The myth of the starving artist still persists today. The myth originated in 1847 after Henri Murger, a frustrated French writer, published a collection of stories idealizing the penniless life of the artist. Surrounded by creative geniuses, it was Murger’s dream to be a part of the Bohemian artist life. While the work had some literary acclaim, Murger continued to struggle with financial security and died penniless. Ironically, Murger’s work met with success posthumously as Scènes de la vie de bohèmewas adapted for the infamous opera La Boheme and years later met with great accolades in the famous productions Rent and Moulin Rouge.
Not all artists end up like Murger, dying penniless and unfulfilled. While most artists who have graduated art school received the American standard of art education focused on art skills without any business skills, today’s artists recognize how volatile pursuing a traditional art career can be. Even the most talented artists today know if they want to make a living, they’re going to need to be entrepreneurial. Meet the ARTpreneur.
What and Who Is an ARTpreneur?
While it’s difficult to point to a specific person that coined the term ‘artpreneur’, the definition can be found in several places online like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary. The Urban Dictionary defines an artpreneur as an artist and entrepreneur. It goes further to say an artpreneur is an artist who sidesteps traditional paths to success as an artist and independently sells their art. The word has its roots in the word entrepreneur, something most people equate with the business world.
The traditional path in the business world is often paved with a mindset that believes you need to make the right connections, get the right job, and hold steady until the end, usually a retirement package and the gold watch of the past. Entrepreneurs are those brave creative thinkers who see past the traditional and want to find out what they can do on their own. Having watched how erratic the traditional or corporate world became over the last decade or so, they strike out on their own with a vision and a plan. What was seen as a risk proved over time to not only be a way to survive, but a way to succeed that was beyond the traditional world. While entrepreneurs might be business school graduates, they have something that graduates of art school don’t – a knowledge of how business works. Artists can make a living from their art with a plan that goes beyond making art. Artists that are surviving and thriving from their art need to wear more than the stereotypical beret - they need to wear all the hats if they’re going to succeed.
Most artists have gone through times when their work wasn’t selling, and the bills were piling up. In a perfect world, artists would have clients clamoring for their work and bank accounts would never be starving. Every artist knows it’s not a perfect world. Economic hardships from the nineties and early two thousands have taught artists a rough lesson – when the economy becomes a stormy sea, artists are the first to be tossed into the waters. For those who have learned the hard way, they realize just as the traditional path of the business major can become unstable, the career path of a traditional artist - galleries, commissions, and teaching - can change on a dime.
An artpreneur, like an entrepreneur, is the artist who realizes that in order to survive off their art they’re going to need to consider it a business. Long gone are the days of the artists spending hours at their easel or with camera in hand without any thought to what happens after their work is finished. Once their art is finished, they need to take off their artist hat and exchange it for several other hats like marketing, social media, and bookkeeping. Artpreneurs are artists who are self-employed, make art, look for opportunities that are right for them, and create opportunities where there were none before.
What It Takes to Be an ARTpreneur
The most important thing it takes to be an artpreneur is understanding that their art is their business. Just as the entrepreneur has a product or service to sell, the artist does too. While some artists may bristle at the thought of their ‘baby’ being a product, it’s that mindset that keeps too many artists in a constant state of lack – lack of patrons and lack of money. Changing their mindset to see their work as more than a creative pursuit or ‘gift’ but as a viable way to make a living is important.
The artist who wants to be an artpreneur needs to have some basic business skills. That starts with some financial know how such as an organized system of record keeping. This is nothing more than using a ledger or a good old fashioned composition notebook. The artist should take time each day to update it, especially during times when money is going out or coming in.
Marketing is crucial in business. The old school ways of marketing, a business card and a listing in the phone book, have been replaced by the Internet. Social media makes it easier than ever to market and brand oneself as a commercial artist. The listing in the phone book has been replaced by websites and a strong presence on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Instagram is the preferred place to be as the highly visual platform allows the artist to show their art and imagery in its purest form. Instagram enables an artist to build an online gallery to engage people that can lead to sales. Instagram helps artists connect with people who love art, want art, and buy art. People love feeling like they’re part of the artistic journey and Instagram lets artists share their stories, their process, and what inspires them. Every artist who wants to get exposure should be on Instagram.
Social Media is a means for artists to connect with people who not only soak up their stories but might be interested in backing them financially. Building and growing an art career often requires a partnership with those who have the funds to take the artist’s career further. Having a strong presence on social media helps artists find fellowships, crowd sources and private investors. Putting their art out there is a way for the artist to making the connections that put them on the path to being an artpreneur.
Artists who want to be artpreneurs understand they will need to spend a certain amount of time every day on tasks that aren’t making art. Some creatives don’t enjoy the business side of being an entrepreneur but it’s the only way to become an artpreneur. An organized artpreneur keeps a calendar with necessary daily tasks. Some days there are bills to pay. Some days, time may be spent replying to emails and phone calls. And some days they may spend hours booking exhibits, looking for art fairs, or schmoozing with people who can get them where they want to be. Making sure important business tasks get done while leaving time to pursue the work they love comes down to time management, another business skill artpreneurs cultivate.
Why Artists Should Adopt the Mindset of an ARTpreneur
For the artist bristling at the idea of their art being a business, becoming an artpreneur might not be for them. Pursuing art for the sake of pleasure or a hobby with an occasional sale might be enough for some artists. However, for the artist who is interested in making a living from their art, adopting the mindset of an artpreneur is the first step.
Becoming an artpreneur is not about getting rich but about giving yourself the ability to afford a life in which you can create your art and thrive financially. The myth of the starving artist dies at the feet of the artpreneur. In art communities everywhere, there are artists who are thriving. They have learned how to integrate the creative and business worlds. Taking on the mindset of an artpreneur allows artists to spend time doing what they love, create what they envision, and not worry about paying next month’s rent. The artpreneur is an artist who creates whatever they are inspired to without concern of how the art world will perceive it. They’re not waiting on the sidelines for a gallery or show to accept them. The world already does.
How Ashley Longshore Became an ARTpreneur
Contemporary artist Ashley Longshore is the poster child for the artpreneur world. With a degree in English, Longshore is a self-taught artist. During a semester in college that she took off to paint, Longshore spent her time creating her own versions of Picasso’s paintings. The recreations led her to build a portfolio she lugged around her small town of Missoula, Montana. It also resulted in her first art show in a gallery in the same town. Longshore’s ability to market herself led to an opportunity for exposure few artists get – her artwork was featured in the box office hit movie Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I.
Longshore knew art school teaches students that success depends on galleries. Galleries outside her hometown thought she would never make it. Longshore’s mind was in artpreneur mode when she asked herself how she could build her empire without them both. Adopting the artpreneur mindset, Longshore took to Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms to get her work in front of people and find buyers. Taking control of the direction of her art career, she saw the potential to thrive from her art.
Longshore’s artwork hangs in the homes of celebrities like Blake Lively. While some artists may continue to bang on gallery doors, Ashley Longshore is the epitome of the artpreneur. She is an artist who recognizes her art as a product and takes her cues from the entrepreneurial world, continuing to thrive as an artpreneur.