Is the struggling artist a cliché? Everyone has to pay rent and buy food. Can you make money selling art, books, or photos? Here’s the reality of life as a creator.
Every September, I struggle to decide whether to continue pursuing a career as a writer or get a job with a regular paycheck. After 10 years, I know that the idea of “success” is an illusion (usually sold by someone who wants to make money teaching you how to be successful). There is no success in creative pursuits. Only devotion to work that continues at a steady pace.
There is no money in writing as a passion. How do I know this?
- When someone buys my cookbook at their local bookstore for $28 ($32 CAD), I earn approximately $2.50 CAD in royalties.
- Winning book prizes or getting a huge advance is rare… and $100 K isn’t a lot of money for a book that took 4 years of work (writing, editing, and marketing). That’s not even minimum wage.
- I know a lot of artists, musicians, and writers, and all of them wear multiple hats to pay their bills. That’s why I am a blogger, cookbook author, and columnist, in addition to a fiction author.
And I realize that I’m lucky. My creative pursuit is writing. There’s a lot of writing-related side gigs.
It’s even harder to survive if you’re a visual artist.
Babies And An Art Installation
I met Bran in a parent and baby group. Our daughters’ were born about 2 weeks apart. Ironically, they’re a year apart in school because of an arbitrary Jan 1 school year deadline. So even though we were close during the first two years of baby groups and playdates, we lost track of each other during the intervening years.
In grade 5, Una was in a split grade class with Bran’s daughter and the girls miraculously found each other! Even though they didn’t remember hanging out as babies, they became best friends. And Bran and I found each other as well.
In the intervening years, Bran had gone from being someone interested in art to having an installation at a gallery! A few of those years involved art school and a lot of skill development. But skills and an installation at a gallery don’t pay the bills. In fact, being a visual artist is more about passion than money.
Bran is interested in materials. What is their significance? How do they behave? What influence do they have on the final piece?
In this way, having an installation at a gallery was perfect. The piece would never exist in the same way again. The art was a product of the materials involved, the room it was in, and the land around it.
However, unless you are very famous, having an art installation won’t pay the bills.
Here are a few ways that struggling artists can pay their bills while still working in an art-related field:
- Sell less expensive pieces at markets and craft fairs.
- Get commissioned projects. (Bran is currently painting pictures of homes on commission).
- Work at an art gallery or teach art classes.
- Spin off into related work (graphic design, arts and crafts).
Anyhow, most artists I know do something other than art to pay their bills.
Even as a writer, I am drawn to the dream of a 9 to 5 job (no weekend social media posts or emails to reply to)! And the security of a reliable pay cheque and healthcare benefits.
This is the reality of a struggling artist.