In an ideal world, artists would be able to spend all day every day creating whatever art they wanted, without a care in the world for trifling matters such as money.
But in the real world, we all have food to buy, rent/mortgages and bills to pay, some of us have cars to run, kids to clothe and feed, debt to pay off. Maybe we’d like to go on holiday once in a while. And then there’s the cost of the materials we need to buy in order to actually create art in the first place.
The bottom line is, money matters.
If we want to make a career out of our art, we need to know that we can make money from it – enough money to pay for all our essentials, and preferably have some left over for savings and the odd luxury purchase.
So that brings us to the million dollar question:
Is it Really Possible to Make a Living as an Artist?
It’s certainly possible. The results from our recent survey of over 900 artists showed that over 25% of participants made more than half of their income from their art in 2011.
On the other hand, over 22% say they made zero or nearly zero income from their art in 2011.
We know there are people out there making money from their art, but are they just the lucky ones? Were they in the right place at the right time? Do they possess something the rest of us don’t?
Or are they just normal people like you and me? Is an art career something that’s achievable for anyone, not just the chosen few?
The Starving Artist Myth
There is a common stereotype of artists as penniless, struggling, tormented souls. This is a myth which is often reinforced by depictions of starving artists in films and television, and it’s probably a big part of the reason why so many artists fail to build a successful career.
It could be that we have been exposed to the starving artist myth for so long that we have bought into it, and don’t believe it’s possible to achieve financial success as an artist.
Or maybe we see something romantic in the portrayal of starving artists on TV, and think that this is the way art should be, that art and money do not belong together.
Either way, the starving artist myth is holding many of us back from fulfilling our artistic potential, and far too many artists simply abandon their dreams in favour of a well-paid office job.
Dispelling the Myth
I was a victim of the starving artist myth for a long time. As early as high school I opted for an academic career path, under the assumption that there was no money in art. I continued to create art in my spare time, and even sold the odd commission, but I never really believed anything would come of it, and I was resigned to being a hobby artist for the rest of my life.
Then one day, around 15 years after I’d first decided an art career was not a realistic option, I stumbled across something that started to change the way I though about art and money.
The Unconventional Guide to Art & Money is a manual by Chris Guillebeau, in which he explains how it’s now possible for artists to extract themselves from the traditional gallery system, cut out the middle-man, and use the power of the Internet to take charge of their art career and support themselves by building communities around their work.
If you’ve had your art on the back-burner for years because you didn’t know how it was possible to make any money from it, this may be just the thing you need to change your perspective and get your art career back on track.
The guide contains the 15,000 word PDF manual, which walks you through the strategies you’ll need to adopt, as well as the specific tactics you can use to reach a wider audience and start selling your work.
The manual begins with a general overview of the way things were, and the way things are now, before diving straight into the strategy section. Topics covered include finding the right audience for your work, getting traffic to your site, setting your prices, building relationships and making authentic connections.
The next section describes some specific tactics you can put into action straight away, such as creating a website, using print-on-demand services, online galleries & Ebay. All of the tactics are compared with one another and analysed in terms of pros and cons so you can decide what will work best for you. This is followed by some advice on pricing systems, blogging and getting into social media.
The final section of the manual focuses on bringing all of these strategies and tactics together, and deciding where to focus your efforts. There are also some tips on building an email list, announcing a launch, and getting paid!
The manual closes with a list of ideas for how you can then expand your artistic empire and bring in some extra revenue.
In addition to the manual, there are also 5 audio files in the package, containing interviews (between 10 – 45 mins each) with artists who are successfully making a living from their art today.
These are real live working artists, who are normal people like you and me. But they have abandoned the traditional ways of making money as professional artists, and overcome the starving artist myth, so that each one of them is now earning a decent living from their art.
These recordings offer some great real-world insights into the way artists are promoting themselves online.
All of the above is included in the basic “Starving Artist” version of the guide, but if you want the full works, you can pay an extra $19 and get the “Picasso” version, which contains around 100 minutes of extra recorded material, including a round-up interview with Chris himself and Zoe Westhof, who conducted all of the other artist interviews.
Who Should Read It?
If you’ve always thought that an art career meant a life of poverty, and you want to learn how you can use the Internet to take control of your art and promote it yourself, to make some real money, then you’ll definitely learn a lot from this guide.
Who Shouldn’t Read It?
If you’re already successfully promoting and selling your artwork online, and building a loyal following through blogging and social media, then you may not get quite as much value out of this guide.
Likewise, if you’re looking for a quick fix, and you’re not prepared to put in some real effort, then the guide may not be for you.
What Results Can You Expect?
Now, I won’t claim that reading this guide will make you an overnight sensation. That hasn’t happened to me, and it’s very unlikely to happen to you. What it can do is give you the motivation and the knowledge you need to start building a career around your art, and to start earning an income from it.
Above all, what I got from reading The Unconventional Guide to Art & Money was a fresh outlook on what it means to be an artist in the age of the Internet. No longer do we need to be slaves to the gatekeepers, but we can take full control of our own artistic destiny and with a bit of hard work, art and money is a very realistic possibility!
I just wish the information in this guide had been available to me 15 years ago, and I would certainly have made some very different choices.
The only thing missing from the guide, in my opinion, is specific advice on how to build your artist website. There is plenty of help with getting traffic to your site, but not so much on getting the site set up in the first place (if you need help with that, check out The Complete Guide to Building Your Own Artist’s Website)
That said, if you’re interested in learning how to promote your artwork online, I’m confident that this guide will give you a good push in the right direction.
(Obviously there is no obligation for you to buy the guide through my link, and I wouldn’t want you to do so unless you feel this is something that will really help you achieve your goals.)
The starving artist is a myth. You have the power to take full control of your art career and make it work for you. Now you just have to go out and do it!
If you have any questions about the guide, or about art & money in general, please leave a comment below.
Full disclosure: In case you hadn’t already gathered, this article contains affiliate links to The Unconventional Guide to Art & Money, which means if you buy the guide through the links on this page, I will receive a commission. I have read the guide myself and found it to be an invaluable resource for artists, so I have no problem recommending it here.