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The mysterious case of the artist and the money monster

Money , So they say , Is the root of all evil today…

So wrote the majestic Pink Floyd way back in the 70’s on the troubled relationship between money, creativity and ethics, accompanied by clinking coins and ringing cash registers.

It’s pretty much true to say that many artists relationship with money could at best be described as ambivalent and at worst, downright dysfunctional.

You may feel that:

  • You don’t deserve money
  • That your skills are something anyone could do and don’t deserve remuneration
  • You are more comfortable giving something away for free
  • That exchanging your work for money somehow taints or sullies it
  • Selling your art makes you a sell out
  • That real artists suffer for their art

This relationship with money can be a serious hinderance in the development of a healthy career in the arts. It can hold you back, undermine your confidence and lead to under valuing and under pricing of your skills.

Sustainable creativity…

Over Xmas I bought a lot of my presents from Etsy. I bought some gorgeous things, all beautifully made and packaged. I was struck by the low cost of the items, considering the amount of work and love which had gone into them. For two items in particular, I calculated that after the cost of materials had been taken into consideration, there was absolutely NO profit made by the sellers. In fact they could actually have been making a loss. The sad truth is that this is not a sustainable business. It’s really a hobby, but even then you should cover material costs or you can’t keep going.

You do have to make a profit to keep moving forward and creating more beautiful things

The sad truth is also that if one person sells too cheap, other similar artists find their work devalued as they have to reduce prices to compete. Its a disastrous vicious circle.

Value your skills. Not everyone can do what you do!

Many artists have a really hard time valuing their skills.

Creativity is often viewed as a randomly bestowed talent and not something that has been honed by years of practice, hardship, trial and error and working jobs that you  hate.

Every time you are tempted to undervalue an artwork, when the voices in your head say “it only took 30 minutes. I can’t charge more than $20” you need to change the way you look at it.

It may be 30 minutes now but it more than likely breaks down something like this:

30 minutes + 1 year foundation + 3 years fine art degree + 10 years working two jobs {one with an evil boss!} to finance your art whilst you paint at night.

That’s a LOT of time and skill honing.

When you change the way you look at it, its easier to see just how valuable your skill is and how a lot of training and hard knocks have gone into being able to do it as well as you do.

Think more like a burly plumber

When was the last time you got a plumber round to your house and he fixed your leak for free, or went to the dentist and discovered she would do a whole bunch of complex orthodontic work for $10?

People with skills like these, which they have worked hard to achieve, as have you, just don’t work for free. They have a culture of quite rightly expecting payment in return for their skills. This culture doesnt really exist within the arts so it’s much harder to feel comfortable asking for a decent fee for your work. It is imperitive to your survival as an artist that you do though.

Selling your work too cheaply won’t mean that you sell more. Collectors perception of worth is wrapped up in price so it will just mean that people perceive your work as less valuable and worthwhile. They will still make the same gut reaction as to whether they choose to buy it or not.

Strangely, raising prices can actually stimulate more sales as perception of the value of your work is raised.

Under-pricing and it’s sucky consequences

It is very easy to put too low a price on your art. Unfortunately, the eventual logical conclusion of under pricing is that you have to stop creating art and get a “proper job” as you can’t support yourself from your creativity.

There is nothing romantic or creative about that horrible sickly gut-knawing panic of waking at 3am and wondering where you are going to get the money to pay the mortgage, which is due tomorow and in arrears.

Worrying about how you are going to survive diverts precious energy away from creativity. No one can thrive creatively when under stress.

Money = Freedom
Money is magical. It gives you the freedom to work and create.

Take control and lose the fear of the lurking money monster

Money can be like some creepy monster that lurks in the shadows, giving you the fear down the back of your neck and getting bigger and bigger the more you try to ignore it.

The best way to deal with monsters is to confront them head on. Drag that money monster out from under the stairs and give it a good kicking. You will find, as is often the way with monsters, that when you look at them in daylight they are nowhere near as scary as your imagination made them.

You need to take control of the money monster, dont let it control you and derail your art career.

Beat your money monster by:

  • Getting your finances in order. I know so many artists who have a carrier bag of receipts in their studio. Dont put them off until they are the size of a teetering mountain. Little and often will start to clear them up and put you back in control.
  • Employ a book-keeper if possible. They are brilliant, much cheaper than an accountant and will whip your books into order for you. They often offer a service where you can hand them that carrier bag of receipts at the end of each month and they will go away and SORT IT ALL OUT. Hooray! You can usually find semi retired local book keepers through Google who will do all this for a very reasonable fee.
  • Checking your pricing. Do your prices reflect your skills? Do they need updating?
  • Valuing your skills. Not everyone in the world can do what you do and you have worked HARD to get here. Respect that journey.

What is your attitude to money? Does it help or hinder your art career? Share with us in the comments.


Monette Satterfield of The Artful Business Blog has written a great post about how ideas about money can be limiting to your success. I urge you to check out her blog as she manages to demystify money for us creatives, which is no mean feat.

And now, if you have that Pink Floyd song ringing round your head, heres a quick blast.

Image released under creative commons by Kevin Dooley

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