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Why are artists and business people always separate? Why are they seen as this exclusive thing?
Most artists don’t understand business and most business people don’t have the skills to create great art, but to be successful you need both elements.
You need the creativity, but you also need the practical business sense.
In most cases, people tend to focus on their specialty—artists are artists and business people are business people. They stay separate.
Both sides need each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but it doesn’t have to be.
When there’s a symbiotic relationship, the side that has more power tends to win.
“Starving Artist” Is a Myth
Most artists are desperate and are in Scarcity Mindset.
We have this phrase, “starving artist,” that I hate. I hate this phrase because the artist doesn’t understand the inherent value of their work.
The business person understands the selling power of that work. They know that art can sell when it’s put into the right context.
What often happens is the business person takes advantage of the artist, but if the artist also understands business, they can hold their own. They understand the selling power of their work because they understand business.
Focus just on your art, but I recommend also understanding business. Take time to learn business and learn licensing.
Understand the inherent value of your art and how it can be applied so you can hold your own when you’re approached by a business person.
I like to use lunch boxes as an example because it just illustrates it so perfectly. Plain tin lunch boxes that a business person can order in bulk aren’t going to sell because they’re not interesting. They’re boring–kids don’t want them.
The artwork is what sells the product. The artwork is what holds the selling power.
As an artist you are creating value and you need to be compensated for that value.
In order to be compensated, you need to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of, which means you need to be able to recognize situations where you are being taken advantage of.
You need to understand the practical business side of your art. This is something I go into with my Learn Lettering course.
This course is for lettering artists, so I teach people the techniques of lettering—how to draw letters, practical tips, etc.—but I also give them the business knowledge they need to succeed. Things like how to talk to clients, how to price your work, how to write design contracts, and how to conduct a licensing agreement.
You have to understand these if you want to be able to be successful as an artist. You don’t want to get taken advantage of by someone who has more business sense, but doesn’t have your creative skills.
People can only take advantage of you if you let them.
This applies in every area of life. You have to educate yourself.
The thing is, when you become an artist who is also adept in business principles, you’re actually going to create some enemies with your fellow artists, because there’s a crab mentality going on.
Artists themselves pervade the “starving artist” mentality.
You think that the corporate world is oppressing you and they’re causing you to be a starving artist, but really artists themselves are perpetuating this.
Beware of Crab Mentality
Crab mentality is where there are crabs in a bucket and any one of them could crawl out to escape from the bucket but the reason they can’t is because, as they try to escape from the bucket, the other crabs pull them back down.
They don’t want you to escape. The other crabs—the other artists—don’t want you to escape from this bucket of mediocrity. Why? Because that means they’re doing something wrong.
If you’re successful, apply yourself, and learn how to protect yourself in a legal agreement, how to price your work, how to talk with clients confidently, and you start to be successful in your art, you’re a threat to other artists.
You’re basically making them feel as if they have failed or they could be doing something differently and the reality is they don’t want to.
Artists themselves, as contradictory as it sounds, are the ones keeping this starving artist myth alive. Sometimes the reason for this isn’t obvious.
It’s not always apparent and most artists don’t even know why they’re doing it, but it’ll come in the form of people saying things like, “You’re a sell-out,” or they think you’re no longer a true artist if you’re actually making money from your art.
It’s really sad, because what does any artist want?
They want to make a living from what they love to do, yet when someone actually does it, they’re called a sell-out. They’re told by their peers that they’re no longer a true artist.
I know this, unfortunately, from personal experience. When I started sharing the real revenue numbers from my course launches and product sales people started hating on me.
They started sending hateful messages and saying unkind things on Twitter because that kind of success threatens them.
When they heard that a hand lettering artist made six figures in 3 days, they think I must be doing something terrible or I must be cheating people.
They didn’t want to believe it, because if it was true, if an artist could make a living doing what they love and they’re not doing it themselves, it’s a threat to them.
You’ll see this time and again—your friends and your peers will try and pull you down. They’ll try and discourage you, but you have to hold your own.
You have to spend the time to educate yourself on business principles.
You have to be really good at art and you have to be really good at business. It’s hard, but it’s totally doable.
Sometimes that means taking the focus off of your art just for a season. It’s not forever.
You’re just investing into your career. Maybe that’s listening to podcasts, reading books, watching videos, or taking a course on business. That time is invaluable.
That investment is going to come back 10-fold or maybe 100-fold. Think of it in terms of seasons.
If you take a break from your art to brush up on your business skills and learn new things, it’s not that you’re no longer in love with the art.
It’s that you love it so much that you’re willing to spend the time to invest in it.