Countless people give up on their hopes and dreams of selling their art before they even start. Why is that?
Hi my name’s Carrie and today on Artist Strong, we’re gonna discuss the myth of the starving artist.
One false assumption I see both artist and non-artists make is that we only have one income stream from which to work and that would be the sale of our original art.
Today I have many examples in the online sphere of artists who have multiple income streams that help them live off of their art and grow and thrive. Flora Bowley and Tracy Verdugo are both great examples of artists who sell their original artwork and also run ecourses and live workshops as a source of income.
Income can also come from licensing your art, selling prints of your work or having your artwork printed on products that go in your home. This is something that artist Tara Reed is very good at doing. You could also sell limited edition prints of your art in addition to your original works. That’s something that seascape artist Christopher Lassen does.
The point I’m trying to make here is that you need to craft multiple income streams that speak to your heart as an artist.
What feels good to you? What excites you? Think of it outside the box. You don’t have to stick to one income stream to be measured successful.
Historically, Van Gogh is kind of identified as the classic starving artist, and yet there’s some irony to this because he was never starving during his life. In fact, he had a monthly allowance that his brother gave him. He was essentially sponsored. He had a patron in his brother who helped provide him materials and resources so that he could spend his time making art.
This notion of starving artist developed around him because he did not sell his own work during his lifetime, though he still had income coming in to make his art. I also believe his mental health issues cloud our discussion of this. There’s so much drama to his life story that he often comes up in our minds as someone to talk about when we look at the arts historically.
When you look at the Renaissance, many if not most of the big names that we think of: Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, all of them were able to live successfully off of the sale of their work and they were commissioned to make art.
Institutions like the Catholic Church hired them to make their art. They had patrons who then supported their work and wanted their art. So they were able to thrive. You have artists like Pablo Picasso who made a lifetime of artwork and was able to exhibit and sell during his life to help live and keep making his art.
I’m seeing a lot of examples in our discussion today that suggest we don’t have to be a starving artist. In fact, the real issue at hand is that a lot of artists are scared to do the marketing or just don’t want to do the work.
Many artists don’t want to recognize that if you want to sell your art, you are in business and that means you have to make business based choices to help market and promote your art.
If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine, if you don’t want to sell your work. But I promise you this: you can’t be magically found. Maybe that happens to some people, but everyone else has to do the work.
The people who we think of as successful today, who are making money from their art, do it because they’ve worked hard. They’ve spent a lot of time to promote and connect with the right people, the people who want to buy their art.
Be Creatively Courageous: Share with me an inner belief that you’ve held around the starving artist myth. Has there been something that holds you back from selling your work or believing in your work enough to sell it? If that’s been a secret hope for you. Please share it in the comments below. Let’s start that conversation.
If you’ve found today’s dialogue worth listening to and watching, please consider sharing it with someone else who might also benefit.
Thank you for watching and I’ll see you next week.
I’m having a hard time stepping off that precipice! People ask me all the time about when I’m going to start selling my work and I really do have the dream to at least supplement my income through art. I have recently been making plans and getting more pieces done so I’ll be ready but I don’t want to give up before I’ve begun. I think what you’ve written has given me that push. I feel a new resolve.Thank you.💙
Hi Julie! Start simple. Keep it easy for you… but if people are asking to buy your art, and you want to sell it, say heck yeah I am! Here’s the price. I hope you follow your heart and if you want to try, give it a go. If some of your early work doesn’t sell, it’s completely OK. That’s part of the journey and to be expected, really. We sometimes hold a ridiculous expectation that our work is failed if people don’t buy. If that’s the case, we wouldn’t be admiring Van Gogh’s work today! Thanks for reading and watching 🙂
I’ve been a successful high school art teacher for 25 years, have been selling my art in a tiny local gallery for 12 years and I’m ready to make my art a priority. I’ve always been afraid to be a “salesman” for my art. I want to explore ways to market my art & teach too. Teaching is my passion & is like you idea of using my art to help charities. I loved the video on the painting that helped the cancer ward. I also am an ex-cancer patient. I need to get over my fear of not making a living with my art.
