well fed artists and other unlikely tales

Anyone who went to art school knows well the Friday night ritual of feeding at gallery openings. Free wine and cheese, a staple of the bedraggled art student’s diet. It is as if we are set up to be poor before we even get out the door. Even if you didn’t go to art school the myth is alive that being an artist AND making a good living is an oxymoron of the highest order. This is not news, and there are as many people writing about it as there are coaches coaching us out of it. I find it is my time to face the issue out loud.

Last time, I wrote here about living inauthentically, about the tendency to force a lifestyle that is not really us because we should. I ended with this:

Next time Let’s talk about aligning the dollar with living authentically!

I set myself up to write this post because it really needs to be written and I don’t want to write it. I am about to go out on a limb here and admit some pretty embarrassing things.

I have been blogging as an artist for almost 2 years now, and had an online shop for about a year. I sell an average of one print a month. One small print a month. If that were my only income I would be in serious trouble. The thing is there is no reason I could not be selling far more. My work is very well received in shows and in general.

I am not selling more art because I have not done the work to sell it.

This is where it gets really embarrassing. I have all the tools I need to make myself successful and I ignore them.  I have paid for Megan Auman’s Marketing for Makers – not once, but twice – and not done the work. I have a pile of books with titles like Right Brained Business Plan and I’d Rather Be in the Studio that have been read, but not applied. Not to mention the ebooks and blogs and endless online resources I have ignored and even berated. HA! On it goes…

What kind of insanity is this? Well, I would not be admitting to these things if I thought I were alone. The thing is I know I am not. I know there are plenty of us out there that have the deeply rooted and completely  irrational belief that we do not deserve to earn from our art. That making money from what we love is not permitted. In my case I had role models in my mother and grandmother, both successful starving artists, but I am sure I could be doing it without them.

Well, as my cancer diagnosis has woken me up to what I love in my personal life, I am inspired to bring that vitality to my business life. I do deserve to make a living at what I love, and I can. I have spent the past few weeks clearing my spaces and realigning my goals. I have new work to present and an always full font of inspiration for more. I also have an amazing opportunity in a seat at Tara Gentile’s Art of Earning Live.

I began following Tara at about the same time I started my first website, and I have seen her do everything right. I have seen her create her way out of her own scarcity beliefs, and build a viable and honest business of teaching others the same. I have also seen her take chances on people like me, as a writer for Scoutie Girl, and be right.

What I have come to realize is that marketing materials, web stats, SEO, and advertising won’t make a difference if I do not change my mindset.

I believe Tara can help me do that. I believe I will let her!

Are you betraying your ability to earn from your art?

Tell me your story, please!

20 thoughts on “well fed artists and other unlikely tales

  1. Great blog post…. It is so natural for artists to believe that they shouldn’t earn money and that it is obscene to expect money for anything. We are expected to be volunteers and we encourage that by volunteering… Now, I don’t want to discourage others from giving of their time and talents. That is a good thing, but too many of us fill up our lives with volunteering and don’t take the time to make a living.

    I think your post will hit the mark with many artists. Thanks for writing it.


  2. So interesting and so telling Gwen. So glad you shared your story in this environment and on this website in particular!

    It took me many many years (despite ‘doing art’ my whole life) to realize my own abilities in it – or enough of my abilities in ‘art’ to make a living out of it.

    I was so easily able to recognize everyone else’s amazing talent – it made me doubt my own abilities…it wasn’t until I realized that I should start ‘labeling’ myself a thriving artist that I started to get things underway, including taking that big step in paying for Tara’s e-course, ‘The Art of Action’ I happened to stumbleupon quite literally.

    I too have paid more than once for both Megan and Tara’s courses – and am proud that I did, as I knew and know, I still hadn’t/haven’t yet gained enough (think here ‘do the work’) from the courses the first time around.

    These courses provide so much information to digest, with incredible insights from very talented in-the-know business people, which I gained a lot from (including gaining confidence) and continue to learn from their courses and them everyday.

