A Revelation about Art and Business

In my daily writing recently, I had an epiphany about the way I approached art and business before I became ill (and before my recovery in DA). This revelation struck me after reading a description of the Saturday Business Debtors Anonymous (BDA) phone meeting for Artists and Writers on the DA website:

The meeting is open to all self employed people who have a desire to create, maintain or increase a revenue stream as a result of their creative process. We do not define what is art or who are artists and writers.

Reading this carefully, it was as if I was seeing a profound, self-evident truth for the first time: generating the revenue stream was the “RESULT of their creative process.”

Where is the Passion?

In the past, my creative process was entirely backwards … I only engaged in artistic endeavors as the result of trying to create a revenue stream! No, even that’s not accurate. The truth is that I viewed my creative process as a way to achieve fame. The revenue stream was just a necessary by-product.

Many said to me that first, one had to have a passion. But my passion was to be famous. And that was the problem. Now, that may not be a problem for everyone, as evidenced by the number of reality show fame freaks out there. But it was a problem for me because I wanted to be famous for creating something of value to others using the talents I had to achieve it.

In addition to my passion for fame, I was desperate not to spend my energy in a survival job, or even making good money doing work I despised. The sad irony was that I not only ended up hating every job I had, I also ended up hating every creative project I did as a result of trying to create an income stream and fame from them, instead of finding the joy in creating for its own sake.

Insanity Rears Its Ugly Head

I shoved business, fame, and creativity into a single basket so that I wasn’t able to get clarity or find true passion. Today, due to my illness and my DA program, I can separate them, which is truly a gift. It was only because I could no longer work and I was forced, by my health, into giving up the delusional dream of fame that I allowed myself to focus on discovering creative activities that made my heart sing … rather than the public’s.

In the past, when I had a creative idea, my first thought was, “How can I make money and get famous by doing this?” And what happened again and again was:

  1. I ended up spending a huge amount of time and money on the project.
  2. I quickly lost passion, if I even ever really had it, and came to hate the project as much as any day job.
  3. The increasing fame and public acclaim I did receive as a result of my efforts weren’t in the least fulfilling

My Last Hurrah

Every time I finished writing a book, I was so done with the topic that I gave lip service to using it as a platform, but my passion for the subject was exhausted. I spent nearly three years on my last book and way too much money on websites, editors, etc. In fact, I’m convinced that the pressure I put on myself for this ambitious work was a factor in my finally being unable to work at all. By the time the book was published (by a library publisher), the absolutely LAST thing I wanted to do was promotion.

I learned a hard lesson that even traditional publishers now expect new authors to self-promote. My dreams of glory assumed they would be so bowled over by my work that they would pour money into a marketing campaign they never promised.

While the book sold a few thousand copies, that was hardly the success I anticipated nor the launchpad to catapult me to my imagined life of fame and riches. But truly, whose fault is it if I did virtually nothing to market the work, barely an ounce of self-promotion? And by that point, my credit card debt was well into the serious double digits. This was not the first of these insane adventures, but I hope and pray that it was the last.

Not Falling Into the Same Hole

Yesterday, I had the thought, “What if I could earn enough from my art to get off disability?” But that is dangerous thinking for me. Even the idea of just supplementing my disability income by selling art so I can afford my art supplies may be thinking too big. In fact, thinking of making money with my art may be too dangerous to my creativity altogether.

However, it does seem that this time, I have the right approach. In marketing art, they talk a lot about getting commissions to do specific artwork. I am absolutely clear that I don’t want to do that, because it’s the kind of pressure that would ruin my passion (though others may thrive on it!). I am grateful for having this insight now before I fall into the same hole that destroyed my life before.

In the meantime, I continue doing daily art that I love. I recognize that it has to be fun or I won’t do it. For the most part, writing was not fun for me. It was generally excruciating. However, I feel the same freedom, passion, and joy in writing this blog as I do when creating art. What is the common denominator? It is that neither are done with a profit or fame motive at the core.

That is not to say that art cannot be sold sanely, as many in BDA have proven. It’s just that, for me, if my creativity is contingent on payment or fame, I will lose the passion in the blink of an eye. And that I will not risk.

An Artist’s Prayer

If you are an artist who relates to this post, just for today, ask your Higher Power to let you stay clear about the purpose of your art and become willing to keep the selling separate from the creating. And if you find yourself considering passionless creating only for money, remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

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