Business, Bread, & Bitters

I’ve been talking to a lot of artists lately in a series of strategy sessions, and I’m watching a pattern replicate itself like an out-of-control virus.

I’ve come to call it the Business Bitters–that mouth puckering contrast to the sweet taste of creative flow.

The story is simple and timeless: artist paints or sculpts or weaves or throws or composes, experiencing a kind of…ecstasy. The result is a work of art that has first moved the artist, and then – if the skill, artist voice, and materials are up to the job – reaches out to move someone else.

In the beginning, the artist is joyous when one person is moved enough to tell the artist how they love the work.

As time passes, and more creative flow produces more work, eventually the artist’s expectations shift from a verbal stroking of her or his artistic voice to a definitive nod from a collector’s wallet.

Once this shift happens, there is no turning back: the gift of words, without a corresponding exchange of money, slowly pivots from mild irritation to outright frustration.

And here is where the story starts to show the true color of its underbelly: dark, foreboding, brooding, and painfully blind to a common, shared reality–that an exchange of money is the material core of a business transaction.

The “underbelly” I’m speaking about is not this reality, but an artist’s relationship to this reality… or should I say, non-relationship to this reality.

As much as some artists want the affirmation that comes with a sale, they make choice after choice that denies them a rational relationship with the business of art. For these artists, all they can taste is Business Bitters.

Imagine, for a moment, what this would look like if you had the same attitude toward bread on your table.

You want bread. You love bread, especially fresh baked and warm from the oven. But you don’t want to sully the experience with money. You want the bread to drop from the sky, already dripping with butter.

Goodness sakes, no, you can’t imagine paying somebody for this heavenly experience–that would be sacrilegious. That would steal the very flavor from each bite.

Pretty silly, yes?

And  yet, that is the same attitude artist after artist has about their art career. They will pay for art supplies. They might even pay to have a studio of their own. But that’s where the buck stops, literally.

When it comes to the business side of their art career, suddenly they want that loaf to just drop out of the sky.

Here’s a prime example: one artist I spoke to just spent $20,000 on building the perfect studio, but dug her cute little heels into the ground when it came to spending a couple thousand on improving how she markets her art. The excuse? (Which, of course, cleverly disguises itself as a reason.)  She felt too stressed out over how much the studio had cost.

Never mind that learning how to market her art effectively would help her recoup that studio cost.

Never mind the incongruity between expecting collectors to dig into their pockets for your art while you are unwilling to do the same thing to help move your career forward.

Never mind that there is no business in the world that can sustain itself without some level of upfront investment.

Heck… just brush those pesky flies away from your face!  You’re an artist!


Here’s a straight forward investment that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars, and is backed up with the experience of your peers. Check out what other artists – who are not afraid to invest in themselves, roll up their sleeves and go to work – have to say.

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