The Money Stuff
“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.
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.