From Struggling Artist to Successful Creative Entrepreneur

From Struggling Artist to Successful Creative Entrepreneur

A couple of years ago, Damien Hirst shocked the art world by painting his own canvases.

Much like another of his contemporaries, Jeff Koons, Hirst is quite infamous for hiring teams of artists to work on his collections of art under his supervision.

On the other hand, Vincent van Gogh, universally acclaimed as one of the greatest artists of all time, sold only a few paintings while he was alive. Even though a prolific artist, he only found fame after his death.

The stereotype of the starving artist is romanticized to this day. The artist as a solitary genius, the creator of beauty so sacred that we can’t help but love and fear at the same time.

“He’s a true artist,” we find ourselves saying, and it’s these words that conjure up the vision of someone whose inexorable destiny has always been to create, even at the expense of having to endure a lifetime of poverty and frustration and social alienation…

The true artist is often misunderstood. They’re utterly and inconsolably alone with their art.  They hide behind the walls of their studios and offices, refusing any sort of contact with the outside world.

But times are changing.

In the past, becoming a successful artist was often determined by art critics, collectors, and publishers. The so-called gatekeepers. Nowadays, as the gatekeepers are no longer in power, the artist is slowly becoming a creative entrepreneur.

The artpreneur has to design an online brand, has to build an online presence, has to be up to date with the latest social media marketing trends and platforms.

In other words, the modern artist is an influencer first, an entrepreneur second, and lastly, an artist.

It’s not enough to pour your heart into a piece of art. You’ve got to craft a story around it, and you’ve got to provide enough social proof to attract potential buyers.

The artists of the world have little choice in the matter: they can choose to die as artists, starved for applause, fighting for a cause few understand. Or they can live long enough to see themselves become creative entrepreneurs.

Art is no longer seen as a spiritual journey.

The artist is no longer compared to a holy man; inspired, like a prophet; in touch with an unseen consciousness that grants talent, vision, and inspiration.

Art, like all religions as they age, has become an industry. It is an uncontrollable process. The artist, the genius, has become a creative entrepreneur.

This is not the side-effect of social media, this is the side effect of the world of art slowly becoming an industry. From the old masters of the Renaissance having apprentices working for them, to the nobility of the seventeenth century sponsoring artists, to Andy Warhol‘s Factory.

This is not the side-effect of the rise in popularity of eBooks. This started with the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg.

This is not about mass production but about being able to reach more people than ever before.

The artist has become a creative entrepreneur; day-to-day decisions resemble taking care of a business.

Gauguin, van Gogh, or Francis Scott Fitzgerald decided to die as artists rather than become creative entrepreneurs.

A lot of individuals choose the same route nowadays too. They are frustrated by social networks, they are frustrated by the lack of gatekeepers. Yes, the gatekeepers are mostly gone, but you still have to knock on an awful lot of doors before you earn a bit of income from your art.

The emerging culture of creative entrepreneurship enables you to promote, sell, and deliver directly to the consumer, but finding the consumer and convincing them to buy your art requires a lot of time and effort.

Social media has made art more accessible than ever before. Here, it’s no longer about the gatekeepers, about building and leveraging relationships. On social media, anyone can follow Damien Hirst or Banksy. Anyone can like, comment and share, thus enhancing an artist’s influence and their marketability.

Granted, there’s nothing artistic about having to build your brand, your network, your social media presence.

Online marketplaces, self-publishing platforms, nonprofit incubators, collaborative spaces; it’s all become an exhausting environment for the creative who values freedom above all else.

Creative entrepreneurship is far more interactive, at least in terms of how we understand the word today, than the model of the artist-as-genius, turning his back on the world, operating within a relatively small and stable set of relationships.

No gatekeepers, no rules, means you’ve got to do everything yourself.

We now live in a world of working towards 10,000 followers on social media, rather than investing 10,000 hours of practice towards mastery.

And so, today’s artists must aim for maximum engagement. They must tweak, iterate, and optimize. They must scale.

The creative entrepreneur is all about maximizing profits. They're far more interested in developing the right connections or being able to diversify their portfolio. The creative entrepreneur can be a poet and a painter at the same time, and thus their reach is enhanced. The creative entrepreneur is acutely aware of what sells, why, and how to best follow trends to increase their influence and income.

The creative entrepreneur wants to optimize, while the artist just wants to feel.

