Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monetize the Starving Artist

I've found, through personal experience, that it is considerably difficult to balance the need to express one's art with the need to sustain oneself financially. Because one's art is entangled with one's sense of purpose, the artist can fall into the trap of self-satisfaction and the sacrifice of all else. In other words, it is easier to relegate one's art to the realm of the hobby and spend only a minimal amount of time bringing in a salary. This is, of course, the old concept of the "starving artist."

Since this type of person is typically not uneducated, they are not trapped in low-income jobs due to lack of ability, but lack of applicable desire. They are independent in spirit, and would rather not exhaust their mental and physical faculties on anything but their art. For the same reason, they do not want to subject their independent expression to the arbitrary restrictions of a boss, who generally has other motives than the perfection of his constituent's art.

And so, there is an army of "unproductive" geniuses, who are not so much doing the wrong thing, as doing it the wrong way. The fundamental problem is the assumption that one has to do what he does for someone in order to receive compensation, or if he wants to avoid the consent of a third-party, he must do something else for someone. That "something else" will naturally never get the artist's best efforts, which are saved for the art—or, as in the former event, his best efforts are not appreciated.

Most people are stuck in an employee-mentality, which means they look to one or two sources for their income. Even a self-employed person or freelancer can fall into a rut for their income; settling into working with one or two big contractors. Especially if their job is not their passion, this is the easier route. Ultimately, this system prevents a person from doing what they love to do and being adequately compensated for their subsequent skill in that area.

The concept they are unaware of is the idea of "monetizing" their art, or more liberating, monetizing their lives. To put it simply, good art has a way of attracting and retaining a crowd simply by virtue of its quality. So too, does the artist creating the art. An artist who demonstrates mastery in art, is a person who has achieved some level of mastery over his life. Therefore, his opinion about the value of things matters. If he recommends a movie or a book, that means it's worth seeing or reading. If he uses a product, it is likely to be world class.

Traditional media and marketing know this, but have abused this with the impersonal hand of mass communication technology. The reality is, we all feel more comfortable buying something from someone we can know and trust. What I speak of is not sales, but endorsements. Most people only think this is open to the Olympic Gold Medalists and other athletic heroes, but that's not true. Look at any website that has something for sale, many have commission opportunities for independent individuals who can gather a loyal crowd. Take the Amazon Associates program, which I use.

Never fear, it may take time, but the degree to which your art grows in quality is the degree to which you gather followers, especially with today's social networking opportunities. The degree to which you gather followers of your high art is the degree to which your endorsements of other people's art is valuable to them.
FEATURED MEDIA: "(500) Days of Summer" - A young man who dreams of being an architect, is trapped in a dead-end job as an illustrator for a greeting card company. At his job, he meets a girl named Summer, who proves to be a sort of muse. As the movie says, this is not a love story.

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