August 17

Does Your Authentic Self Include Making Art for Money?

18  comments

Does Your Authentic Self Include Making Art for Money?

Many artists dance around the subject of making art for money.

There is among some, in and outside the art community, a persistent and pervasive notion that making art for money is somehow a bad thing. Really! Why? Look at it from within your authentic self. You likely will find making money from your art is an integral part of the equation of being an artist — and without question of being in the art business.

What is your authentic self?

Let’s start this post with a look at what the heck is your authentic self. Here is a good description from Wikipedia: Authenticity is a technical term used in psychology as well as existentialist philosophy and aesthetics. In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures; the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures, and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. A lack of authenticity is considered in existentialism to be bad faith. 

A true believer has never been used to describe me.

I am far from the most profound person you will find on the planet, or possibly in a random room with ten other people. As such, I won’t pretend I often ponder existentialist philosophy. It is more accurate to say that as with many things, I have a casual interest in philosophy, existentialism, and aesthetics.

I am writing this post from Sedona, Arizona, where interest in topics such as being your authentic self is higher than most other places. Many consider Sedona an intensely spiritual place. They come here from all over the globe to experience it. Not just for its exquisite, majestic red rock beauty but also its mysticism as exemplified by its many vortexes.

sedona red rocks
Photo by Matthew Ronder-Seid on Unsplash

Sedona is a beautiful, weird, and sometimes wacky place.

Read about the vortexes on the link in the previous sentence. It gives a scholarly explanation on why vortexes cannot exist from a scientific perspective, but ends with a discussion of how, as the author says, “Illumination comes not from the outside, but from within ourselves.” I would argue this is the essence of art.

When art moves us, it illuminates from within; it stirs us in nearly intangible ways. Great artwork, whether prose, visual, performing, or musical taps our inner selves. It touches us in places no amount of cadaverous spelunking will ever find. Every human instinctively knows this. It is part of our DNA. Things beyond our comprehension can move us.

Skeptical comeuppance?

I am a skeptical pragmatic. So, I believe if aliens were to visit the earth, they would drop down on the White House lawn. Or, perhaps in Red Square, at half-time during the Superbowl rather than an isolated farmer’s field.

On a trip to Sedona with my wife many years ago, we took a vortex Jeep tour. I thought it was a pleasant way to see the sights and entertain myself with the knowledge that the concept of a vortex is bunk.

Without boring you with details, I will tell you I saw and experienced some things that day that were inexplicable. In other words, I gained a new perspective about things that are generally impossible to explain, but real enough to make a skeptic more than wonder. Maybe what I experienced was something in me, I don’t know and never will, it was just real.

Me residing in Sedona, go figure?

I will not begin to explain it, but within a few short years, I found myself moving to Sedona. Mary and I lived there for nearly two years. We met dozens of others who had such powerfully moving experiences, and were so energized by them they were forced to change their lives and relocate here. It is locally known as “Red Rock Fever.”

I never felt compelled to follow up on my experiences like so many others I encountered did. I never thought it was Red Rock Fever that pulled Mary and me to Sedona. Maybe I was lying to myself. We have traveled here numerous times over the years, and we had always felt it might be a great place to live.

Okay, I will give explaining the move to Sedona a try after all. I worked for Decor magazine for nearly 20 years. It was a terrible thing to witness the once-mighty Decor, and the Decor Expo tradeshows implode. To experience a corporate buyout take a thriving businessone that was good for employees and customersand turns it into a hellish nightmare was beyond dispiriting. Couple that with some seriously scary health issues, and we decided to leave overcrowded, overpriced Orange County, California and try living in the higher elevation and clean air of Sedona.

What we soon found was Sedona is a much more fun place to visit than to live. This experience is especially true if you are not entirely ready to give up decades of big city living. That epiphany is how we got to Phoenix. It’s plenty big, but nothing like living in urban California. Plus, it’s a short 90-minute drive to Sedona and many other Arizona wonders.

Are you proudly making art for money?

When I talk about embracing your authentic self and making money, I am serious. Do you struggle with being a creative source who has the unique ability to create one-of-a-kind artwork, but feel it’s wrong to make money from your efforts? If so, I am talking to you.

Get down and examine yourself, your career, your motives.

  • Why are you creating art?
  • What do you want to happen once the art is made?
  • What is the outcome of making your art that would make you most happy?
  • Can you make a living doing something else and create art for the fun of it?

It is a rare person who makes something that doesn’t want others to appreciate the work. It is a unique person who creates something that is not desirous of exchanging the work they have made for money. Let’s face it. We all need money to survive. Whether you are a trust fund baby or clipping coupons, we all need money to manage our lives. Thus, for the vast majority of artists, finding effective ways to sell your art at the best prices is part of your authentic self.

Producing art on a schedule.

Embracing making art for money might further extend to how you make your art.

  • Do you agonize over your art to make it perfect? Is this necessary?
  • Do you sabotage your productivity due to perfectionism?
  • Do you think you are trapped where you can only create so many pieces in a given time?
  • Do you believe hiring assistants to help you create your art devalues it?

Getting yourself together in the most authentic, genuine way.

