It’s Not All About the Money

By Carolyn Edlund

How much does earning an income matter for you as an artist?


$100 Bills


Recently, I had a conversation with an artist who felt she would never be able to make a good living from her fiber art. What she loved was the process of making her art. She didn’t want to compromise the time and effort she put into each piece, even though she couldn’t command high enough prices to pay herself well. She claimed that the market would not bear the prices she would have to charge.

She also realized that she didn’t want to pursue a lot of the activities necessary to market her work to a higher-end audience to increase those prices.

Somewhere along the line, she had started to believe that making sales of her work and making money was her goal. But that didn’t make her happy, and the more she focused on the money the more unhappy she became.

Although she didn’t need the income, she had placed a very high value on selling because she felt that it validated her work. But it wasn’t working for her.

“Maybe I need to rethink my goals,” she said.

There aren’t many artists I know who are creating work just for the money. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. They are doing what they love, and money isn’t the main priority. Marketing and selling becomes a matter of finding the sweet spot where you love what you do, and your collectors do, too – making purchases that result in a profitable business for you.

There is nothing wrong with having other goals besides making money. Happiness often comes from doing something meaningful rather than just making an income.

How is your work meaningful to you? How much does making an income from your art matter to you? Have you revised goals that didn’t make you happy?


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  1. Hi Carolyn,
    If an artist isn’t making work that is meaningful to them then they’re not going to be making it for very long! Thank you Corcoran College of Art and Design for teaching your students to find meaning, as well as a way to communicate it, and to enjoy the journey of that ongoing process.

    Thirty years and counting, here’s a taste:

    • “If an artist isn’t making work that is meaningful to them then they’re not going to be making it for very long!”

      Very true, James . . . and I also believe that the way an artist runs their business must also be meaningful and make them happy, or they won’t be doing that for long either. Everyone has their own path, and has to find a way to work that works for them.

  2. Carolyn,
    I think you’re definitely right. The important thing is to create what speaks to you and what you love. If it’s beautiful and gives me joy, I’m happy. If other people like it, I’m thrilled. I’d love to make some money, but whether I do or not, I’m happy and grateful to be able to create. I especially love photomanipulation because i never know what the final result will be.

  3. Whether you make money (and how much) is a choice just like the kind of art you make. There are so many ways to market that ANYONE can find one that suits. If not, they are free to invent a new one. In MY OPINION, the key FOR ME is to make the art that I was meant to make and not worry about money. Ironically, the less I worry about money, the more it flows my way.

    As a business (I am a self employed artist) I know that to make the art I want to make, it must generate income. If it does not, I cannot buy glass, tools, etc., and my time will be spent at a job instead of playing in my studio all day. I cannot make the stuff I make in a few exhausted hours after working a job. My government, parents, or husband do not owe this to me, I must do it myself.

    If someone makes art as a hobby and that makes them happy… then that is what they should do. I can only speak for me. I wondered if I would love making art as much after it became my “job.” I actually love it MORE… even commissioned work! If I won the lottery this morning, I would still be working on the same piece that I have going on right now. Nothing would change except I would do less cleaning and mowing- more art.

  4. interesting topic Carolyn! & really enjoyed all the ideas.

  5. Iteresting topic. Everyone is different. I got caught up in the need to be affirmed as an artist by having good sales. It was driving me batty! My solution (at least for now) since I don’t rely on my art sales to live on, is to donate any money I make on sales to a chosen charity. I recently sold a 5×7 piece for $500.00 to help a young man in my community who is fighting cancer. That way each sale ends up giving me a good feeling.

  6. I absolutely do my art because I love it and find so much meaning in creating it. But also being able to donate my work for animal causes is hugely important to me, as well as happy clients and customers. Even the business end of it is really fun and valuable! But making money from my art is very important too as I would love to eventually quit my 9-5 and just do my art for a living.

  7. Carolyn, I’m not usually one to post comments but on this one I had to weigh in because it’s a recurring theme for me as an artist. That theme is not making money from what I do. Although I’m well on the road to curing that situation I still believe with passion in following the creative spirit as a necessary path in sharing your genuine artistic voice regardless of monetary return. If money wasn’t an issue at all I’d just continue to do what I normally do as an artist which is make free things for people when the notion to do so hits me. I’m lucky to have been able to share my creative gift with people on that level and to effect their lives with beautiful art. It’s certainly a blessing but I know there’s plenty of room for the business aspect and making money as well. I envision a future where the money coming in and the organizational skills of running a successful business allow more opportunities for philanthropic endeavors. Make the money but always share the love….. 🙂

    • Thanks so much Peter for sharing this. It’s been a privilege to know and work with you – and I really respect your desire to use your creative gifts to “pay it forward” to others.

  8. Many good points here.
    We have to face the fact, that beside making art we have to learn the art of selling it. It is tough, but (I believe) possible.
    I’m a full time textile artist. And my solution for material matters is to create art for art sake (if it sells, that’s fine but if not – I’m the happy owner of something I really like) and to use my talents and abilities for making/sewing stuff for sale. It doesn’t hurt, because I’m still doing it my way, trying to finally convert buyers of my small, utilitarian home textiles into my future collectors 🙂

    And, not so long ago, I read the report that, despite or permanent financial problems, artists are happier than any other professions (at least in Europe). So I’m sticking to it 🙂

  9. I had discussions regarding pricing my art too low just this past week at a Plein Air Event with other artists who are selling higher and think I should be also. I think its fabulous that they sell higher and I aspire to do the same someday, but I’m breaking back into the fine art market after taking a sabbatical for a few years and want to build up my clientele of collectors and galleries. I also believe that as I bless others with reasonable prices, due to our economy, I will be blessed and my needs will be taken care of. I love to paint and want others to enjoy it as well.

  10. Hi Carolyn,
    The artists who shared their proceeds for good causes were inspiring.
    My goal is to get my manhole art into museum exhibitions and collections, so I have not had the time to pursue sales of my art.

    The creation of my unusual art has sometimes presented some engineering and construction challenges, but all in all my theme has turned my life into a “Grate Adventure.”
    In Moscow we met Sasha and Natasha who designed the website: “Sewers of The World Unite.” Highway Department and Water Department Employees have taught me about road markings and what’s under the covers.
    I have discovered references to my art on blogs all over the world, the most recent being in Peru. The blogger hopes to write a book on the value of Sewers and include a bit about my art.

    And then there is the teasing: How can I lift my art to hang on the Wall? When manhole covers are stolen–there are teasing accusations. Actually my art only simulates the real covers. My creations are of light weight foam with special treatments. I have fun with my theme and there is always something to learn about street scopes.

  11. I learned long ago to make money from art. I paid for my house with art money. No mortgage payments
    for 15 years. I get to have some cash now. I will make as much money as I can by art. i ain’t gonna
    be no staving artist. Purity leads to the poorhouse in my opinion. I don’t make a lot of dough, but I do OK.
    I am good at doing the basic business tactics, that get me paid. No one respects a starving ,broke artist.
    I like to heat and eat from my art effort. I will keep making money as long as I can.
    Please see Forbes list of wealthy artists.

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