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Are You a Sell Out Because You Sell Art?

Are You a Sell Out Because You Sell Art?

Carolyn Edlund | ArtsyShark

You love creating art.

It’s your heart, your soul and essential to your sanity. But is supporting yourself with your art what you really want to do?

Will you be able to maintain your integrity as an artist, with creative freedom and growth, when you have to make sales of your work to pay the bills? Would you be a slave to what others want, and end up being unhappy with what you have to do, rather than what you want to do? Do you feel you have to make a full-time living with your art to truly “be” an artist?

I’ve taken some heat recently by suggesting that if you want to make art to sell, you have to direct your production (and your marketing) to an audience. Business and art can be uncomfortable bedfellows. They don’t always mix well, and it’s difficult to master both. When artists do pursue art as a business, they are sometimes accused of selling out.

At the beginning of my own career, I worked in mixed media clay and fiber and wasn’t making much headway on sales. People wanted to buy more useful and commercially popular items. I chose to start a production studio making ceramic jewelry, which made a lot of sense for me, and was very successful, spending 20 years in the business. And yet, I was accused of selling out – by a man with a degree in art, who himself worked in an unrelated industry. Ironically, I was employing his wife as a studio assistant!

Get clear on what you really want, and don’t apologize for it. Do not listen to the naysayers who don’t believe in you. Surround yourself with those who encourage you, and “unfriend” the negative ones.

Working another job to support yourself while creating art is completely legitimate. Not having the stress of having to make sales to support yourself may be what you need to do your best work. Artists who put pressure on themselves to be commercially successful sometimes end up so frustrated that they give up their dream altogether.

Other artists divide their creative work between art that they make for a living and work that they are personally creating which they don’t have to worry about selling. That’s a nice balance, and could be a goal to work towards.

Don’t sacrifice your heart and your soul and kill your dreams because you believe that you need to pay your rent and buy your groceries from sales of your work. Being an artist is an identity that you have and that you hold within. It isn’t defined by where your paycheck is coming from.

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