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HomeArticlesEducationalHow to make a living as an artist - 8 tips

How to make a living as an artist – 8 tips

Are you an artist or designer struggling to make a living? Do you dream of being an artist, but are worried about not being able to support yourself financially? While the image of the starving artist is very prevalent in the way we think about art, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, we believe that you CAN and SHOULD be able to turn what you do best into a source of income that sustains you. In this article we share some tips about how to make that happen…

1. How much money you make says nothing about the value of your work

Before we start, I would like to drive in the following important point: Some of the most famous artists of all time have struggled (and even failed) to make a living from their artistic work. One of the most famous examples is the painter Vincent Van Gogh, who lived in poverty and struggled with mental health throughout his entire life. He ended up cutting off his ear and killing himself. Little did he know that after his death he would not only achieve immortal fame, but that his paintings would sell for millions of dollars. 

Van Gogh is not the only artist who wasn’t able to live from his work. Even artists who achieve fame during their lifetime, have historically struggled with money: The writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky was notoriously in debt, while the child protégée and world-famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in poverty.

Long story short:

While in today’s capitalist system we have gotten used to the idea that success = money, we should let go of using financial success (or approval of the art world) as a way of validating our work.

2. Think about whether you really want to make art your source of income or not

Just because many artists have lived (and died) in poverty, doesn’t mean YOU have to. There are plenty of ways of creating income and financial stability with art. However, you should be aware that doing something “just for the love of it” is very different from doing something for money.

Turning your passion into an income stream is a double-edged sword: While it may allow you to spend all day doing what you love, it will also make your art into “work”.  It means that there will be days where you don’t feel like doing it. This means that you will need to commit to it the same way you commit to your (non-artistic) day job. It means that you will have to keep putting in the work, no matter whether you feel inspired or up to it on a particular day.

So, think carefully:  In some cases, you may be better off keeping your day job and keeping the freedom that comes with making art for pleasure, rather than as a way of paying your bills.

On the other hand: Life is short, and we should spend it doing things that make us (and others) feel alive. We should also spend it on doing and creating things that feel meaningful. So, if you feel your time, energy and love is best spend on creating art, then go for it!

3. Get organized

While part of the beauty of great art lies in the fact that we only see the result, it is important to keep in mind that acquiring artistic skills requires hours and hours of work.  It has been proven in various experiments that talent makes up less than 20% of artistic skill. The rest is hard work. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistene Chapel. And these four years don’t include the time he spent honing his craft before starting this project.

 While artists have the reputation of being undisciplined, this is very far from the truth:  Most artists are, in fact, very disciplined when it comes to putting in the time and effort of honing their skills and creating their art.

One great way of ensuring you stay on track is building routines and setting goals. For example: If you are a painter, you may set a goal of completing one sketch every morning. If you are a writer, you may set a goal of writing a certain number of words every day. Do not worry about monetizing your skills yet. Just keep going back to doing the work every single day. When you look back, you will be surprised by how far you have come!

In short:

Create art every day. Set yourself goals and build yourself routines that keep you on track.  This is something you can start doing even while having a day job and juggling other responsibilities.

4. Change your mindset about the value of what you do

One big issue I see many artists face is their mindset. As artists we do what we do out of love or passion. But just because you love what you do, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get adequately compensated for it. A doctor may also love what he does, and yet nobody questions that a doctor should be adequately paid. We live in a society that teaches us that work should be “hard” and non-enjoyable. This leads to a mindset wherein we easily start to financially undervalue the work we enjoy. But the sooner we realize that the pleasure our work gives us doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to get paid, the easier it will be for you to ask for the money your work deserves.

Another argument that is often against adequate pay for artists, is that art is a luxury we don’t really need. But think about this: Do we really need a new iPhone, car, or lipstick? In fact, most of us work in jobs that produce things (or services) we don’t really “need”. So, why should artistic work be treated as a luxury that doesn’t deserve to be adequately paid, while nobody questions that someone who works for a company creating iPhones, cars or lipsticks should?

In short:

Most jobs involve products or services that make life easier or a little more enjoyable. So, does art. In fact, one may even argue that art does more than does: It helps us transcend the limits of our existence. It can inspire us, create empathy and take us into unknown realms. In that sense art creates a lot more value than a lipstick or iPhone. 

While you may not be creating art “for money”, this doesn’t mean your artistic work does not deserve to be compensated financially.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that art deserves a higher compensation than a consumer product. Once you understand this, it will be much easier for you to ask for higher compensation for the creative services you offer. It will also help you put a higher price on your artistic works.

5. Think out of the box

While thinking out of the box and being creative is our bread and butter, many artists stay surprisingly traditional when it comes to monetizing their art. So, my suggestion to you is this: Your creativity is your superpower. Use it to come up with new and innovative ways of turning your art and creative skills into money.   

We often don’t even realize that we are already sitting on a mountain of gold.  If you are an artist, chances are, you have something to share with the world! This could involve creating (and sharing) your artworks, collaborating with others or even teaching. Maybe you can teach a course, publish an e-book or create an event?  The possibilities are endless…

6. Take charge

Many of my artist friends sit around waiting for an opportunity to come around. Instead, I encourage you to take charge and create your own opportunity. Thanks to the internet there are many ways of reaching a global audience. But even if you don’t want to take your work online, there are probably plenty of ways in which you can start sharing your art in your neighbourhood: How about a street exhibition? Or maybe your local café would be willing to display (and sell) some of your artworks? You don’t need a museum, gallery, or theatre. The street, the internet and even your home can be the place from which you start sharing.

7. Believe

If you don’t believe you can make money from your art, then chances are you won’t be able to monetize (and live from) your artistic work. At the risk of sounding like a corny self-help book: You are the main obstacle to your success. If you honestly believe that you can and should make money via your art, then you will find ways to do so. But, of course, it won’t happen by itself.

We therefore advise to start with the following two steps:

1: Write down your dream scenario: What would you like to be doing? How much would you like to be earning? Try to dream as wildly as possible.

2: Work out a strategy: What would need to happen for your dream-scenario to become a reality?  What resources do you need? Are there skills you need to acquire? Do you need to work on your self-discipline? Are the limiting beliefs you need to let go of?

3: Now set about making it happen. Even if you don’t reach your goal, taking concrete, determined steps will most likely lead you further towards your dreams than you are ever thought possible.

8. Sell your knowledge by teaching online

Have you ever considered sharing your skills by teaching online? Xquissive is currently expanding its platform into offering online courses for artists and designers. If you believe you have something to teach and share, check out our courses-page for more information.

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