So, an interesting thing is happening at work. When we first heard that the company we were working at was merging with another, and we were to participate in this great “buy out,” everybody thought they would make some money from the stock transactions. Naturally, everybody started shopping. Now, it wasn’t as bad as it was in the great “dot com” days before the bubble (no, they didn’t open a Porsche dealership in the lobby) but it was still noticeable. Fast forward to yesterday, when we got our “financial packet” information. We suddenly went from thinking we were going to get a nice big, fat check, to realizing that we had to actually purchase the stock *before* we could get that check. Many of us now have only a few days to come up with several thousands of dollars.
Money does interesting things to people. At first, everybody was shopping. It was all new car this, I’m going to buy that, etc. until the cows came home. Now, the worm has turned and everybody has nary a pack of gum to their name. Even though we’re expecting a payout, and we will get it soon (very soon) we’re all broke. Some people, when faced with the circumstances of being broke actually panic. You can almost hear the thoughts racing through their minds, “What will I do? How will I live? How will I get by? Who is going to feed my family?” Others, take it in stride. It’s almost like their internal workings are saying, “eh, oh well, broke again.”
Now, I normally would not say anything about this here, but it has an interesting impact upon photographers. Photographers, you see, are usually self-employed and often find themselves the hapless victims of especially turbulent circumstances. They make money at times and then go for long stretches without. They have to learn to budget yet they use expensive equipment and can’t really afford to skimp. It’s a very hard lot, financially it is, for those opting to make a living (sometimes you can’t even call it that) in the arts.
There comes a time in every artists career when he or she has to make important financial decisions. Now, I’m sure that everybody would love it, just love it, if money never impacted our artistic ability. Everybody likes to think that, if there were some great “Picasso-like” person, maybe the next Rembrandt out there, hiding in the woods somewhere, he’d have enough money to get by. The fact of the matter is, that’s not always the case. As much as we don’t like to admit it, art is for the privileged. No, now that doesn’t mean the rich are better painters, but stop and think about what it does mean. It’s hard to create art-to draw, paint, take pictures, when you’re worried about putting food on the table. Many people (perhaps too many people) relegate artwork to the “end of the month” type of expense-only after all of those pesky bills have been paid, only then can we buy our paint or upgrade our camera. Yes, yes, we know that “art fuels the soul” but, at the end of the day, when it’s time to sit down and actually balance that checkbook, that’s just a slogan and, sorry to say, it won’t help pay the rent this month, right? Yes, the sad truth is that, it’s true, money changes everything. Paint is expensive. Too often the pursuit of the arts are left for those with the excess wealth. So, what’s a poor, struggling artist to do?
I wish I had an easy answer for you. I wish I had some “magic bullet” that you could just point at your checkbook and make it so. The fact is, there isn’t one. I’ve seen many artists, photographers, musicians, struggle. That financial struggle is part of the larger, “big picture” of paying your dues as an artist. Part of being a successful artist, I’m sorry to say, is learning (sometimes the hard way) what sells, what pays the bills, where the cash comes from. If you don’t do that, at some point in your career, in some small way, your artwork will suffer.
There are no easy answers, just lots of artists, much like yourself, who struggle with these same questions, day over day. How long will I have to pay my dues before I can make it? Why doesn’t my work sell? How should I price my work? Does it make me a “sellout” if I license my stuff? What if I need the cash? All I can tell you is, welcome to the real world. I don’t care what they fed you in art school, that’s how things work in the big bad world of the new economy so you best get used to it. Learn to budget. Learn to live beneath your means. Learn to spend less and do more with fewer. Force yourself to not only create beautiful things, but do it in a cost effective way. You’ll be a better artist for it someday, trust me.
As far as the folks at work, I’m sure they’ll recover once those stock transactions come through. Some of them will be better off, yes, for having more money, but some will be the same. Maybe a few, a few of the lucky ones, will learn that money doesn’t buy everything, and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t even really make you happy, but it is a necessary evil in the world today.
Until next time…