Must all artists be businesspeople?

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[Note from The Beat: Ah, just found the perfect illo for this post, from Drew Weing’s marvelous Set to Sea, now out in hardcover from FBI! Highly recommended!]

It all started when Johanna explained Why I Won’t Be Giving to Kickstarter Projects, citing the belief that creators should have a business plan other than asking for dough. After a very, very lively comments section, which saw Dustin Harbin, B. Clay Moore, Christian Beranek and many others chime in as to how Kickstarter was a way to SHOW a business plan and ask for funding — and also the overwhelming realization that in the era of crowdsourcing, everything is micro-payments — Johanna did the big thing and posted a NEW piece called More on Kickstarter: I Was Wrong:

I also very much appreciated an email I received from an artist who wished to remain anonymous who wanted to share with me thoughts on the value of unique, challenging, and personal work created out of love. I was reminded how many art forms these days (such as live theater or opera) survive only due to patronage, grants, and similar acts of charity. (I’d rather compare comics to rock’n’roll than chamber music, but that’s a different conversation.) So why not try patronage for unusual comics? Like webcomics or self-published indies, there are going to be some terrible Kickstarter projects, some mediocre ones, and a few very good ones. Since the former are going to need more help, those are going to be the ones I’m more likely to hear about, but I shouldn’t let that color my perception.


But along the way, Johanna–whose direct no-nonsense manner I admire, because it is so different from my own, even if it does lead to friendly disagreements — made several comments about the artist’s need for business sense:

The idea of “I’m just an artist, so I can focus on creating” is romantic, but not very reasonable.


and

More serious summation: I’ve seen so many people have their hearts broken by comics by treating it like a love instead of a business. I just want everyone involved — creators, patrons, customers — to keep their eyes open. Trust and hope are great, but risky when dealing with folks on the internet with high aspirations and a limited track record.

Is this true? Must every artist have a business as a REQUIREMENT? It’s obvious that a lack of business sense has impeded many artists from having happy, successful lives, but does it have anything to do with their artistry?

Or to put it another way do all business people have to be artists?

Comments

  1. Charles Knight says:

    Sure – if you don’t want to make a living from it or you want other people to get rich off your graft.

    As soon as you are engaged in a process where you want someone to give you money for something, you are in business.

    So fuck you, pay me.

    As for patronage, best of luck to any UK based artists who try that route under the current economic climate!

  2. Actual pitch:

    “Overdose is a comic that takes heroism to new heights with a drug addicted anti-hero trying to get revenge for what he has lost.”

    Where’s my checkbook?

  3. To paraphrase my mom: “Better to learn the business than to get the business end.”

  4. One of the really amazing things I’ve found in dealing with graphic artists (at conventions/commissioning them) is how lacking the majority are in even common business sense.

    I am talking about price points (don’t sell prints for $20 if your original convention sketches are $40), being present to sign the books you are selling, being nice to the customer, listening to their requirements when doing a commission and on and on.

    One famous artist sold me a piece and has taken neither the money nor given me the piece (a page from a comic) in four months. It’s weird as hell. And it’s a $1000 page and he can’t be bothered meeting me to hand it over (he lives in the same city).

    I think the “artist” gene just makes these people incapable of being businessmen (or women) and frankly they would be better off hiring somebody to sell their art and take commission requests who is better at dealing with customers.

  5. Could be that they’re not very excited about drawing sketches at conventions?

  6. Nate Horn says:

    The logic of all x has to be y is painting with a broad brush and even when it is true, that never means the inverse must be true.

    A lot of artist friends have benefited greatly from having friends and family with a bit more business sense help them out, freeing the artist to work on their art. That has always seemed a better system to me.

  7. Synsidar says:

    Nothing prevents someone from creating things for no compensation, except the reactions of readers. That’s why fan fiction exists; that’s why people draw their favorite characters. Commercializing that art or asking for money for the purpose of commercializing it involves a value judgment. I don’t see anything wrong with the Kickstarter system, but I can’t think of a single reason to contribute a dollar to a stranger for the sake of his artistic project.

    SRS

  8. I’ve had one or twenty disagreements with Johanna, and she can certainly be stubborn, but she is not unreasonable, and she certainly has the integrity to admit it when she finds she was mistaken or has changed her mind.

  9. Must every artist have a business as a REQUIREMENT?

    Only if they’re trying to turn their art into a source of income.

    If one wants to keep their artistic hands unsoiled with matters business, the best thing to do would be to find someone who is business minded to do that crap for you. The problem is that 99% of business types range from “Slightly shifty” to “Full blown Tony Howard” on the sliding scale of morality so there’s always a risk involved with using them.

    Or becoming one of them, for that matter.

  10. It shouldn’t be a requirement for artists to become business people, but too many unscrupulous business people make it a requirement.

  11. B. Clay Moore says:

    I do appreciate Johanna.

