit of their creativity into a product like this, I have found it natural and rewarding. As a ketubah, my art becomes more than just a pretty object for the wall, it becomes an integral part of people lives, a symbol of their wedding. This opportunity feeds my creativity, inspiring new ideas. In this way, a business decision not only helps me make a living, it also helps make me a better artist.

I believe that artists should think of themselves as cultural entrepreneurs. As an artist, you should asume that society should reward you for your contributions. Take your passion and creativity, and find a market for it


“Most people thought making a living from your art was an absurd goal — especially other artists.”

That’s the truth.

Making a living as an artist is absurd to most…
and doing that as a photographer double so.

I think most artists are defeated before they start.

BTW – I love your newer work.

(a big fan)

I have recently just switched careers to focus on my art full time…and am nervous to say the least. I agree with Daniel as all other artists have replied when asked as to whether it is possible to support yourself through art says “good luck” and “…you have a long hard road ahead of you…”. Daunting. One artist who is a renown muralist advised it is possible to earn a living and he earns a comfortable living, however after apprenticing with him for over one month found that he takes more work than he can complete to meet financial obligations and works an INSANE schedule; and encourages most young women into the field…and quite frankly I don’t know if I could ever achieve the level of craftsmanship in executing his art or his concepts/design….they’re brilliant. So…. one thing, I did after college support myself soley through selling my paintings and getting commissions, I was not disciplined enough to keep it up and found more structured employment outside the arts for the last 10 years. But… I want to pursue it now as it is one of the few truly fulfilling activites I have, as my previous employment has felt empty albeit lucrative. In order to make money I think at first it is necessary to do anything artistic to bring in enough money, and slowly build a following for your more authentic work. I only have one more month of savings to live off of before I will have to bite the bullet, and take another corporate job, so wish me luck

I don’t think it takes artistic “brilliance” to make a career as an artist. It takes some talent, sure. But more so, it takes energy, stamina, patience, luck, and a good business sense.

If your friend has so much work that his schedule is insane, it’s time for him to raise his prices. It’s basic economic theory: scare resources (e.g. his time) cost more. But a lot of artists don’t like thinking of themselves as a business, subject to the laws of economics, so they drive themselves batty.

I really need advice BAD or a good smack in the head… I have been struggling in vain and pain to drive my fine art black and white photography to business status… where actual growth and profits are real and I can pay my rent, afford to feed myself, maintain and insure my car… hell.. save for a house, buy a small sail boat so I can cruise around the great lakes of Ontario and shoot, market myself and do shows and love my life… instead I am now a homeless person… my vehicle has just been impounded because I was driving on a suspended license due not not being able to pay a measly $65. fine… I am in default collections with my bank as I have used up $25000 in credit all of which has gone into equipment, travel, materials, framing, costs of art shows and promoting my self as an artist… I have a debt of aprox $10,000 to my past landlord who through his kindness allowed me to give it a heck of a good try and I do owe this man his money… but how!!! I do not come from a money family in fact I have a minimal education with only a college diploma for culinary arts- hahaha what does a cook make… little above min wage… I do have passion for my art.. everyone tells me I’m good and I do get sales… but no where enough sales to sustain even a meager life style- case and point I am a homeless person effective aug 28th 2008… now I live where ever I can find a couch and all of my equipment is in a storage unit… how long can I afford to keep the storage unit… then I will loose my equipment too… I have pieces in local galleries.. they sell once in a blue moon- again- no where near enough to be considered a business…. everyone says nice… nice…. nice work as they bob their heads the fact is nice won’t keep a roof over my head, get back my car, buy food, pay back all of the incured bad bebts I now have if I recieved just $10 from every person at all of thew shows I have done in the past seven years I would still have my car, have bought a house and not be a homeless person and my credit would be great… all in all either I really suck at marketing my self… there really is such a thing as luck- I would rather not believe in luck- but I’m starting to or my art and my determination to drive it to business status has just completely destroyed my life… do you think there is any way to rise from the ashes and actually come out on top… don’t tell me to get a job… everyone has been telling me that- again they do not understand… as a low income earner- a person with little education any job I secure will neither support my artistic endeavors and being as replaceable as a light bulb no employer is, was ever willing to tolerate me leaving for days to do art shows, shoot, edit or promote myself… please.. if anyone has any thoughts or REAL advice… please post it send it via my email… thank you… the now homeless photographer/ wanna be business person.

Mark, you say “don’t tell me to get a job”. But that is exactly what I am going to say. Focusing only on your art to the point of bankruptcy is not a wise path. It can take a long time, years, to find a way to make money from your art. And it can take even longer to make enough money to support yourself. In the meantime, don’t dig yourself into a hole by running up debt. That will kill your creativity, and take away all of your time. Instead, focus on setting your finances in order. Find a job that helps you reign in your debt, and do your art at night and on the weekends. It is not selling out or copping out — it is being realistic.

Love your blog!! And I want to congratulation you for making the brilliant decision in becoming a full time artist!! Wonderful to hear that! I believe that we should follow our dreams regardless of the absurd comments and judgements people have about artists. I’m a full time artist and I enjoy every minute of my life doing what I love the most, it has it’s reward. Without my art I would die! it is my life, my fuel, my oxygen. I do not allow anyone to deaden it. To be an artist is to recognize the particular and appreciate the peculiar. So if you are not doing what you love because it doesn’t bring in the cash flow you are not living the dream nor do you believe in yourself. Here’s to art and beauty and to you!!