Making A Living At Your Art Requires Great Competence

by Randy Murray on October 8, 2013

If you want to make money from your art and only your art you can follow one of two paths: you can get lucky or you can get good.

I can’t do anything about the luck. That has more to do with winning the genetic lottery and a number of other factors generally not within one’s control. If you are so lucky, congratulations.

For the rest of us, we can express our artistic drives naturally and basically. Bang away at that piano. Draw and fill up pads. Write in stacks of journals or create endless blog pages. Go ahead. Express yourself.

But if you want to get paid, you’ll need to get better.

For almost any form of art there are long traditions of training and expertise. Do not spurn these things. You can only go so far on your own. You’ll need to understand the history, learn the language of criticism, and learn how to take in criticism and figure out what to do with it. You’ll need to learn technique. And you’ll need to devote tens of thousands of hours of practice.

I know musicians who make money because they are students of the art form. They typically supplement their performance earnings by teaching, administering (running arts businesses, managing the band, etc.), and doing other peripheral jobs. Most of the people who I know that make a living in the theater are in education. The painters, sculptors, and illustrators I know also work in marketing, construction, and product design, to name a few paying jobs.

And almost to a person every one who earns money does it because they are highly skilled at their art form. Those who do not have the skills typically do something entirely unrelated or have made choices that place other things at the center of their lives.

My choices were about family and lifestyle. And now I have the time and perspective to be a greater artist and writer. And yes, I still make a living by writing for business. I can do that because I have developed skills that make me valuable.

You might be one of the lucky ones who do something naturally and need no training or experience. I don’t know anyone like that. If you’re not that lucky you’ll need to do what the rest of us do and work at your art.

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