Pamela I’m here cheering you on. I just finished reading The Gift by Lewis Hyde and he says art is a gift in 3 ways: (1) we receive the idea to create, (2) we actually create the work… (the first two are how art is a gift to artists) and then there is (3) art has to be shared with others. If we’ve received this gift of idea and creation, it stops being a gift if we don’t share it. You already have gallery ties which is great – you are sharing. But think about selling your art as sharing it. You are passing on the gift you received. I know a lot of artists have mindset concerns about living by their art. I celebrate you for admitting it and I hope sharing here get’s the ball rolling for you. <3
Hi Carrie, My name is Sandy and I am a disabled artist, I want to be recognized for my art, but I start thinking I am not worthy enough to call myself an artist. I received your link from my art history instructor at Full Sail University, I have many styles of art but haven’t really found my own style. I am needing assurity from feedback that I am doing the right thing. http://www.hiddencodestudios.com is my gallery so please have a look and leave me a critique It is great to receive feedback as it is how I learn and grow.
Hi Sandy! Welcome to Artist Strong. I want to ask you a serious question: why do you believe you aren’t worthy enough to be called an artist? What does being an artist mean to you? I’ve met countless artists in this community who have felt the very same way, and once they understood their definition of artist, it made it easier for them to take steps to achieve skill, portfolios, etc. to believe it when they say, “I’m an artist.”
As for finding voice, I have loads of resources on that for you. There is a series of videos/articles where I discuss this specific topic that you can learn about here –> https://www.artiststrong.com/how-to-find-your-artist-voice/
I found it hard to find your art to look at on your website. I encourage you to review how your navigation is set up for people to see your work – I only saw two pieces on there, which looked fine to me!
Please know if you want to make art and share art with the world, you can. It’s your choice to show up for your passion or to give it up. Showing up doesn’t mean it’s easy. Being an artist is riddled with failures. This year alone I’ve been rejected from over 20 things I’ve applied to… and I’ve had an artwork in a special exhibition at The Smithsonian! Don’t measure your worth by rejections you receive around your art. Measure your worth via your journey and commitment to your art.
I am a person who always had a passion for art since I was around 6 or 8 years old. I am now 64 and retired.
I just wanted to paint and somehow never can call myself an artist unless I sell my painting. I spent money going to 3 workshops and have created 3 painting from that and the 4th one while at home.
I always have dreamed about having a good website to display my painting and have background music in the background on the website while someone views the art work to purchase.
So that is my dream and I hope my connection with you is worth the investment.
Linda voicing your hopes and dreams for your art is half the battle. Now it’s about taking steps to make it happen!
I believe my message was given to me by my parents who were hard working middle class people, with no prior personal contact of working artists. I’m 48 and finally accepting myself
And so many times, we get this message from people with good intention. Thanks for sharing Katrina. I’m so glad you are embracing YOU <3
I’ve moved around a lot. I love to paint and want to sell my work at 50. I just am not sure how and where to promote my style of artwork, or fairly price it to cover the cost of supplies (paints, canvas, brushes, etc, including shipping & handling material & cost), time spent to complete the work, and skill. I realize starting out your prices would be lower than an experienced artist who sells through gallaries and has list of clientele.
The people I know are bargain shoppers and want to pay little, as if artwork is a craft. They don’t consider the prices asked at your typical stores who sell prints are copies by bulk and are not an original painting. For example, Pier Imports can sell a 30×40 print for $250. I knew someone through my church in California who strictly sold giclees for $300 easily. I read an article online that recommended pricing your artwork per square foot times a set dollar amount. For example a 12×18 painting = 216 sq ft x $2 = $432. This same artist’s article claimed if you are experienced to charge $6 to $7 per square feet. So how do we compete with those who underprice their art work (their prices do not cover their talent nor cost) on etsy?
Hi Amy, thanks so much for sharing your story here with us all. I really appreciate your time.
First. And maybe most important: if you don’t want to position or brand your art as affordable art, then ignore the bargain shoppers. There ARE people out there who want to invest in an artwork.
Second. It really doesn’t matter what other people are making or pricing, because it’s not just about prices, every artist is completely unique. And the people who buy originals enjoy the artist, want to support them, and believe in the story the artist shares around their personal journey and making the art. That has nothing to do with money and everything to do with the relationships we build with people interested in our art.
Third. There is no right or wrong way to price your art. It’s about you finding a price that feels right to you. I think it’s great to use strategies people suggest like measuring per inch, but I personally only use numbers like that for guidelines. For example, I spent over 200 hours on the background of a painting (not even the entire painting!). If I only priced that work by inches (it’s about 16 x 20) that would completely dismiss the time and intricacy of the work I’ve made.
Ultimately, I am trying to say, DO YOU. TRUST YOURSELF. You aren’t committed to prices you set for your art forever, see them as tests and experiments to better understand the people interested in your art and what feels reasonable to you for honoring the time and money you put into your art.<3 🙂