    And I admit to having the business sense of a brain-damaged goldfish.

  12. Dave Aikins says:

    If the act of creating art is your actual day job and total source of income, then it is a job- plain & simple. If you create art as a self-employed job, then you run a business.
    So…You do two things:
    1. Create Art.
    2. Run Business.

    Being good at both is not very common, but this is no different then many self employed areas of the workforce. I’ve known vets/doctors, lawyers, writers, contractors, etc that are great at part one, but not part 2, or vice versa.

    Couldn’t any career bitch & moan about having to learn the business side of things?

  13. But there also comes a point where good business is bad for the art. If a really great artist realizes that he or she can get paid thousands of dollars to do a few pieces of conceptual art for a movie that never even gets made, while the comics industry can only pay a few hundred dollars per page, no good businessperson is going to stick around comics for very long.

  14. I agree with Mr. Aikins. I wrote a 100 minute play (later a DC graphic novel never printed) about the headfucks that spring up when navigating the course of making a business from your passion, so I know I won’t be succinct here, but from time to time I do try to tell artistic-minded folks that being more intuned to business best practices does NOT make you less of an artist. You can strive to excel at both. Will Eisner comes to mind.

  15. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Please nobody tell Chris Ware. I’d like to read some more of his comics.

  16. Artists should go to college. Not just any college, though: one with a business department, where they can take a few business classes, met a cute business major, fall in love, and get married. Then their spouse can run the business side of things, and they can produce the art.

  17. Charles Knight says:

    “Artists should go to college. Not just any college, though: one with a business department, where they can take a few business classes, met a cute business major, fall in love, and get married.”

    Is this not standard in the US? I have been (for work purposes) looking at fine and visual arts programs in the UK and most have modules that cover the business side – how to market yourself, running a business etc.

  18. David Riches says:

    You know this entire idea gives me a weird sense of Deja Vu. I studied Business Management at College and everytime some teacher pulled me aside and said do your Marketing presentation or business plan or industry analysis on something you know like comics I would fall for it and make the freaking presentation. The thing is it only made me realize everytime that I would never want to go into anything in the field of comics because it would take the love and joy out of it for me. It’s nice to say you can harp on this idea of a niche for this kind of comicbook or that field of comics but when all is said and done it’s a periodical and that in itself has a short lifespan (they are called monthlies for a reason) and hard fact the margin and rate of return and feedback can be very slim. If your heart is in it then DEFINITELY you need some business planning. Just make sure that you don’t lose your heart along the way.

  19. Rob Jensen says:

    Well, artists don’t *have* to be good businesspeople, but lousy business sense sure can cause an artist to cut his ear off.

    — Rob

  20. Some artists have no business sense other than the realization that they need someone with a business sense to help them with their art so they can make enough money to continue making art.

    Its just one of the many ways Amanda Conner and I were made for each other.

  21. Charles: Yes, most decent art schools include a class or two in how to run a business. But they do not offer classes in which you bump elbows with actual (future) businesspeople. I was joking (mostly) about hooking up with one of them, but there are a lot of great artists who were successful at it only because they happened to have a life partner who was a good businesscritter.

    One of the few good things I got out of the liberal arts school before being kicked out was networking with business students, education students, and a few phys-ed studs.

  22. Find this an interesting question, if for no other reason than the comments I often see from artists and editors on twitter who work for DC and Marvel.

    The comments usually go along the lines of “you do comics because you love them, not for the money/benefits/work hours/etc”.

    Effectively, they seem to rely on that artists love of their artistry will override the business sense they may have.

    So maybe it’s better to ask it as, when do you need to act in the business sense and when does that limit your opportunities?

    Just a thought =)

  23. Perhaps not ALL artists need to be business people.

    But I’m pretty sure it would help.

  24. I just wish we could require all business people to be artists.

  25. Business and Art are pretty much opposite sides of a spectrum. Balance is key for those of us who aren’t super lucky. So I fully endorse taking some business approaches to comics.

    Mark Twain was brilliant but…Not that great at business, he invested a lot in what his creative mind could see working. But didn’t have the business sense to back out of a bad investment and he paid for it pretty hard from what I understand…

  26. I’ve met so many artists who have no clue how to bill for their work. Some are embarrassed to ask for money; it seems so mercenary, so non-artist-like, so uncool.

    The drive and passion that takes a creative person on the path to “do art” is not usually based on a financial or business model.

    Every artist owes it to him/herself to enroll in a few business courses, maybe at the community college level.

    Sit alongside those white-shirt-wearing number-crunchers in a classroom for a few months of night classes, and “get their number”.

    It will help you understand how they think, and it will help you make decisions that will protect your livelihood. Face it: some people will inevitably try to devalue and then buy and sell you and your art as a commodity.

  27. I deserve more than one cyber slap. Bring it on.

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