This is a personal essay about the overlap between art and business. My mother has been an artist on and off during her life, and my father has been in business his whole life. I’ve learned a little about both, and I hope to share a few things that I’ve noticed about the art and business world, with you, my reader. To start off, know that I’m not a pro at either art or business, so if I say anything that you feel is incorrect, please let me know. As a disclaimer, I’m going to be using the word artist a lot, and I’m not going to be specific about what art is, because I feel that it’s a broad enough word that it includes any form of creative expression. I’m going to use the word business a lot, and I’m going to mean the business world in general, which includes the corporate, small business, and startup world. One of the main things that I want to talk about is the importance of understanding the art world and the business world, and how they overlap. The more you learn about both of these worlds, the more you’ll be able to succeed in either one, or both. As I said, I’m not a pro, but I have learned some things. I’ll start by saying that there are some things that are always good advice for art, business, and even in life in general. Sayings like, “what you see is what you get”, and “you get what you pay for”. These kinds of things apply to everything, but especially art. If someone has a good reputation, their art is probably good, if not better. If someone has a bad reputation, their art is most often bad. I haven’t seen any exceptions to this rule.
You have to make the art
There are so many people wearing berets who want to be artists, but they don’t want to make art. They have fallen in love with the thought of being an artist, but they don’t actually want to do the work that it takes to be an artist. They want to tell other people how to do their art, but they don’t want to make any art themselves. It’s an annoying thing to watch. In order to be an artist, you have to make art. It’s as simple as that.
Not everyone can make art, and not everyone who makes art is a true artist. This is why you have to be able to look at art and say, “this is art” or “this is not art”, and distance yourself from the person who made it, their “arty” style of dress and eccentricities. If you’re not an artist, you can’t say, “this is art” or “this is not art”, I just feel you haven’t bled enough to be able to make that claim. You have to leave that to the artists. Great artists like Dali have earned this. Other posers just want to look like an artist and impress the hot boy / girl, or even worse, they just (only) want to make money off of art. If you are one of these people, you’re not an artist, you’re a snake oil salesman. The truth and virtue that is real art, made by a real artist is not to be copied or sold en-mass.
That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with making money from your art. In fact, it should be a goal that you have, right up there next to “make great art“. Some people have the view that unless you fit the stereotype of a college-aged / young adult, starving artist, making no money, then you’re not making art. I think there are many parallels between the stereotype of the successful person in business world, and the successful artist. They’re not what you think they are. Ultimately, making money from your art is a little bit like business. But mostly, it’s about making great art.
In business, as in art, there are a lot of posers and people who like the idea of being a “businessperson”, but don’t actually want to run a business. They are copying the latest computer startup from the west coast, or they have seen too many movies where people get rich overnight. This is especially true of the stock-trading types, they think they’re The Wolf of Wall Street, or something.
Just like art, actual business is about actually doing the work, and delivering real value to your customers.
Here are a few things that I learned early on from my father about business. If you don’t know all of these things, you’ll likely struggle to be successful in business. Some of them can be learned, but it really helps if many of them are innate in your character. Many of them are in mine, and were in my father’s character, as far as I can tell. No doubt, some of them are there due to nurture, from his father, before him.
1. Take care of the customer, and take care of your employees, always.
2. Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable doing.
3. Know your competition.
4. Don’t trust any one person too much.
5. Don’t keep all of your eggs in one basket.
6. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
7. Don’t be greedy.
8. Keep your word.
9. Give back to your community.
10. Don’t do anything illegal.
11. Don’t be petty.
12. Sometimes deliver more than what’s expected of you.
13. Don’t tolerate laziness, or incompetence.
14. Don’t give away the store.
15. Have good character.
16. Have good judgement.
17. Listen to your gut.
18. Have a thick skin.
19. Have a positive attitude.
20. Think before you act.
21. Learn from mistakes.
22. Be a good person.
23. Do good work.
24. Don’t be a follower.
25. Make your own decisions.
That’s enough writing for today, it’s time for me to get back to doing the art, and doing the work! Let me know if you are an artist, a business person (or both!) and I would love to hear from you.