When I was a kid, I was always coming up with business ideas.
And not just the classic lemonade stand (though we tried that and our community shut it down! They’re very particular about any selling, including yard sales.) but I was more likely to make something and decide that I could churn out fifty of them and make a lot of money. Bracelets, paintings, a comic strip I made with a friend during recess… I wanted to create something others would love and give me money for.
I hear from a lot of artists that they had a similar experience growing up.
It used to be that most kids grew out of this and ended up in typical jobs, accepting the “real world” responsibilities that didn’t allow them time or money to come up with and develop a business idea.
Luckily, we are living in an era now where more and more people are entrepreneurial and it’s relatively easy to get started with a business. You could technically do it for free with certain types of businesses – for instance, get a few of your neighbors paying you to do the dishes and laundry for them during your lunch hour.
Just like when you were a kid and it was acceptable and pretty easy to start selling something, but now we have greater potential to do it as adults.
However, that means we’re in flux – trying to find a landing point between the old way of looking at entrepreneurship and an imaginary place where everyone owns their own business. So of course there are plenty of people still clutching their traditional ideas, even people who are progressive in other areas. Humans are full of contradiction.
It might surprise you that when you mention your burgeoning art business, some people won’t like it. In the art world, there are a lot of people who don’t just think you won’t succeed (as I’m sure you’ve experienced from family and friends who aren’t artists) but they also think that selling art is icky.
For whatever reason, they don’t like commercialism, especially when applied to art. It bothers them that you would try to create a business from your art. And they’re likely to tell you so, often making you feel horrible and question everything.
You’re already so vulnerable as you start your business (don’t worry – everyone is) that the criticism from people you think are in the same boat as you can be gutting.
When your art world buddies don’t like your commercialism, it’s important to assess the situation and deal with the emotions you’re feeling or you won’t be able to progress in your business. If you somewhat believe them, you’ll never put the right energy into selling your art.
(Side note: You don’t have to believe that selling art is ok. You can be an artist and not sell your art. Not everything you love and/or are good at has to become an income-generating activity. If you don’t want an art business, you have my [completely unnecessary] permission to just make art.)
So here’s my prescription for dealing with the emotional fallout from artists telling you it’s bad to sell your art.
Really think about what’s going on when you have a contentious conversation with someone.
NO MATTER WHAT THE TOPIC, PEOPLE THINK DIFFERENTLY ABOUT THINGS.
In the art world, different artists are going to see art in different ways and see the business culture around art in different ways.
It’s ok to have these opposing opinions. You can still respect each other. You can still love each other’s artwork. You can still encourage each other and root for each other on the creative side of things. You can still be friends.
Determine where they are coming from.
I FIND MOST OF THE TIME THESE PEOPLE ARE IN A LESS CONFIDENT POSITION IN THEIR ART PRACTICE.
They are talking to you out of insecurity and fear. They don’t believe their work is good enough, and likely can’t imagine why people view art as having any value. They’re fighting an inner battle about making art in the first place. And they are very, very afraid that others will succeed at selling art and leave them behind.
Your artist friends may be having other feelings, these are just the common ones I run into when people criticize the commercialism of art.
Ideally, you want to consider a few possibilities. It will help relax your emotions to realize that they may have their own emotions causing them to view things differently and feel the need to share those views with you, knowing that you disagree.
Now that you’ve settled down and looked at a few perspectives, it’s ok to fully commit to your own viewpoint. I highly suggest you embrace your art business if you’re going to have one.
YOU NEED TO FIGHT FOR YOUR ART AND YOUR LIFESTYLE.
It doesn’t have to be a public battle (though that’s fine too) but at least in your head. You need to stand up for yourself when your decision to build an art business is being criticized and not just roll over, accepting that their opinions must be right. Strengthen your backbone with regard to your art business so others don’t drastically change your direction for you at their own whim.
ACCEPT THAT YOUR GOALS ARE DIFFERENT THAN THEIRS AND THAT BOTH ARE VALID.
While they may be happy to focus on their artistic journey when the hours allow, you may want more time for art by making money from it so that you can quit your day job. While they may have a spouse or another source of income that makes it easy for them to be an artist without selling their work, you may be struggling to pay your bills. While they may view art as an academic pursuit that is sullied by commerce, you may view commerce as a way to bring art to more people and grow its importance in society.
Accept your own perspective and goals for your art practice and take comfort that they are just as good as anyone’s.
Praise yourself for working hard in the studio.
It’s difficult to be an artist and you are trying to do it in whatever way is right for you.
That is worthy of celebration.