I believe when you genuinely align your self-image, and public image is in accordance that your values, beliefs, goals, actions, and behavior, it will be evident to all who know you. Part of your authentic self should have or be at work on building the confidence that your work has value and that it deserves your asking price.

When you have such confidence, you can be humble, yet proud. You will never be made to feel you are anything, but an authentic artist — one whose work deserves respect for its unique creativity. Work offered at a fair price for another to own it. Being your authentic self to me comes down to saying what you do and doing what you say. So, go out there and make fine art, the most exquisite art you can, and do great business, too. Make it so you make a living you deserve from creating your artwork.

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About the Author

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

Barney Davey

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  1. I spent a lifetime in Federal contracting with art as a hobby. I only retired completely because you convinced me that I could convert my hobby to a business. I am following your book one task at a time as you suggested. At the moment I am taking Jason’s “starving to Successful” course. Yesterday I sent him 10 of my paintings for consistency evaluation. In the meantime I am drafting my blog incorporating your suggestions. Thanks for all your help. Smiles, Gerrie

  2. Jeni, I get that it seems easier to sell to strangers. When it comes to friends, just be yourself and ask if they would like to see your art. They will let you know if there is interest in owning a piece, or not. No hard selling, just easy showing and let the chips fall.

  3. Hi Barney- as always great article. Where did this stupid idea come from? Another myth that keeps making the rounds. How did it get started? Maybe by artists that couldn’t sell their work? Who ever and whenever it started it just ridiculous.
    You never hear this about any other creative professional- dancers, musicians, authors – they have no problem thinking that what they produce should be paid for.
    I have never, ever met anyone who said to me – you know you shouldn’t be selling your paintings, that would be cheapening it and selling out.
    Besides whose opinion do you care about- the person that loves your work and want to pay you to own it – or the people who have no intention of purchasing? I personally trust the opinion of the one who is willing to give me their hard earned money, not some blow hard know-it-all who thinks their opinion holds any weight in the general scheme of things, never mind in my life. Let us artists drop this ridiculous premise once & for all and never think about it again. Don’t let this dopey idea hold you back. Who cares what anyone else thinks?? Use your gift to make your living, that is why you have it!

  4. WOW!!!!!!!!! Authentic self. Great article about being genuine. Easy to say. Hard to do. I say, “do what you say you’re going to do and make the buying process easy.”

    I am my wife’s pastel workshop assistant and promoter. We find many buyers for her original pieces at her workshops. Not many sales in galleries. We are moving into the print market based on your guidance…………….Thanx!

  5. Thank you so much, Barney for this very insightful, thought provoking and encouraging article. btw. I have spent years trying to balance the existential quest (which, of course, is the vital soul of art) with the more practical aspects of having a career and I have found that people appreciate the GIFT of your art so much more when they pay for it. They know that any monetary exchange – even a very significant amount – is only a token which honors the artist and the art – and it honors their personal aesthetic.

    ps. Loved the story of how you came to live in the land of the vortexes. Asheville is often called the Sedona of the East since people have similar experiences of epiphany – I certainly did.

    1. Dear Anne,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree, Asheville is a special place. It has that je ne sais quois quality, which along with its physical beauty, makes it a drawing card for all manner of creative types.

  6. Many of the ideas you put forth are very much in alignment with those first written about in 1960 by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, M.D.,F.I.C.S. in his book, “Psycho-Cybernetics”. I know…scary sounding title, but a brilliant piece of literature dealing with how the “self image” affects eveything we do or don’t achieve and how to change your own self image to enhance every aspect of your life. As full time artist, I find myself constantly referring to it and thinking about it on a daily basis and highly recommend it. I have both the original book and the updated in 2001 version “The New Psyco-Cybernetics”.

    1. Thank you for your comment and insight. I take what you say as a high compliment. I recall the original book from the ’60s, but not if I read it. I am sure some of the concepts have passed through me in one way or the other. Channeling Maxwell Maltz is a good thing, IMHO. I will look for the updated version on Kindle.

  7. Great article. Being true to yourself is what makes art great. Art is the struggle to have the courage to show the world who you really are.

    That is why two painters can view the same scene scene (a lake and cabin) and create two totally different paintings. It’s how you see the world and what your highest and best talent is.

  8. Of course I create art to sell it, (as well as to make my statement) but I can’t seem to get people to part with their cash. I suspect I have not not found the audience that both wants my work and can afford to buy it.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree with your suspicions about your audience. Even when you target people with money who are predisposed to like your art, keep in mind you have to remind them frequently about you and your art. Not everyone, in fact, most are not ready to buy art at any given moment. Google’s latest research shows it takes 21-24 touches before someone is moved to buy. If you have a small list and you infrequently communicate with them, you are going to have a tough time selling your work. Will Rogers said, “Just because you’re on the right track doesn’t mean you won’t get run over if you don’t keep moving.” Take that advice and keep moving your messaging to your prospects through multiple means. In-person, email, postal mail, organic and paid traffic from Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more. When you layer in your communications with a thematic message over time and means you give yourself the best chance for success. Keep after it, and good luck!

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