How To Earn A Living While Pursuing Your Art and Creativity
Jackie Battenfield, author of "The Artist's Guide: How to Make A Living Doing What You Love" and a successful artist offers tips and advice how to make a living through your art.
Commitment: Why did you write this book for artists?
You wrote: "More than ever, the world needs brilliant, thought-provoking, and dazzlingly beautiful art. I believe in the importance of art to our lives and am committed to creating healthy and wealth in the artist community, where there is now an unquestioned subsistence mentality. I want you to succeed, and this book is my antidote to the misinformation and myths that hold artist back." Can you explain how your book is an antidote to the misinformation and myths that hold artists back?
Jackie Battenfield: In my workshops and teaching I found that visual artists needed a reference book written by someone who struggles with the same issues that they do every day and can address them from the inside out.
Plenty of books tell artists WHAT to do, but aren’t as able to discuss WHY and HOW to do it in a way that artists will accept and follow.
I decided to put together a guide that could help any artist, no matter where they are in their professional life – in school, just beginning, emerging, mid-career, or starting over -- find answers to situations they will encounter and develop the essential tools to sustain their art practice over the long-term.
It’s the kind of book I wished I had as I was developing my own career. I took the handouts I had developed over the eighteen years of presenting classes and workshops for different organizations, mixed in my own experiences and those of hundreds of artists I’ve worked with, interviewed another thirty-five art professionals and created an intimate, readable text.
Commitment: What are the biggest challenges an artist faces in developing their professional life?
Jackie: The biggest challenges an artist faces is to continue creating art, outside of the comforting structures of school and to master the mechanics of pursuing opportunities and promoting their work while juggling jobs and a personal life. It takes enormous self-discipline and brings up a lot fear and doubt, which just makes the whole process that much harder.
Commitment: Why do so many artists find pursuing their creativity and earning a living nearly impossible?
Jackie: During their education artists are seldom receive instruction on managing budgets, grant writing, fundraising, or promotion. Every professional -- doctors, lawyers, engineers -- has to master the art and the business of their field. Young professionals in other fields leave school and enter well-paid internships or jobs where they can apply the art and theory of their field while being mentored on the practical aspects of budgeting, billing, and managing.
Visual artists leave school to work at marginal part time jobs, usually not part of their field, and a solitary studio existence where they somehow have to figure this stuff out all on their own. It’s a difficult way to acquire the professional tools needed to succeed, and most fall by the wayside.
Commitment: How does the stereotype of the 'poor starving artists' impact the way many artists chose to live and pursue their profession?
You wrote, "Being an artist is a profession. It is not a vow of poverty" and "Their preconceived idea is that being an artist automatically makes a person crazy, poor and disorganized....Many artists' earliest visions of pursuing a career are merged with the impossible task of living a good life. They are defeated before they have even begun. I have found that all too often artists are conditioned not to ask for what they want because they have decided that it is impossible to achieve."
Jackie: Most artists begin their careers with the notion that they will never make money doing it, so that sets up the expectation that they will manage on the slimmest of margin which keeps them poor and struggling.
Because most often they need to work at other jobs to support their art, they earn only enough to just get by. That kind of life is depleting year after year and can’t be sustained.
Most artists don’t know how much it costs them to make their art. They would rather not know as it’s too scary to face. So they approach their life and any opportunity to show their work without a realistic budget of what resources they need to do it well. Grossly underestimating the funds they will need means they don’t take the time to do the necessary fundraising and thus end up savaging for money, begging favors of friends and relying on high interest credit cards to pull it together.
Commitment: What do you want to change about the idea that being an artist means never having enough money?
Jackie: In my book I encourage artists to do financial tracking so they begin to understand exactly how much it costs for them to do their work and live their life. Facing up to the actual costs will then challenge them to find ways to sustain their practice.
Commitment: How have you been able to support yourself with your art?
Jackie: I looked for and developed a broad base of art professionals who were attracted to my paintings and prints and had an audience that responded to them as well. I never assumed that one art dealer would support me.
Commitment: What do you know and understand about this process that many artists don't get?
Jackie: It helped that I ran a nonprofit gallery for eight years and witnessed the mistakes and triumphs of other artists. I realized that many artists seldom looked for opportunities outside of their community or relied the on rising or falling fortunes of one art dealer. You can live in one place and your work can be exhibited, commissioned, loaned, sold, collected anywhere.
I also learned that it is important to do your homework, carefully research opportunities and don’t try to fit your art into spaces where it isn’t wanted. Finally, I learned not to take rejection personally. If I was going to go after multiple opportunities, I was going to face a fair amount of it.
Commitment: What information do artists need to understand in order to be able to make a living through their art?
Jackie: First of all, the majority of artists do not support themselves exclusively from sales of their work, although that avenue can be a significant part of their income. I suggest artists employ the same creativity they use in making their art to think broadly about supporting it.
Yes, many artists do find ways to support themselves and still create art. Most of them do not do it on sales of their art alone, but through combining income from their art with freelancing, running another small business, teaching, or other kinds of jobs.
