Making Art and Making a Living

By Carolyn Edlund

You love creating art. It’s your heart, your soul and essential to your sanity. But is supporting yourself with your art what you really want to do?


"Coneflower" mixed media art by Lisa Jaworski

“Coneflower” mixed media art by Lisa Jaworski


Will you be able to maintain your integrity as an artist, with creative freedom and growth, when you have to make sales of your work to pay the bills? Would you be a slave to what others want, and end up being unhappy with what you have to do, rather than what you want to do? Do you feel you have to make a full-time living with your art to truly “be” an artist?

I’ve taken some heat recently by suggesting that if you want to make art to sell, you have to direct your production (and your marketing) to an audience. Business and art can be uncomfortable bedfellows. They don’t always mix well, and it’s difficult to master both. When artists do pursue art as a business, they are sometimes accused of selling out.

At the beginning of my own career, I worked in mixed media clay and fiber and wasn’t making much headway on sales. People wanted to buy more useful and commercially popular items. I chose to start a production studio making ceramic jewelry, which made a lot of sense for me, and was very successful, spending 20 years in the business. And yet, I was accused of selling out – by a man with a degree in art, who himself worked in an unrelated industry. Ironically, I was employing his wife as a studio assistant!

Get clear on what you really want, and don’t apologize for it. Do not listen to the naysayers who don’t believe in you. Surround yourself with those who encourage you, and “unfriend” the negative ones.

Working another job to support yourself while creating art is completely legitimate. Not having the stress of having to make sales to support yourself may be what you need to do your best work. Artists who put pressure on themselves to be commercially successful sometimes end up so frustrated that they give up their dream altogether.

Other artists divide their creative work between art that they make for a living and work that they are personally creating which they don’t have to worry about selling. That’s a nice balance, and could be a goal to work towards.

Don’t sacrifice your heart and your soul and kill your dreams because you believe that you need to pay your rent and buy your groceries from sales of your work. Being an artist is an identity that you have and that you hold within. It isn’t defined by where your paycheck is coming from.


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  1. Thank you for this great advice. I’m tired of the prevalent all-or-nothing attitude! We’re all human, and we have to build lives for ourselves the feed us mentally and spiritually, as well as literally ($)! I haven’t found the right balance for myself yet, but I’m working on it. And I very much appreciate your views.

    • I agree with you. That balance isn’t the same for everyone. Once you take care of the basics without all that stress, it becomes easier to take your creativity where you want to go.

  2. I think your last sentence is particularly important, Carolyn!

  3. Thanks for sharing this post. We as artists have to remember that there is no set mold.

    Each of us has to find our own way. We can take different things from different artists and mold that into who we are as artists.

    We need to define what success is to US (individually), not what it is to anyone else and then I think things will fall into place.

  4. I agree Carolyn! Without the stress the TRUE art can come out! As Life is Good coined: “Do what you like, like what you do”

  5. fabulous post!

  6. Then there is the lifetime I wasted pleasing everyone doing this job, getting that qualification, putting those hours in. Now I’m an artist & I have the best job in the world.

  7. Well said Jean – I really enjoyed this post as well.
    I am still working at the balance too, getting very busy, but not ready to give up the day job, yet have not learned to slow down, with pleasing people with art, I want all of my requests done yesterday, and am working so many hrs, that I may burn out. Balance is hard to find sometimes.

  8. I, on the other hand, been away from my real passion for 20 years just because of parents and other nay-Sayers who said that you can’t make living as an artist. I pleased everyone else by learning other occupation and working in it. Only now I push myself into doing what I really love, cutting TV time and other things so that I can make the time and don’t have to wait for my retirement (in another 25 years!). So I refuse to hear anyone telling me that I can’t make living as an artist and I’m looking at those who can.

  9. I do realize that I have to diversify as an artist, and I have no problem with that, especially that I do enjoy doing other related things like writing about art, teaching artists about technology etc.


  10. I realize this is an old post, but I found it through a google search and wanted to comment on it.

    There seems to be a divide within many an artists head, musicians carry this often as well. Its a battle of artistic creativity and maximizing gain with ones existing skill set. We look at what we want, and what we need outside of the passion for art and that can really drive the passion of art into different directions. Even sanitized and spiritually dead areas. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other, being binary is a pitfall for an artist one way or the other.

    Its a matter of balancing making the art you love, with all the elements of magic, and making art that makes money. You should do both, and try to strike a balance. We live in a world of needs, and sometimes that means taking care of others needs (taste in art in this instance) so that we can have ours looked after.

    Great post, thanks for being here!

  11. I think, after years of doing my “art” (photography and painting) the most important thing for me is the doing. If it gives you pleasure, one must do it. What happens afterwards, is secondary.

    • That’s so true, Christine. After all, why do you create in the first place? Art in itself is worth the doing. Profit is definitely a secondary consideration.


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