Art and Money

Learning not to be afraid of money and its relationship to your art.

When you do a hobby, it is entirely for your own edification.

You do the thing you do for fun, because it makes you feel good, and because it stirs creative juices and produces life-affirming endorphins and so on.

There are almost as many options for hobbies as there are people in the world. Some are pretty general and obvious — such as the arts, woodworking, cooking, painting, writing, etc. Others are somewhat more alien — such as mathematics, research, cleaning and organizing, and so on.

The idea of a hobby is that it is a diversion to help reset and refocus the brain.

Sometimes a hobby becomes a way of life. Frequently, this is where it gets sticky. Especially when we are talking about the arts.

For some people, art begins as a hobby. I have friends who are amazing crafters — woodworking, metalworking, painting, fabric arts, and so on. Some of them have taken what began as their hobby and moved it into the realm of their working life.

That tends to be where it gets complex and confusing.

Myths about money and the arts

There are a ton of pervasive myths about money and the arts. You have likely heard of the “starving artist.” You’ve probably also heard of the “sell-out.” Both surround the myth that getting paid for your art dirties the art.

I have spent a long time coping with this myself. I have believed that charging for the work I do — the writing, in my case — soils my work.

A lot of this comes from false messages about what art is for: The notion that art should only be a hobby, getting paid for your art makes you a sell-out, and so on.

Then there are the various messages about art being unimportant. The first program a school tends to cut is music, art, and/or theatre. The emphasis on athletics over art has created a devaluation of art in our society. The arts get shunted to the side as unimportant — despite the reality that a ton of the history we know comes from the arts of a long-gone period.

Growing up, as much as I was encouraged to pursue my artistic abilities — singing, acting, writing — I was also encouraged to pursue a “money-making” career. The standard Jewish Mother route — doctor, lawyer, merchant chief.

I wanted to work in the arts. Though I focused on theatre and radio in college — I never started a career in either area.

Once I determined writer was my vocation — that pursuit began in earnest — but not without many, many fits and starts.

I believed that making a living as an artist wasn’t a good idea. But then I desired to make my living this way — and reconciling that has been a challenge.

The worth of art and self-worth

I put my heart and soul into the work I do. Whether photography — where I am very much a hobbyist — or my writing, there is love and passion and energy that pours into my work.

Every other artist I know — writer, painter, knitter, singer, et al — has a similar relationship to their creations. The power and energy that goes into the thing you make reflects on you.

Yet it never ceases to amaze me how people who could not make what you do will haggle you over dollar signs.

When this is something like a knitted sweater the haggling tends to be over the hours of work added to the materials cost.

If you knit a sweater with twenty dollars-worth of materials, many people presume you should only charge fifty bucks for it. Never mind that it took you ten hours — it was a labor of love, right? They fail to see that the $30 you make over the material cost comes out to just over $3 an hour. Charge a hundred — and you’re still not even making $10 an hour for your work after the cost of the materials.

But if you charge them $220 to cover materials and $20 an hour of work — you will likely be made to feel dirty for suggesting such a thing. What’s more, if like me its’ been ingrained that arts don’t pay, you may feel guilty for this. Despite it being utterly reasonable.

Just to complicate this further — if often feels like what you can earn for the art you produce reflects your self-worth. And of course, sometimes it does.

The value of what you do

As a writer, I want to be compensated fairly for any work I do. Yet because of the hour I put into something produces words but not a tangible thing — charging $50 an hour can be viewed as unreasonable. That’s for something like website content or a blog. I can’t even work out these numbers when it comes to selling books I write.

While logically, I know that the level of sales I achieve are not a reflection on ME — illogically, I feel as though they are. Who am I to produce books and expect to sell lots of them? I’m not a known quantity.

And then there is also the guilt of charging for my work. Do I want too much for this? Is it unreasonable for me to ask people to pay me to write — particularly because it’s generally easy for me?

However, that’s a part of it. It’s easy for me because it is my passion. I know many people, on the other hand, who dread writing. They abhor it with the passion of a thousand fiery suns.

I have been cultivating this ability for years. A lot of trial and error, exploration, technique, and other aspects go into my work. AND — I am still evolving, still learning, still trying new things.

The point is that there is value in what I do. My writing is not just some worthless banging on the keyboard. Getting paid for the work I do — because it is work — in no way makes me a bad person.

Money is currency — currency is energy

Jen Sincero, in one of her You Are a Badass books, explains this rather well. There is energy in money — because it is currency — and currency is energy. EVERYTHING in the Universe at its core is energy. Exchanging energy for energy is a natural function of the Universe.

Thus, getting money for your work is not unnatural. It is a part of the ever-present energy exchange that makes up all things in the entirety of creation.

That’s why getting money for your art is not dirty, wrong, improper, or otherwise bad. What’s more, it doesn’t reflect poorly on you, the artist.

Money can be scary. Not enough of it — and you lack the ability to take care of this, that, or the other thing. Too much of it appears to turn people bad. But that’s not actually true — they were probably bad without money but had less ability to do harm when it was not present (looking at so many wealthy, selfish politicians, for example).

When you reset your thinking about money and your art — and see it as energy with no preset of good or bad — you can work to earn it with neither fear nor guilt. You deserve to get compensated for your time, energy, and passion.

If people are not willing to pay you for the art you do — that’s on them, not on you. Just remember you are worthy of making decent money off your art — and deserving, too.

Keep producing, keep making, and keep being an artist.

Thank you for reading. I am MJ Blehart. I write about mindfulness, conscious reality creation, positivity, my creative process, and similar life lessons.
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Originally published at on November 14, 2020.

I am a practitioner of mindfulness, positivity, philosophy, & conscious reality creation. I love to inspire, open minds, & entertain.

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