    There is so much amazingly useful and viable information in their courses and websites, as an artist of any medium, one really needs to know their goals…and be willing do to the work, this is something Tara has mentioned over and over…and for very good reason…

    Having goals, understanding and outlining the steps towards those goals helps actualize them into reality. Period. Self doubt is not an option.

    and Megan’s line ‘Action is Magic’ I had engraved on the back side of my i-pad for good reason (it’s also on a sticky note on my mac so I see it everyday) –

    Taking action really is magical in creating that reality that resides in one’s mind when they align themselves to their succeeding goals!

    And ironically my horoscope read like this today: ‘Why is it you’re doing what you do? How do the long-term goals look from here? You need real motivation to get to the next level.’

    – I had already planned on writing a post on my website regarding the ‘goal’ subject today as a result of my horoscope which reminded me of these simple questions Tara has reminded us time and time again- some of which are STILL not answered by me.

    Some great questions to help realign one’s thinking Gwen! And you so pointed them out to us all today. Thank you…I am grateful for it.

    And so today, I am taking these questions and answering them- for real, – writing them down – placing them on the wall, this despite having success in opening my physical ‘artisan’ boutique in an artsy town and in selling my art shortly after taking Tara’s ‘Art of Action’ course. And I thank you for reminding and reaffirming this necessity of continuing the work towards one’s goals.

    I will be answering these questions of goals, and will realign myself to my goals because I owe it to myself, as I commit to myself to succeed as a person who continues to grow and grow with their art and business on a daily basis. I had been thinking about my goalless working life for a few weeks now knowing something had to be done – action was necessary…

    I know there is much more that I can and Will do….


    ps. When I think of you (since we took one of the courses together)- I have always seen and thought this of you: Gwen, you are a thriving artist, an insightful writer – and an incredible gifted person who has only one direction to go – up, up and away in all things successful!

    p.p.s. Both Megan and Tara including Carrie – have all helped me in one way or another in reaffirming my choice to be an artprenuer – and shop owner and can’t thank them enough!

    1. Wow Leah thanks! It is interesting to hear how you see me, and very flattering!

      You make one pint I did not stress enough. I have received immeasurably help and encouragement here with Carrie, Megan, and Tara, and elsewhere on the web, for which I am so grateful . It is not the lack of help but of application that I suffer from. I have found a renewed will to live in my illness, and I want to carry it in to the life of my work!!!

      “I know there is much more that I can and Will do….”

      Amen to that!

  3. “I am not selling more art because I have not done the work to sell it.” Talk about owning it! I do believe your tide will turn. It’s when you meet yourself where you are, take responsibility, and then *ding ding ding* take action that the cool stuff happens. Here’s to Gwyn the Pirate, Thriving, Prosperous Artist!

  4. I think that my resistance stems from the messages I received — early and often — while growing up. These weren’t necessarily mean or derogatory but pointed and insistant. And while there were many creative individuals in my family, they had REAL jobs that were task oriented and showed accomplishment. They could check items off the to-do list. These people were firemen, engineers, secretaries, nurses, accountants and school teachers. The mindset is a very difficult thing to change, the messages still echo but I work at it every day. Enjoyed your post, take care.

  5. Oh jikes. This is like my story. Except that I kind of thought that starting a really good blog would get me out of selling. There goes that way of evading the issue out the window. I have some of the same books as you, sitting on my table. Great feedback from art patrons and art lovers who come across my art. When I do a little bit, say a week’s worth, of marketing, the results are immediate. When that happens, I give myself permission not to market for a month. Not a great strategy.

    But I would seriously rather paint than market.

    Thank you for writing this, it went straight into my heart and I can’t wait to read more of what you find out in your adventures!

