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Photo by Caleb Salomons on Unsplash

It’s Okay to Get Paid

Why artists should get over the fear of being compensated.

I travel in a creative circle. Even my favorite accountant-in-training is a crafty mama, but like me, she has a different understanding of the whole situation here than many of my more “but I’m an artist” friends. She loves crunching numbers and her predominant goal is to be an accountant, offering her skills to world-changers and people doing good works in the world (she’s the numbers to my words, basically); she also loves fiber arts and is highly talented there, too, so she combines her skills to create beautiful gift items that have a low labor and materials cost and everyone wins. She puts her numbers game to use in her craft business and feeds her family at the same time.

She and I are exceptions, however, in the truly creative realms. It seems, otherwise, that so many of the artists we know have serious issue with being compensated for their work — they have some sort of idea that money being anywhere near art is a bad thing, even while they lay out a merch table at shows. I hear this refrain over and over and over again, on a daily basis, but I’m here to tell you all this: It’s okay to get paid.

Times have changed, folks, for sure. Most of us who’ve been called to a creative life are driven by this; we go crazy (crazier) if most of our waking hours aren’t dedicated to our craft. In fact, even the word “craft” can make some artists cringe — “craft” sounds beneath some folks. “Art” seems to imply loftier ideals and purpose than “craft”, which drives people to think of things like Etsy shops and mass production (it shouldn’t, however — “craft” is the thing that makes that piece of wooden furniture sturdy and usable; “art” is what the craftsperson instills in it with their unique style and technique implementation and the materials they choose).

Frankly? There’s nothing wrong with that. I have a visionary artist friend who makes cards, stickers, giclees, and patches, all while she drums up all sorts of other commissions for her art — she has a constant stream of people asking her for book and album covers, large works of art, and more. And why does she do this? Because she knows, like many of us, that creative people don’t have to starve. She understands that this is what allows her to keep painting in her studio all the time instead of working a desk job to pay the bills. She understands it’s okay to be compensated for the work she puts out into the world, and that in this day and age, it’s not enough to simply “make art” and expect that people are going to manage you, support you, or even know you exist unless you do the work of making that happen yourself. Even soliciting patrons now takes some social media and promotional savvy and an ongoing, reliable relationship with the people who choose to support you in that way.

I have another friend who came up with an amazing, self-healing bodywork technique that I have discovered I cannot live without. Unfortunately, her endless refrain is “but I’m a creative visionary, I’m not a marketer.” After the last time I heard her say it, I finally said, “Look, you’ll never get this out into the world unless you either pay someone for their marketing skills, or you learn to do it yourself, with enthusiasm.”

She didn’t want to do that and so, like so many other beautiful and creative offerings that people should know about, her product and life-changing technique sits languishing because no one knows it exists, and the world is actually suffering because of her unwillingness to learn how to really put herself out there. The idea that you can “build it and they’ll come” is a lovely notion, but “building it” these days also requires letting people know what you’ve done and making it accessible to them. Thousands of people may eventually witness your masterpiece, and a few of them will also want to buy it and take it home, too — be okay with that. And also know that some nice photographs and a little social media will go a lot farther, generally, than hoping Google Earth someday stumbles upon your baseball field.

Your worth isn’t defined by money, but you should know your monetary worth.

Artists/performers need to get paid for what they do. Otherwise, it hurts other artists and performers. People don’t want to pay for music performance, or want to pay very little. After hours and hours and years and years of perfecting our skill — we should be compensated. So if they don’t want to pay for what we ask, we are just turning the gigs down. Yeah — the gigs will go to someone who just likes to get up in front of people and perform. But it is the principal of the thing. — Mary Mondon (yep, my mom, a lifelong musician)

Asking for your monetary worth is not going to dilute the message behind your work at all; in fact, you’ll be able to eat, and you’ll be able to continue saying what you need to say — AND, you’ll pave the way for other artists to be rightfully compensated, too. What a concept!

It’s not enough anymore to simply just make something and expect that people will “discover” you (unless you’re willing to go all Banksy about it). It’s been said that only 10% of of fine art students eventually go on to make a living at it, but if you’re not in that 10% and still driven to produce art above all else, you’re gonna have to learn some additional skills. Especially now that anyone with a smart phone can market themselves, there’s even more to contend with out there.

There’s still a massive and deep respect for art, and yes, it still has every high purpose in cultural expression — but you can also be a success at it, and you can most certainly find constructive ways to be creative, all the time, especially if you just grow up a little, drop the over-romanticized concept of starving for your art and give yourself the real credit you deserve. You work hard, you have something to say, and the world needs every positive role model it can get.

The more you stop pigeonholing yourself, the more you put yourself out there, and the more you allow people to compensate you in the ways that they can, the more time you’ll have time to make more art, and you’ll still have the space and freedom to create plenty of things that are fully passion-driven and maybe won’t ever have commercial viability (or, you could blow the fuck up and find that even your old paint palettes are worth something).

Seriously, y’all. It’s totally okay to sell yourself, and it’s okay to get paid.