Creatives and artists often have varying mindsets on how money plays into their work—there are many different ways to consider the business of art.
How you run your creative practice can largely depend on your business savvy, where you live, where you’re at in your career, and the social circles you run in.
In the first installment of “The Truth About Art and Business,” I talked to veteran art appraisers and art career consultants about their observations and insights on the business of creating art.
In the second installment of our two-part series on art and business, I sat down with Matt Gondek, an L.A.-based artist who is the host of Clean Break, a podcast about art and business, on his journey to carving out a thriving career.
There’s a shift in money mindset.
To become monetarily successful, besides a lot of hard work and building their art businesses, most artists need to undergo a shift in mindset.
For Gondek, it didn’t happen until he was a decade into his career. Barely scraping by, he moved to Los Angeles and things began to change.
Says Gondek: “When I lived in Pittsburgh and I was in full-time artist, we all thought success was simply making art for a living and not having a job. No one ever talked about how to make enough money to buy a house, or to put yourself out there as the kind of person who makes art for a living but is also trying to become a successful, wealthy person. It wasn’t until I moved here [Los Angeles] five years ago that I met people who were doing that.”
Artists need to treat their art practice like a business.
While Gondek did have to undergo a shift in money mindset, from the beginning he treated his work as an artist like a business.
As Gondek explains: “Anyone can paint, anyone can make a pot, but once you get in the mindset of I’m going to do this as a career, it’s no longer like, ‘This is just fun for me.’”
Gondek continues: “Granted, this is a cool job, but this is my job. I take it very seriously. I’ve got employees, I have to file W-9s for them, and I have to pay taxes on my employees. I think the one thing that benefited me from Day One was I always had a business mindset with my art. I was always like, I’m creating this to make profit, and not to get famous, but to make people aware of my existence and to grow my brand. This was 15 years ago.”
There can be pressure to create what is trending at the time. “Whenever you’re starting out, you’re just this bohemian artist and a group of buddies, painting for fun, making whatever you want,” says Gondek. “But when people start actually caring about your work and they’re starting to pay big prices for it, and a gallery is pumping their time and money into you and promoting you, there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders to create what your fans want.”
While not all artists will hop on a fad just for the sake of riding on what’s popular at the time, they are conscious of what’s relevant.
It’s a long game.
“I’ve found that people who are my peers who are on the same level that I’m at, it was a very, very long process.” In Gondek’s case, he was making very little money on his art for nine years. And within the course of three months, everything changed. “I went from trying to build everything myself to working with this gallery,” says Gondek. “We started doing shows. There was a three-month point where it went from, doing okay to people starting to respect my work, including big collectors.”
Artists love money just like everyone else.
Gondek further explains: “When you start off, it’s hard to make money and you don’t have a lot for anything. I didn’t want to live like that. I wanted to be able to just wake up every day and create but not have to worry: Do I have enough money to pay my bills? Do I have enough money to buy food this month? Like, my dog got sick and I have a $1,000 vet bill now.”
“I just wanted to have financial stability and peace of mind with it. You need enough to live comfortably and not be a burden on your partner or friends or family.”
The gallery model isn’t dead.
Because of social media and different platforms to market and sell your work and engage with your audience, a lot of artists say that they don’t need a gallery. There are other ways they can build a career. “[Artists] say they [galleries] are all just money grubbing and they take from the artist,” says Gondek.
“A lot of times that’s the case: Because a gallery owner is still a business. They can find out who the popular artists are at the time and they just say, Hey, artist X, Y, Z, let’s have a show. Because they already know this artist’s work is selling. They can have a show, make money, right? And they’re done with the artist. They don’t care. That’s not helping them,” explains Gondek.
But that might not always be the case. It really depends on the type of agreement or relationship you have with a gallery, and how it plays into your career goals.
For instance, Gondek has had a long-term partnership with a gallery that has really helped grow his career: “When I was first starting out, my artwork wasn’t as strong, and they would come over and say, ‘This doesn’t look good. Why did you do that?’ And 9 times out of 10 it was because of laziness. And they’d be like, if you want to be professional, you need to address this problem. Sure, they want to make money off me. It’s still a business. But they wanted to grow with me instead of just kind of using me and throwing me away.”
While Gondek is very appreciative for what happened for him after working exclusively with a gallery, he knows the gallery model isn’t for everybody. “There are a lot of artists who just want to make things and sell themselves and be a complete control, and that’s totally fine,” says Gondek. “But I’m okay handing some of that control over to someone else who I respect, which is the gallery I work with.”
Artists want to be monetarily successful.
But their path toward success is largely dependent on a number of factors, from the kind of art they make, their own experiences and perceptions about money, and what they want to ultimately achieve in their career.
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that money is divorced from art.
That a successful art career operates inside a bubble that doesn’t coincide with the rules of commerce. Contrary to popular belief, making money from art isn’t based solely on immense talent, vision, luck or timing. Rather, it takes a commitment to craft, persistence, business-savvy.
As Andy Warhol once said, “Making money is art and good business is the best art.” The two are intertwined.
Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based money writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances and to cultivate community among entrepreneurs. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies and FinTech startups, and her work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.