  6. I think you definitely hit a sensitive spot for many of us, still struggling. There are so many causes to the resistance… I think sometimes though, we find it hard to admit we need more help as well. Not in the form of more research, books, etc… help as in a bootcamp, coach, whip into discipline kind of thing…

  7. I can relate to this one! I had a part time jewelry business for a while, but the problem was that as much as I loved making jewelry, I didn’t love marketing it. I was lucky to have a couple of consignment galleries that would sell a few pieces a month for me, plus several pieces a month on etsy while I had an etsy shop, but it certainly wasn’t nearly enough money to quit my day job. Being out of business for a year or two has given me a lot of perspective, and time to think about what I really want to do for a living – I definitely still want my creativity to be part of my job, but I’m getting a clearer picture of how that might work for me. If you aren’t willing to do the work to get sales, it’s hard to make a living as an artist/crafter.

  8. Thank you for such a heartfelt post. You are right you are not alone. I am not sure why we believe and buy into scarcity as an artist. We know, deeply we know, it is a lie and yet we let it beat us down into submission of doing nothing. I see this too all around me with other artists, craftswomen and doers of creative things tucking that dream to share their art with the world.

  9. Hi Gwynn! I can’t wait to meet you at AofE! I graduated from art school 2 years ago and can now proclaim that my artwork is my part-time! It took so much work and ambition and fear to get where I am. It’s so hard for art students because we’re not taught business skills or the true (monetary) value of our work. We are taught to be poor, fail, and feel like a starving artist. This desperately needs to change so that everyone can share their amazing talents with the world!

  10. I agree. I in part am not earning more because I am not doing the work.
    I feel like this happens for a number of reasons. If I sit and thing about it I have 3 jobs. My fulltime job (to pay bills), my art, and selling/marketing my art.
    For a long time I felt the last one should come last. Partially because I just hate doing it. It takes a lot of work for me to sit down at my computer and put images, descriptions and such onto the internet. Making it and photographing have always been easier. Now that I’ve gotten faster, more efficient and generally more motivated to do my art, I feel there is more time and energy to devote to “selling it”

    Its still a lot of work, and work I have to make myself do.
    I find it helpful to say, I’m going to work on this…website, accounting, promo etc. at this time. I need that schedule for the tasks I do not like.

    I agree with Megan, whom I actually went to school with. We are not taught these things in school. I really feel like a minor in business or even a course or 2 should be required with and art degree. Especially things about taxes and keeping track of your income and expenses and such.

    It is something we all seem to struggle with. … that and pricing work 😉

  11. “What I have come to realize is that marketing materials, web stats, SEO, and advertising won’t make a difference if I do not change my mindset.”

    Right-on. Thank you for this brave and uplifting post, Gwyn.

    1. P.S. I never went to galleries in art school because I felt out of place as an interactive (web) design major. Yet another silly, limiting belief that I hadn’t even thought to challenge! Here’s to changing our minds in positive ways.

      1. Oh I get it with the “design” major. I was an Illustration major and we were not considered “real” artists. That one did’nt cripple me the way the earning does though.

  12. Hi Gwen,

    Thank-you for this post. I too relate to it. It’s been a long path to my business, learning a lot of varied skills along the way. Learning to overcome resistance. I’ve been doing better with my business lately, because I’ve gotten the last piece I needed – helpful small business information. I’ve never done this before. It took a while to find the information I needed. There’s so much advice out there, it takes time to sort through it and find what’s good.

    Two things have been most helpful for me.
    1. Tara’s “Art of Earning” ebook and anything else she writes.
    2. Ittybiz.com’s business turnaround class

    I’m finally getting traction in my business and thinking of myself as an artistic business owner. The mental shift is so key. I know it only gets better from here.

  13. Thanks for all the great feedback! I knew I was not alone :-)

    What I am getting is that there is a disconnect out there between

    a) a ton of good and not so good material on marketing and solopreneurship.

    b) the untrained mind set of the artist in business.

    It is indeed overwhelming. I personally need something more than a kick in the ass. I need help understanding what actually applies to me and then how to use it. I feel Like Tara is filling that gap.

  14. Very real and honest post. I needed to read this today and challenge myself. I need to build my confidence and change my mindset!
    Thank you!

  15. This hits home for me doing programming, another creative art form.

    It sounds like I could have a good business marketing people’s art and helping with web site maintenance. :)

    Good Luck all of the struggling artists and the other creative types like the programmers (me :)

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