Being a starving artist vs running a successful business
A few weeks ago I was watching a new show where the guy from Cake Boss goes into failing bakeries and helps them succeed…similar to Restaurant Impossible and Hotel Impossible (both of which I love). Anyway Buddy looked at the guy who refused to sell cupcakes in his “Authentic Italian Bakery” and explained that cupcakes were the not only the number one baked good seller in the country, but that his customers wanted them. He then asked the guy “Do you want to be a starving artist or do you want to be a successful business owner?”. The baker thought it over and declared that he wanted to run a successful business and decide to add more of the American style baked goods, including cupcakes to his menu. His creative side stayed strong however as he created his signature cannoli cupcake that brought his vision to the cupcakes. That scene and in particular, that question, hit home hard for me and has been on my mind ever since.
You see, I went to a pretty big art school and it was divided up into two camps…the studio arts where you were creating art for arts sake and the commercial arts that understood a job would be in your future. I majored in 3d animation and minored in painting, so this gave a unique perspective on both camps. Both sides however fell under the mind set of large universities. You’re there to get en education, not to learn a trade and be trained for a job. In fact, its something like 6% of BFA recipients go on to have a career creating art. The downside of being educated for the sake of an education is that it made us see making money from selling your art as evil which is pretty unfair (the whole concept of selling out is a double edged sword for creatives). But the upside is that I did receive a wonderful education as a fine artist. Now years later I have settled into life as a professional designer, and have completely abandoned my initial goal of being a painter. At one point I reached a crossroads and had to make decision of which way I wanted to go, art for arts sake, or commercial and have the life of a designer. As I felt as though I was selling my soul by commercializing the paintings I was creating, I chose designer, removed the paintings from my website in 2010 and went full steam ahead with jewelry as I didn’t have the same emotional attachment to it and could commercialized better.
It often pains me that I now am a professional designer with no more “artist” any where in the description. I understand that I am designing jewelry to sell, but the art for arts sake creative little bean in me is still in there and more often than not tries to take over. I even sometimes you have to tell the starving artist inside to just shut the hell up. I’m not sure I really know the point I’m making here, except to open up and talk about this the struggle as I know I am not alone. Being a small business owner is tough enough in that you have to wear multiple hats a day, but as the designer and producer of the products your selling, there is a constant battle between the inner artist who just wants to let her muse take over and disregard what anyone else thinks and the business person who sees what the customer wants and knows she should be cranking that out. I suppose that the truly successful are those that can find the perfect balance of both, who can make a great deal of money by creating what is both in demand and comes from the heart. That is what we modern artists aim to do…to find that sweet spot where we feel like we’re not selling our souls in order to have financial security. This is what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and what all of my deep thoughts have been about.