The creative entrepreneur thinks in terms of ROI, while the artist puts everything into their art.

The creative entrepreneur wants to build a network of followers and associates, while the artist wants to create as much art as possible.

The creative entrepreneur has ideas, the artist has ideals.

The artist is the dreamer of dreams, the one who’s brave enough to live the kind of life most others don’t understand. The creative entrepreneur, on the other hand, wants the rewards but does not have time for passion.

And this is what it all comes down to: passion. It means to suffer. It means to be patient in suffering for a worthy goal.

The artist is all about passion. The creative entrepreneur is all about profit.

And the truth is that in this brave new world, we must choose one or the other.

On one hand, artists have access to a platform that enables them to reach out to fans and potential customers alike. They can easily design and sell prints in a couple of hours, without ever having to purchase an initial stock.

At the same time, they don’t have to rely on the patronage of a few wealthy customers, or on the whims of art dealers and galleries.

On the other hand, they have to develop an additional skill set. Or several. Their work is the product, and thus they have to market the product, sell it, and portray an attractive brand image. There’s less time to create, absorb art, brainstorm ideas with fellow artists.

Not when your email inbox is full of inquiries from prospective customers.

But, of course, the alternative is obscurity.

With over 50 million creators in the content creator ecosystem, there's no doubt about it: you either die an artist or live long enough to see yourself become a creative entrepreneur.

The content creation sector is one of the fastest-growing spaces, and the landscape is continuously evolving, but how do you leverage your art in order to become a creative entrepreneur?

In this deep dive, we'll share a few basic aspects of the creator economy, and then we'll try to build a workflow to help you make the switch from struggling artist to creative entrepreneur. We'll also share with you 3 different models, based on 3 of the world's top artists: Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso.

What Is a Creative Entrepreneur?

In order to understand what a creative entrepreneur is, and better understand the creator economy, it’s useful to draw an analogy to an economic force most people are already familiar with: the car.

The introduction of the automobile changed the world.

It changed where people worked (towns grew into cities), where they lived (the invention of suburbs), and of course, how they traveled. The car also led to countless adjacent businesses: drive-thru restaurants, drive-in movie theatres, auto mechanics, gas stations, tire companies, and the list goes on and on.

In this new era, the internet is the car.

Because of this new technology, unprecedented industries have arisen. Once again, people have changed where (and how) they live, work, and play.

The creator economy represents the next phase in the internet’s possibilities.

What Is the Creator Economy?

The creator economy is the blanket term used to describe the new career and business landscape made possible by the internet.

The creator economy enables individuals to:

  • Turn passion projects into sustainable incomes
  • Reach narrowly defined niche audiences from around the globe
  • Gain a greater degree of control over their creative and financial futures.

Both the growing scale and quickening pace of the creator economy is astonishing. A summary article from Indie Hackers indicated that the biggest platforms supporting creators, such as Patreon and Twitch, now help millions of users earn money online.

Creative entrepreneurs are the "adjacent businesses" made possible by the internet, along with the tools and platforms that support their work, much like the industries that came about because of automobiles.

Movements often come with their own unique language. The creator movement is no different. Here are a few keywords to keep in mind when navigating this new economy.

Passion economy – Regularly used as a synonym for the creator economy, it can also apply to non-digital native businesses (i.e., brick and mortar companies) that possess a more sustainable value system than incessant growth and profit.

Content – The thing being created, such as video, text, audio, or images.

Monetization – The method of making money from one’s creation. Different types of monetization include direct support, subscriptions, and product sales.

Community/Audience – The people who consume what you’ve made and support what you do (e.g., subscribers, readers, followers).

Ownership – The ability to communicate directly to your audience without needing to go through middlemen or submit to algorithms (i.e., owning your own platform and email list versus publishing a video to YouTube that your subscribers may or may not see).

New media – Digital communication technologies that replace or innovate upon traditional media solutions.

  • Television → YouTube
  • Radio → Podcasts
  • Newspapers → Newsletters
  • Books → Blogs

How to Become a Creative Entrepreneur

The best strategy for getting started in the creator economy can be summarized in one sentence:

Create what you can with the skills you have for the people you know.

Starting something new can feel intimidating for novice creators, especially when new technologies are involved. What’s most important to remember is that starting small has its advantages. It allows you to experiment, change, and improve before too many eyeballs are paying attention.

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