There was a time when art and creativity were linked to poverty. A struggling artist is a common image in everyone’s mind. That is why parents force their artistic kids to also have some professional qualifications as well in case they can’t make a living from their art.
That is why Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic not to stress your art by demanding it to make money for you.
…long before the Internet and digital technology ever existed – the arts were still a crap career. It’s not likely back in 1989 anybody was saying to me, “You know where the money is, kid? Writing!” They weren’t saying that to anyone back in 1889, either, or in 1789, and they won’t be saying it in 2089. But people will still try to be writers, because they love the vocation. People will keep being painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, poets, directors, quilters, knitters, potters, glassblowers, metalworkers, ceramicists, calligraphers, collagists, nail artists, clog dancers and Celtic harpist as well. Against all sound advice, people will stubbornly keep trying to make pleasing things for no particularly good reason, as we always have done.
That is the reason Hugh McLeod advises to keep your day job in his book Ignore Everybody.
The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs. One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills.
Austin Kleon agrees with them in How to Steal Like an Artist and advises to find work that pays your bills but also teaches you something that helps you with your art like being a librarian or website developer helped him to establish himself as a writer.
But what if they are all wrong? What if they are being over cautious? What if artists can make living with their art?
What if art is the only thing that will get rewarded in the twenty-first century?
Jeff Goins in his book Real Artists Don’t Starve makes the point that you can make a living as an artist and that you don’t have to starve to follow your passion.
He tells the story of Michael Angelo to break the myth of starving artists.
I don’t know how much you know about Michelangelo but usually they taught us that he kind of struggled like Vincent van Gogh.
For centuries, historians believed that Michelangelo, the great Renaissance master, struggled like Vincent van Gogh . That he was just another starving artist. Michelangelo himself embraced this image, living frugally and often complaining about money.
But it turns out he wasn’t telling the truth.Jeff Goins in Why the Story of the Starving Artist Needs to Die
Jeff Goins goes on to say, “Thanks to the power of this myth, many of us take the safe route in life. We become lawyers instead of actresses, bankers instead of poets, and doctors instead of painters. We hedge our bets and hide from our true calling, choosing less risky careers, because it seems easier. Nobody wants to struggle, after all, so we keep our passion a hobby and follow a predictable path toward mediocrity.”
Now is the best time in history to do creative work. Seth Godin has been giving this message in his books for a while now.
When you were rewarded for obedience, you were obedient. When you were rewarded for compliance, you were compliant. When you were rewarded for competence, you were competent. Now the society finally values art, it’s time to make art.
I have collected three examples of new-age creatives who are not only surviving but thriving.
One fine morning Buster decided he was going to build an online app where he can type morning pages. His idea was, it is easier to reach for a computer these days than finding a notebook and his hand worked better on the keyboard than on the notebook. So he builds an app and called it 750Words, which he made available for others for free.
Writers liked it so much that in three years’ time Buster had to install more servers to keep up with the demand. Today the app has 455,111 members, out of which approx 4500 are paid, members. I will let you do the math how much Buster (and his wife Kellianne who provides support to the members) make from just one bright creative idea they implemented. Of course, Buster has many more up his sleeve, check him out.
Sean D’souza, of Psychotactics, is a graphic design turned cartoonist turned marketer who has built a massive community of small business owners worldwide working from New Zealand. He passes on to them what he learned from Leo Burnett’s advertising agency which he considers one of the best advertising agencies in the world. Not only that, he runs online cartoonist courses each year which gets sold out within 14 hours of release. Recently he stopped doing online business mentoring saying no to $150, 000 a year so that he can concentrate on other things. Such is the demand for his expertise.
This is what happens when a 23-year-old worker of an advertising agency notices that her co-workers were circulating information within the advertising industry around the office for inspiration. The world’s most famous literary blog gets started. Because 23 years old work had different ideas. She thought creativity was better sparked with exposure to information outside of the industry one was familiar with. In an effort to stir creativity, she starts sending emails to the entire office containing five things that had nothing to do with advertising but were meaningful, interesting, or important.
From that humble beginning, email originated Brain Pickings a blog read by millions making its writer Maria Popova an online celebrity. She is said to make the US $250,000 to $500,000 a year from her blog.
What are your thoughts on striving artists? Have you got any examples of thriving creatives you would like to share here? I would love to hear from you.