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  • Ewan A. Keenan

The Relationship Between Art and Money

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

A SHORT ARTICLE by Ewan A. Keenan |

As artists, throughout history, money and business have always been seen as a dirty words. Whilst I was at art school, I remember learning very little about the business of being an artist. This is definitely a reason as to why so many do not continue to be an artist once graduated. But why is it pretentiously looked down on when an artist markets their work and becomes financially successful? And can you still truly do your own work when the work you produce becomes a monetised product?

I am learning more and more that being an artist is the purest form of entrepreneurship. I really believe in this. In essence, you’re selling your product; as much as this sounds repulsive to say, it is fact. We were not taught the professional side of being an artist in art school. I question why I bothered going to an art school if I didn’t learn how to make a living from it. We need this vital education so we can continue making it for potentially the rest of our lives, not as a hobby but as a vocation. We shouldn’t be ashamed to think this way.

There are creatives who do not care about the business side of making art. And there are those that do not care about the ‘art’ side of art, they only focus on the money. Both of these ways of thinking are guaranteed to fail if you wish to pursue art as a vocation. As a successful artist, you need to strike a balance.

Art needs an audience. I believe there is real value in understanding who will pay for the experience of your art. It may seem like a constraint to many artists, when they realise that the works they produce are for a specific audience. This limitation should not be seen as a negative though; having the business mind-set can become an artist’s greatest ever advantage. You are probably asking why. If you have the business mind-set then these are some scenarios you may be in:

· Don’t have an audience? Find the right audience.

· Struggling with time? If you have deadlines, you find ways round this and become more focused.

· Don’t have money? Think outside the box.

Without the business thinking, you are more than likely not going to be a full-time artist for your life. However, with the business mind-set, you have more of a chance of make a living from it. You do not need to think less of your practice, but to focus on being able to feed yourself through your art should not be snobbishly looked down on.

There is a certain attitude towards artists who have been financially successful. The type of people that say “Ahhh yeah they were good but now they have sold out”. It frustrates me that we have to bring down success. Now that an artist can afford to have a nice house and provide for their family, they are deemed evil and ‘not cool enough’. This attitude is persistent throughout the art world, specifically with tutors and students at art school. Many artists become a target of resentment and jealousy when they become financially well off.

I know many artists that would not want to go ‘commercial’ because they believe others in the industry will criticise them. As Bill Cosby once said “the key to failure is trying to please everyone”. If you are 100% non-commercial, it’s an easy ride, you’re essentially free from all criticism.

Damien Hirst, the richest living artist; understandably, very controversial, seems to be despised within much of the art world. This is not necessarily for the subject matter of the work, but more so for the financial gain from his art practice. He has stated, the money aspect to his art is so important for someone like himself, a working class lad from humble upbringings in Leeds. Maybe it is the case that for many middleclass art students, the money is not important as they have always been surrounded by it and the need to earn it is not a necessity to them hence their disgust towards artists such as Hirst, who in their words has ‘sold out’. The need to consider placing monetary value on works of art is deemed as unsophisticated to many. I respect Hirst for being so successful financially and believe he has absolutely deserved it. He has certainly created a brand around himself, but is this really that wrong? Don’t all artists do this?

When I say ‘successful artist’, I do not simply mean a talented artist. I am talking about making a career out of the art. More than likely, if you can make a career out of it, you are a talented artist but you are also a talented entrepreneur. This is not something artists should be ashamed of. It means you can create art for the rest of your life. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have been brought into wealth, you have to understand that being an artist is just as much about being a professional as it is being a creative. I do wish art schools taught the business side of being an artist so when we leave, we understand art is not just a hobby but something that can provide a roof over our heads. I hope after reading this, if you are an artist, don’t be ashamed to market your work, this is how you are able to keep creating. If you don’t market and promote your art, you will not be doing it as a career, it is as simple as that.

I look forward to hearing your views and whether you disagree or agree with what I have to say in this short article.

If you have any topics you would like me to discuss for the next article, please do get in touch.

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