How to Make Money as an Artist Doing What You Love

Sharon Louden graduated with her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from Yale in 1991 with $US115,000 worth of debt.

She has since settled all her student loans by selling her own art work, however it was not easy. As a professional artist, there was no roadmap to follow as she strove to pursue her craft and maintain a roof over her head. Enter “Living and Sustaining a Creative Life,” the publication Louden edited featuring candid essays by 40 working artists on how they make a living as an artist.

That kind of commercial talk is mostly absent in today’s art program. Dozens of MFA students are pushed to the real world with no clue on how to market their own work and themselves. Artist David Humphry said that the business side of art was very much like bathroom talk – very intimate.

The leading artists shared their stories of doing everything from painting houses and teaching to understanding and using Craigslist jobs and investing in real estate or undertaking home extensions to maintain their creative practices. Below are some tips on how artists create a living doing what they love move – being an artist.

  1. Network with artists, authors, and buyers

As uncomfortable as it may be for an artist to leave the sanctity of the studio, nothing gets marketed without interacting with authors that will draw attention to the art, the 500 or so well-to-do people who are considering buying art, along with the other artists that can give introductions to their art world relations. Think about it, when you were young, you would talk to everybody.

Your career gains its own momentum as soon as you start meeting people. Artists rely a lot on other musicians and you cannot miss that generosity. It is also very important to purchase other artists’ work. When times get tough, artists can sell the work in their collections or exchange on the notion of being an active participant in the market.

  1. Focus on your finances and make a budget

Take a look at your finances as it will save you in the long run. A lot of artists have the goal of wanting an art career and will sacrifice almost everything to the art. However, be reasonable with how you spend the money you do receive from your work. If it is choosing between paying your lease, installing timber beams or visiting Miami for an Art exhibition, consider your financial situation and perhaps sit the exhibition out.

By becoming more accountable, even if that means going for jobs that pay better, you are securing a greater financial gain. By primarily making money by selling your art work, but also working odd jobs that fulfil your imaginative practice allow you to develop your creative skills but also have money flowing in.

  1. Plan ahead and choose internships that count

If you wait to think about your career until you first graduate, you are already way behind. By interning in the industry you want to work in, such as an art gallery, not a warehouse that sells architectural timbers, you gain invaluable experience which are beneficial for your own self-promotion in gaining paid work in the future.

People just assume that if you’re at a gallery, all that work is sold and you are living well, but that’s not the situation. A lot of that art goes back to that particular person’s studio. Having gallery representation is not always the answer to economic stability.

  1. Open a gallery, treat it as a business

Contributing artist Austin Thomas started investing in real estate in Brooklyn, and a year and a half ago, she opened a gallery space in Manhattan called Pocket Utopia.

Owning your own business provides you the most flexibility whatsoever.  You decide when you’re closed and open. By opening an art gallery you may feel like you are even more influential in the art world since you might be selling other artists’ works thus attempting to create money for yourself and them.

  1. Get used to playing the real estate game

You may need to move your studio a number of times depending on competing businesses and your current situation. You may need to expand or perhaps downsize, however being flexible and understanding the real estate market is crucial.  Consider a house extension or add-on as a gallery as well.

  1. Only go into teaching if you like it

If you do not have a passion for teaching, do not go into it.  Many people see teaching as a ‘fall-back’ option but if you do not have a passion for it, it will make your job very unenjoyable.

  1. Make the Most of the down market

The art market crashed in 1986 with the economy. Leading artist Brian Tolle informed Business Insider, that although it wasn’t a great moment to graduate, the depressed economy meant the market was searching for affordable cheap options, where youthful artists flourished as a result. The expectations were so low that it was easier to break in and when the economy began to recover, they were already well set up.

Today Tolle regularly succeeds in creating work on the budgets of public art work committees. He often receives a flat fee that needs to cover his expenses and time in generating these huge projects. Tolle has three works he will install this spring: one in Canada, one in Houston, Tex., and one in Brooklyn.

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