The American dream is shifting. What was once a benefits package and early retirement has now become gigging and freedom. Creative types around the world rejoiced when the internet opened up a $715 billion dollar marketplace of freelance work ripe and ready for the picking. So freelance they did, business they did not. And here we are, several years in, with quite a few lessons under our artist aprons, of business savvy, balance, and what it really takes to survive as a non-starving artist.
Why Balance Is So Important
Think about it this way: on one side is your amazing artistic ability, your design skills, and your creative crux... and on the other, your business savvy. In order to use your artistic abilities to make an actual living, there's some basic business know how that most artists skip over. Too many creative types really glaze over when they hear about taxes or contracts. This was echoed back in my recent conversation with Kevin Jankowski, the Director, and Scott Malloy, the Senior Career Advisor, at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Career Center. "We know that 90% of alumni say, in order to support themselves, they are or will be freelancing. But when we go back and ask those same people if they want to own a business or be an entrepreneur, we see that percentage drop dramatically. What they are not realizing is that they already are entrepreneurs, well on their way to being in business for themselves, if they aren't already. Freelancing is business. And you have to know how to handle contracts, funds coming in, clients, marketing, and so on."
Shifting Your Perspective
The mindset for plenty of artists is that they don't want to get bogged down by all of the "business stuff" and so rather than learn it, to actually avoid getting bogged down, they avoid it. The quicker you can change your approach to it, the better off your business will be in the long run. So that rather than avoiding the business stuff, you learn it, so it doesn't grow into a monstrous black hole that ends up devouring everything you are working so hard to build, and rather than being a starving artist you are a thriving creative entrepreneur.
Money Does Matter
Dreaming that it's all about the art is grand, but at the end of the day, you need to eat. The money aspect does matter, which is why some former (and current!) artists are coming up with new ways to help other artists take on the business aspects of their art business. Take Deb Dormody for instance. She created a workshop to help other creative types overcome something she struggled with for years, Pricing Your Work for the Marketplace. Or Kelly Ramirez, who wants to help you do good with your business, while your business does good.
One of the other speakers who I personally follow, Carolyn Edlund, the owner of Artsy Shark, is an art/business guru. RISD figured out the best way to get this information out is by hosting their own Art & Business Bootcamp for students and alumni in November, featuring the experts mentioned, along with so many more.
Don't Worry, You're Not A Sell Out
Artists & Designers need to be business savvy in order to afford to do what they love.
What this isn't: Selling out.
What this is: Creating the right opportunity for yourself to build a business that gives you even more freedom to create.
As Carolyn, of Artsy Shark, so aptly pointed out, "Just because you know how to make art certainly doesn't mean that you know how to sell art." It has always been relevant that artists understand how to do business but now, it is dire. Whereas in the past an artist may just sell their art to a gallery, now the possible revenue streams are more everything; more complicated, more saturated, more diverse, and with more options. This is where your business skills come in handy to help you navigate these possible revenue streams, interact with clients, and market yourself, as well as your art, in a way that is profitable and beneficial to you and your goals as an artist.
For RISD, just like Carolyn and her business, it's important that they feed the entrepreneurial spirit of up-and-coming artists. As Carolyn put it, "I love feeding into the creativity and building up these creative small businesses. I really believe that we are moving towards a creator economy, and these are the people who are really poised to take advantage of that. To sustain a higher value economy of design work."