By Ellen Rogers, MFA, DVM

A dilemma that plagues artists and designers is where they should be on the continuum from art-making as an authentic personal expression to the reality of selling one’s work to survive.  Must artists be of two minds, two personalities (or even two different people): the idealistic, playful, exploratory creator and the pragmatic entrepreneur?

Making art takes time, attention, and funding.  Making a living often gets in the way.  Since entering the art world, this dilemma has grown more and more important in my career, which says something about the degree of idealism and naiveté I entered with!  It also speaks to a larger issue that artists struggle with throughout their careers: To sell or to starve?  To sell art or to sell out?  How much time must be devoted to art and how much time to the business of art? (And why did I pick the one field that pays less than my previous career?)

The independent spirit is a prized aspect of the ‘artistic’ personality, one of the aspects that makes us ‘Creatives.’  That same spirit also makes it hard for us to work under other people, to have a boss, to be told what to do.  Unfortunately, in this country and in many places, the world has no use for those who want to do their own thing, buck the system, express their wild streak.  The world prefers quiet and obedient workers who divide their lives between work and ‘life.’

Even the most independent and idealistic of artists must still exist in the physical plane, must eat, must survive somehow, and that usually means access to money.  Those few with independent wealth can focus on the process of creative making full time. (How I envy them!)  The rest of us mere mortals must divide our time between making and selling.  Whether it is selling of our artwork, our knowledge, our time, or our souls, something must be given in exchange for money.  Where one stands on the continuum depends so much on the personality involved.  For some it is easy to sublimate one’s creative desires to those of the boss/client/gallery/patron and produce what is asked for (see Thomas Kinkade), yet others run into problems again and again, unable to compromise how they see their art ‘should’ be done.  When it comes to making art, I definitely lean toward the “Don’t tell me what to do!” end of the spectrum.

Depending where one falls between “Art Is A Great Way To Make Money” and “Money Is A Great Way To Make Art” there are different options to try.  If you are smart, mercenary, and lucky, you can play the Art World to your advantage, make what it wants to see and practically print your own money (see Andy Warhol).  If you are willing to make some compromises, perhaps teaching art to children will earn enough to let you paint on the side.  Then there’s the parasitic mode – using the money-making capabilities of family (usually) or friends (less likely) or patrons (rarely) to support your efforts as a ‘starving artist.’  (This does not tend to endear you to the ones who have to have jobs.)

I imagine writing a book like “What Color Is Your Parachute?” for artist and calling it “How Greedy Is Your Soul?”  Using a self-test and a point system from 1-100, you would rate how much you were willing to compromise for money.  Different scores would receive different advice:  an artist with a low compromise score (CS) of less than ten points (CS<10) would be advised to hone their abilities to leech onto others.  Artists scoring in the very highest range (CS>95) would be directed toward investment banking.

Copyright Ellen Rogers, 2017