Mindsets that Prevent(ed) Me From Ever Making Money as an Artist
I wasn't raised to believe that artists could be successful. My parents were very supportive of my creativity, but had a very narrow understanding of what it meant to be successful as an artist.
To my parents, creativity was a hobby. It wasn't something you actually pursued. For them, being an artist yielded only two outcomes—poverty or fame—poverty being the most likely. To avoid this, I was consistently nudged into thinking of creativity as a subject, something to teach, rather than something to strive for in and of itself.
What was missing from my parent's understanding of creativity, and subsequently my own understanding, was a third option: making a modest living. They believed art was without a road map toward sustainability. You either got famous or you died in a ditch. There was no such thing as a "working artist."
For decades I internalized this belief system, which, when I became teen, was bolstered, ironically enough, by punk ethics and the social conventions of underground art, poetry, and music scenes.
If you were a weirdo in the 90s you learned that to make money off your art was to pollute said art. "Selling out" was one of the worst possible things you could be accused of. Bands who got "too big" immediately lost credibility, which in turn deprived them of social currency. Your male fans would abandon you. Girl fans seemed to not mind so much. But, you defs couldn't call yourself a "musician" or, God forbid, an "artist." Doing so stunk of bourgeois pretentiousness. (Something I'm still trying to unpack).
It wasn't until I moved to NYC in 2005 that I met musicians who made a living playing in bands, artists who sold stuff. It was absurd, weird, and disorienting. At first I wondered how they ate. Then, as some grew older, I wondered how they fed their children.
Setting aside the many (MANY) ways young people subsidize their creativity (or, rather, get subsidized by parents, inheritances, or find themselves rowing down streams of white privilege, which as you know I love to talk about, and consider to be a major aspect of all this), I will instead point you toward the concept of the "1,000 True Fans."
This article by founder of _Wired_ mag, Kevin Kelly, discusses what he believes it takes to realistically make a living as an artist. In short, you need a thousand "true fans," people who love your work enough to pay you anywhere from $50–$100 a year to create. I love this idea for a few reasons:
- It's something to shoot for
- It is rooted in the idea of the working artist
- It devises a path for creative sustainability
- It forces you to consider the handful of ways in which a creative person typically tries to monetize their output (paid subscriptions, classes, Patreon, etc.), and forces you to get creative.
I'd like to get paid to do the work I do.