What other interests and skills do they have that can be turned into income? How can they earn them the most amount of money with the least amount to time and effort so they can save the best of themselves for their art? For instance, I would go nuts if I was alone in my studio all day every day. I love getting out and in front of a group of artists to work on professional issues. Getting paid for something else that I love to do it is part of my income stream.
Commitment: You wrote, "Most of us tumble into the dark vortex of less and less art making as time goes by." Why does this happen? What seems to steal an artists ability and time to create art? How can an artist make sure they preserve the time and energy needed to create art?
Jackie: Life can easily get in the way of making art. It is hard to continue to create art while juggling jobs and a personal life. For most of us, our lives get more complicated as time goes on. A part-time job becomes full-time. Some begin families and childrearing needs are overwhelming. Even the most loving people in our lives don’t always understand the time and space we need to make art.
Many artists learned to make art in the context of school where end of semester critiques helped create deadlines to meet. Once you are out of school, it is hard to continue producing work without developing your own structure to do so.
Artists need to regularly share their work with others, by pursuing available opportunities or creating their own if need be. Engage in regular studio visits with other artists and art professionals or host an open studio party. These activities provide deadlines to finish a body of work.
Commitment: How do you personally protect your time and energy in order to keep creating art?
Jackie: I keep to a schedule that works for me. I like to go to the studio first thing in the morning for several hours and then spend some time on the business of my practice. Even when I worked a daylong job, I always spent time in the studio before going to it, so I could keep my train of thought progressing. I also never skimp on sleep. Eight hours a night keeps my energy up.
Commitment: What are your five best tips for artists who want to get organized and gain control of their finances?
1. Do financial tracking to know exactly how much it costs for you to live and do your work.
2. Make it a goal this year to figure out how to earn more than you spend. Invest what you save.
3. Figure out the best time of day for you to do your art and don’t schedule anything else for that part of the day.
4. If you freelance, set up a separate savings account for paying your quarterly taxes. Deposit 20-25% of every payment you receive into it. It’s not yours to spend until you have paid your taxes for the year.
5. Anything left in your tax savings account after you have filed your 1099 (Profit or Loss from a Business) goes into an IRA. Someday you will be thankful that you did that.
Commitment: What challenges do artist face in earning a living through their art in today's economy?
Jackie: The art world is contracting a bit which is difficult for artists. Many of them work in galleries that have closed or in nonprofit spaces that have had to cut back on staff, or reduce salaries to balance their budgets. There are fewer grants and they are more competitive.
Commitment: What advice do you have for those who hope to keep creating and selling their art despite the economic downturn?
Jackie: The financial advice I have already mentioned, such as Financial Tracking, developing multiple income streams, building up a cash reserve will help artists through the best of times as well as the worst.
Don’t forget, even when the economy is booming, an artist may have a show that doesn’t sell or be in the midst of a creative slump. Artists need to be better than average managers of their finances to lessen the extreme ups and downs which are natural to any art career.
Commitment: What exhibition opportunities are out there for artists that are often overlooked?
1. The Do It Yourself category. Open up your studio. Organize an open studio tour with a whole group of artists. Find an empty space and curate your own group show.
2. Check out exhibition opportunities at community colleges, colleges and universities.
3. Community centers, libraries, municipal buildings, corporate buildings often have exhibition opportunities.
Commitment: What can an artist do to find buyers for their work if perhaps they live in a small town without a large artist community?
Jackie: An artist has access to the entire world through a dynamic presence on the internet. It can be their own website, a blog which includes images of their work, and participation in artist registries of organizations they respect, and social networking sites such as Facebook.
Commitment: What advice do you have for an artist who is looking to exhibit in a certain gallery, but keeps getting rejected?
Jackie: Look for other opportunities and keep that "certain" gallery on your contact list. Let them continue to get announcements of other shows you are in. Maybe they'll decide to do something with you later.
Commitment: You wrote, "When I brainstormed my first set of art career goals, I remember thinking to myself: 'who do you think you are?' I ignored these doubts, and for now you should too." What if someone can't ignore their feelings of doubt and unworthiness as they try to build a life as an artist? What emotions can derail an artist's career?
Jackie: Putting together a plan of action will give you a list of simple things you can do, which will help counteract feelings of doubt and unworthiness.
Commitment: You wrote, "Remember: your best ideas may be yet to come, so you need to stay engaged with your creative spark. Art history is full of artists whose work was ignored and then embraced at different stages of their lives. You can't predict when the art community will turn their attention to you. What you can control is how you continue to pursue your goals and the resilience of your attitude, which together strengthen you to persevere." Can you elaborate a bit on this statement?
Jackie: This statement sums up the message I present throughout the book. Deciding to take a proactive approach rather than waiting for something to happen strengthens you to carry on, even when the going gets difficult.
Commitment: What final words of advice do you have for artists who dream of supporting themselves through their art?
Jackie: A dream is a powerful motivating force and will keep you going when things get rough. To help protect and nurture your dream, take the time to learn about the business of your profession. Your dream and the practical aspects of your life and studio practice do not need to be opposing forces.
About the Author: Jackie Battenfield is represented in galleries throughout the United States and in over a thousand collections worldwide. She teaches professional practices at Columbia University and for the Creative Capital Foundation.
To purchase "The Artist's Guide: How To Make A Living Doing What You Love" click here.