Art, profit, truth

Can we profit from our art? How do artists on the periphery of the art world make sense of their struggle to maintain a practice based on a drive to create artworks? As artists we need to survive in a culture where it is really hard to get a share of the profits from art. There are also different ways to profit from art.


Through this blog I have established (to my own satisfaction) that a tiny fraction of artists are working full time. I think the figures (if they existed) would show that 99%* of artists have to have other jobs to make their art careers possible.

Whatever statistics tell us artists have to invest heavily in their art careers in the hope of making sufficient profit to continue as artists. Do we also have to recognise that our profit may not take a strictly financial form? Well perhaps I hope to have it both ways, the key for me to be able to spend more time making artwork is to earn more from it more regularly.

Motivations, driving forces, vision

In the context of making art, profit may be a hope or an aspiration but it is unlikely to be the core motivation. If financial profit was the driving force for artists then I assume there would be about 99%* less of us. What are other possible motivations? I think I have several things driving me to make my work.

– Aptitude. I am a visual and tactile person, I like working with my hands and making things, I have not identified any other job where this is both the means and the end except that of artist.

Tacit understanding. I think in a visual and physical way. We do not all think in the same way or use the same route to discover solutions to problems. I like this quality I think it’s one of the things that makes me the artist I am, it also makes me difficult to fit into the world of work and employment which is increasingly based on rationality, linear thinking and teamwork, which do not suit everybody all the time.

– Vision. As an artist I am trying to use my skills to create things that have a veracity about them. My ‘vision’ is a subjective one, I think that if I can stick with it, it will lead somewhere that is interesting and beneficial. This benefit could simply be an aspiration or by believing in it I could be on the path of a truth that is also meaningful to others. I am using my own sense of what is valuable and important as my guide.

– Resonance. When I do something or make something that works, it has a resonance. This is the only word I can find to explain the feeling I experience when something hits the spot. I get it when I am exposed to work that has integrity, or when I am involved with a group of people that are really concentrating in a constructive way, drawing, making music, collaborating, listening intently, being present.

It would be interesting to know what other artists think motivates them. Is our drive to make things a primitive one, beyond our understanding or control? I am determinedly looking for my version of truth through my work. I conciously bought into that idea from the first week I spent at art school but I suspect it started much earlier..

Our Way

The odds often appear to be against us seriously profiting from art but somehow we keep throwing ourselves into it, thousands of artists every year emerge from art school and the arts and creative business as a whole are an increasingly significant part of our economy. This would not be happening if there was not a profit in it somewhere. The question is how best to make sure some of that profit comes our way to the extent that we not only survive but thrive.

[footnote: I am illustrating this article with a collection of work from other artists who have kindly agreed to let me show their works in this context]

*All statistics in this post are strictly subjective, I believe they are true – I just cannot prove it. See the big artists survey for verifiable stats.