I’m interested to know if there are any other artists out there like me? Do you struggle with the fine line between being an artist and businessperson? How do you manage? Do you have any tips and tricks to share? Do you do it all on your own or, like me, do you have a spouse, partner, friends, etc. who help you out? Please feel free to share your thoughts, experiences, feelings with me!
Ten or so years ago, a relative who was keenly interested in my art and my career as an artist got the bright idea that I should attend a course being run by a fairly well-known business school. I balked at the idea – I never liked school; never did well in school (I dropped out of high school in Grade 10) and didn’t see the value of spending my time in a classroom when I’d much rather be in my studio.
The relative insisted that if I ever wanted to get anywhere in my career I would have to spend at least some of my time learning how to be a businessman. While I can admit I somewhat agreed, I knew putting me in a classroom and expecting me to learn about something I wasn’t really and truly interested in likely wouldn’t bear much fruit.
I went to the courses and tried to learn and understand, but my mind just kept wandering back to my art. One of our tasks was to create a Business Plan. In my mind, my plan was simple:
- Create beautiful works of art.
- Get people with lots of money to buy works of art.
- Use money to live and continue working.
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
The teacher said I was on the right track but needed to flesh out some details. Around the same time as I entered the course, I met my future wife, who just happened to be an amazingly talented writer, photographer, computer whiz and all-around “Jill of all Trades.” She agreed to help me with my Business Plan by encouraging me to look far into the future and describe where my career as an artist had taken me. She, along with other important people in my life, helped me understand the value of my art so I could determine whether or not I was just breaking even or turning a profit.
I learned a lot during the process of creating the business plan, the most important of which is this: I am a talented Artist and a mediocre (at best) Businessman.
I’ve been told time and time again, by numerous well-meaning people, that I need to be a good businessman if I want to be successful. While these same well-meaning people are rattling off all the things I need to do or should be doing, they are forgetting that a) I am only one person and b) the one person that I am is an artist first and always will be.
I’m not a total lost cause because there are some aspects of my business that I am quite comfortable with and capable of managing. I am the boss. I set the prices for my art. I meet with clients face-to-face. I make decisions about which stone to use/buy. I place the orders for my tools.
But there are other areas of the business where I am a total lost cause and that’s where my wife comes in. And I need to point out that everything my wife does to help me with my business is done in addition to working full-time outside the home; being a mother to our children and running our household.
If it wasn’t for my wife, I’d have no presence on social media whatsoever. I wouldn’t have this blog. I wouldn’t have my website. I wouldn’t be a member of Artists in Canada. I wouldn’t have business cards. Emails and comments on posts would never get answered. There wouldn’t be any photos of my sculptures. Deadlines would be forgotten. Paperwork would never get filled out and sent where it needs to go. The list goes on and on.
My wife and I often joke that I can take a 1,500-pound rock and turn it into a stunning piece of art but I can’t post a photo to Instagram or answer a comment on Facebook. But it’s the truth.
Firstly, I am probably one of the least tech-savvy people I know. Yes, I have a cell phone, but my wife is the one who set up all my contacts and showed me how to properly use all the fancy bells and whistles. Yes, I understand the importance of social media and having a website, but I can admit I don’t know the first thing about creating, managing or updating any of it.
Secondly, I love being in my studio. I feel comfortable and at home there. Stone may be a rough and unforgiving medium to work with, but it’s what I know. When I am lost in my art, I don’t see, hear or feel anything or anyone else. Time stands still. Reality no longer exists. It’s just me and the stone, working together in unison to create something beautiful. When I’m sculpting, there are times I don’t stop to eat let alone take a photo of what I’m working for Instagram or stop to send an email to a client who wants to come out and see me at work in my studio.
As an artist, I spend a lot of time in my own creative world and it can be a bit of an unwelcome shock when reality interferes. I am easily overwhelmed by a bulging inbox and decidedly distracted when my phone alerts me For me, the business side of my art is reality and when I’m stuck in reality for too long, I get irritable because my best work is rarely done in reality.
I know there are artists out there who are excellent businesspeople. They have the ability to do it all and they do it incredibly well. I’m just not one of them.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I need help with my business and I know I’m blessed that my wife excels in all of the areas I don’t. Together, we make an excellent team. Her strengths and talents give me the freedom to do what I do best – create art. I know I can trust her because she wants the same thing I do – for me to be a successful and respected sculptor. She has an ability to multi-task that is second to none and the sharpness of her mind and clarity of her memory helps keep me on track when I’m off in my own little world.
I used to feel bad and yes, even a little ashamed, that I wasn’t a better businessperson. But I’ve accepted that I can’t do it all on my own and, thankfully, I don’t have to. Because art is my business, the art will always come first.
That may not make me a great businessman, but it sure as hell makes me a true artist.