Painting supplies laid next to a stack of money.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Talk to any artist, and they’ll likely say they’re motivated by passion—not money. In fact, there’s almost an aversion to money within the art community, as if it’s somehow “dirty” or tainted. But it’s this very stigma that holds many would-be professional artists back, argues New York Times columnist Carl Richards.

“If you don’t make a profit from your art, that’s fine. You can still be an artist,” Richards writes. “But it will be a hobby, and if you’re not yet retired, you’ll be able to pursue it only when your 9-to-5 job ends. Is that how you want things to be?”

For most artists, the answer is “no.” In fact, for many, the goal is to financially support themselves through their art so that they don’t have to work a day job. And yet, the stigma surrounding art and profit stubbornly persists, guilting many into the stereotypical “starving artist” lifestyle.

If artists want to make a living doing what they love, they’ll have to start thinking about art and profit in a whole new light. Richards breaks it down into simple terms:

1. You generate income from your work.


2. You have expenses.


3. If income is greater than expenses, that’s called profit. And having it puts you one step closer to quitting your day job or having your art be your day job for a while longer.

Most people would agree that it’s not “wrong” or “unethical” for a person to demand that they be compensated fairly for their work. It’s called business. But for whatever reason, the same rules don’t seem to apply when it comes to art. And therein lies the problem: this idea that artists should work for free.

“Profit makes it possible to do more art. And isn’t that what all artists want—permission to keep making it?” Richards concludes.

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