1 Making a Living
Making a Living
Do you remember that point in life when your age finally reached double digits? When someone asked how old you were you had to use all your fingers to show them? I felt I was well beyond that age when I decided I wanted to “make my living” as an artist. Yup, I was the ripe old age of 11. No one ever really discouraged my career decision out right. I’d just be warned, “You have to be really good to live off your art.”
I took that advice to heart, since I heard it so much, and focused my young efforts on learning all the skills and trying to be the best. I tried to ignore the “starving artist” comments and focused more on the “someday you’ll be rich and famous” ones.
As time went along I began to realize, at least unconsciously, that there were two sides to “making a living.” I was focusing most of my effort on the making, as in making the best art I could to sell and make as much money as possible. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. I still focus most of my energy on this, trying to do my best work and find successful ways to market it. However, a major key to my success is the other side to “making a living”, the side you might never hear a word about in school, and rarely see in the art business magazines. This is how you are living, and what your cost of living is.
To illustrate the importance of this side of the equation let’s consider a hypothetical situation. If your current standard of living costs you $50,000 a year and your artistic endeavors net you $30,000, you’re not doing too badly. However, you still need that dreaded day job to make ends meet. Now if your cost of living was only $20,000 a year, suddenly you are making your living as an artist, with money to spare! If you boost your income up to that $50,000, well then you’re doing even better.
By the time I first formed my art business and began selling work I’d pretty much accepted that I wasn’t likely to start out making much money, and I was correct. I would be truly brutal in my efforts to budget what I had, always doing without and feeling very poor. Naturally I worked one or two other jobs to get by. By shear force of will I would be able to save up a bit of money. Then I’d quit whatever menial job I had at the time and boldly go forth to make my living as an artist. If I could devote my full attention to it then surely sales would increase, I’d make more money, and I’d be happy. Well, something would always happen that wasn’t in my budget, such as the car breaking down, and I’d have to use all my savings to fix it. Then it was back to a regular day job. My efforts as a self-supporting artist failed, and I would feel like a failure.
You may have tried working with budgets yourself to control your cost of living. It can work for a while but usually while it’s helping your cost of living it’s hurting your quality of life. Let’s go back to the phrase “making a living”. What are we really after? Are we after money and riches, or are we seeking a fulfilling life? In our culture it would be foolish to claim there are no ties between money and fulfillment. Clearly there are, but it would be a mistake to think more of one is always equal to more of the other. We know this but media and culture constantly reinforce money as the solution to happiness. So we tend to be miserable while restricting our spending and thus budgets often fail. My brute budget approach never completely worked because I didn’t understand what I needed to live life and feel fulfilled. I’d be miserable all the time trying to save money, blaming my unhappiness on the day job. So as soon as I had a bit of cash put away I’d quit in search of happiness and success as an artist, but it was always way too soon as I didn’t understand what I’d really need. Then one day I was shown a way to discover the difference easily and clearly between money and fulfillment. I can now control my cost of living while improving my quality of life and the dream of making a living as an artist has become a reality.
What great secret did I learn? It’s not a secret really. It’s a book. I was at some social gathering when a friend I hadn’t seen in a while told me, with great enthusiasm, about a book he’d read, “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. The fact that he steadfastly refused to lend out his copy because it was so important to him is probably what made me determined to read it. It changed my life for the better. (In case you’re wondering, I’m not affiliated with the book or its publisher. This isn’t some sales pitch to make me money.)
I like to relate artistic skills and approaches to the rest of my life, and while this book isn’t specifically written for artists, I see it as learning to sculpt your life. At first glance it would appear to be about budgeting, but it’s not. The authors describe it as, “Transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence.” Artistically speaking it’s about making a meaningful, fulfilling life your focal point. It shows you ways to direct attention and energy to this focal point while finding and eliminating the distracting or superfluous elements. Simply put, you discover what brings YOU satisfaction and focus your spending there while eliminating all the waste you probably didn’t realize you had.
“Your Money or Your Life” is so empowering for the individual. If you follow it’s program all the way through, you’ll have achieved financial independence. That means you no longer need to work for money. You can certainly still be an artist but you’d no longer NEED to sell your artwork. The money needed to live a life that fulfills you would come from interest earned off secure savings. What I love about this book is that it’s designed for ANYBODY whether you’re flipping burgers for minimum wage or bringing in six figures. I’m a long way from financial independence, but I now have a clear plan to follow. Even if I never reach this lofty goal, every step toward it improves my financial security and reduces my levels of stress and worry inherent with the sporadic income of an artist.
In future articles I will present some of the concepts in this book and discuss how I’ve used them to gain control of my finances, evaluate opportunities, understand myself, and sculpt a satisfying existence as an artist. For now I’ll tell you what I tell so many hopeful artists who ask how I’ve done it, get a copy of this book,’ Your Money or Your Life,” and read it.
This would be a good point to share an example of a personal insight I gained from this book regarding wasteful spending habits. My home library has far too many books I’ve bought, read only once, and never opened again. I do value books, but I was spending too much of my precious resources to own them. I don’t generally need to own books. I just want to read them. The solution was fairly obvious, start using the public library system. I live in a small village with a very tiny library that rarely has what I’m looking for. However, the librarians are fantastic and plenty willing to help me find books in the larger system. Now I’m always getting material through inter-library loans. For me it has become a powerful tool for gaining knowledge, enriching my life, and yet saving money.
I own a copy of “Your Money or Your Life”, like the friend who introduced me to it, I won’t lend it out. It’s too valuable to me. You may not agree, so my frugal tip to you is to go to your public library and check out a copy. It shouldn’t be too hard to find. I did a search today in my library system and found 18 copies available plus one audio book. If it seems valuable to you, then go purchase a copy.
It does require some effort. However, I believe this book can change your life and help you “make a living” as an artist.