Why You May Not Be Ready to Turn Your Art Into a Business by M Theresa Brown

Although I am considered a successful marketing artist, where every bill that I pay comes from money that I earn through my art sales, I am fully aware that what I do for a living, creating and selling my art as a business, is not for everyone! Self employment is hard work!

But recently a long thread ran on another forum that I belong to with advice from many, various artists on "starting a fine art business" being thrown around like it was a recipe for biscuits!  I am always amazed at how quickly someone will take advice from someone who may not be where they want to be! (think about that) Why would anyone take business advice from someone who has never run a business?

Still, after browsing through dozens of replies and comments on the topic-all honest and well intentioned, but still lacking in real life functionality, I realized what the   real issue was underlying all the comments. Just under the surface was the need to justify creating!

For so many artist there is something magnetic about the words "art business". They  feel that they must justify creating their art.  Businesses do not happen overnight and I constantly remind artists that it is hard work. It is more than that.  Starting, running and maintaining a successful business is a state of mind. Combining creativity and business is also a state of mind and you will be unsuccessful if you cannot switch gears to accept and embrace what needs to be done.:-)

Keep this whole thing in perspective. There is no need for an artist to "justify" her expenses to anyone. (and I use "her" as this seems to be a predominantly female trait!) Not to her friends, not to her spouse, not to her relatives. Art is no more expensive than golf, video games, gardening, fishing, scrapbooking or any other hobby that someone chooses to have.  Only in art does one's hubby (and I see this with women ALL the time) say "you can sell this, Honey and make some money" or (as one woman just emailed to me) " “Honey, you need to stop playing around and go get a “real” job.”    Well why doesn't he take his fish to market and justify the cost for all the fishing and the boat payment? Or his golf score from last week to try and sell and amaze on Ebay to pay for the golf clubs? :-) You see my point.

So relax. Only when you find your sales REGULAR and "real" should you even consider going the business route. Regardless of all the "easy" ways to sell your art that "experts" all over the Internet are selling or advising, use plain old common sense. There is no such thing as an easy business :-).

Now go have fun at your easel and don't be pressured into a premature decision! Art and Business can be fun, exciting and stimulating but only if you accept the mindset AND your sales justify this decision!



Comments (8) -


Interesting take. I have never noticed an underlying current of a need for creative justification. I have, on the other hand, noticed many individuals believe that because they create, they *should* sell. Which is actually a different creature. I have encountered individuals who have begun creating as a means to an end. Or took their hobby to the "next level" not because they needed justification, but because with the proliferation of internet based home businesses, many think that if they make it, the buying public will come. With the economy being what it is, I have noticed more and more creative hobbyists crossing the threshold simply to make a few extra bucks. The glorified notion of the home business, sitting at the easel "playing" all day has been presented ad nauseum in the blogosphere, especially with sites like Etsy making it seem incredibly easy to quit one's dayjob and make the leap.

It's simply not true. Ask any of us who have made this a viable business - it takes endless amounts of drive, passion, tweaking, cups o ramen, final notices from bill collectors, sleepless nights when you've gone a week without a sale, constant soul searching, a willingness to try just about anything to get your work to your target audience, the realization that once in business you are not only an artist but a shipper, advertiser, marketer, photographer of your wares, customer service representative, and complaints department. Seriously. Unless you have been touched by anyone less than Midas you are going to have a hell of a time in the first few years.  With what we do, the only guarantee is chaos. The only mantra to live by is "Keep on keepin' on."  Anyone who says it's easy is either lying or had someone else paying their way as they got their feet off the ground.

If the above leaves you dizzy, confused, or overwhelmed, you *are not ready* to make your art a fulltime venture.

Oil Pastels Artist

Good advice!  Especially about no need to justify making art.  I think if you're an artist and you're surrounding yourself with people who see art as something silly and inconsequential, then maybe you're not making the right friends!

j wilson

A very interesting opinion.  I certainly agree that no one needs to justify their desire to create and that art business is not for everyone.  I disagree, however, with your apparent belief that it is only husbands who disparage creativity.  As a male I can assure you that females are no more universally supportive of their spouses (or son's or brother's or partner's) creative efforts.  It is too bad that you had to let subtle, passive male-bashing taint your otherwise valid point.


Lol. I guess my comment was a little too raw to be posted?

I'll say I wouldn't change a thing about what I do. But it most certainly isn't for everyone.

Linda Everett

What  great article and so true!

Cindy S

I've held art related day jobs such as theater set painting, murals, faux finishes, etc.  Back injuries have forced me out of working at those jobs for any length of time anymore.   Now, I focus on making my personal art, and work at it every day.  Some days that work is things like framing, networking, finding show information, researching galleries, tracking my expenses, etc.  I'm treating it as a business and trying to learn all I can about marketing myself so it really will provide at least a supplementary income for our household.  If I was treating it as a hobby, I could forget about all the business aspects of it, including any efforts to make sales...but then I could not really justify it financially to just stay home and paint with no effort to sell any of my work.  I have certainly encountered the attitude that if an artist isn't selling they should not be doing it, and agree that it's a goofy attitude because no one questions any other hobby so senselessly.

Cindy S

Aja is right about various art selling sites exaggerating the fun part of being a professional artist.  I view websites as a way to get exposure first, and make sales thru the site, last.  Though I've made some sales from my site, it is the online portfolio in a place that gets some traffic and a good artists' community that is the real value to me and many of the people using these type sites.  The sites that require you to sell/ship originals pretty much necessitate doing high volume work.  It seems to be a good fit for people making jewelry, crafts, etc, if they can produce enough and get a good following.  But overall I think very few people make enough from these sites to call it a job.  My focus has been on getting in shows and galleries since refocusing on my personal art again since last year.  I've been making some progress there, and figure one sale in a gallery equals many sales on a print-on-demand type website.  So, that is where my effort is targeted, to getting in shows/galleries.  Thankfully my husband is very supportive of me dedicating my time to my art.

Sally Stueve

Thank you.  The release from putting a monetary value on my hobby certainly adds to the enjoyment!  

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