The business of creativity (part 1)

Culturally, we’re sorted into two summer camps, typically just after we can walk and talk. The artists get put on one side of the lake. They’re the empathetic, artsy-fartsy kids who’d rather daydream and draw and write all day. On the other side of the lake, the practical kids learn about science and math and business—and talk about the companies they want to run when they grow up.

(At the end of summer there’s a dodgeball tournament that always ends in the art kids crying in the corner, soaking the t-shirts they painted themselves, earlier that morning.)

Why is empathy associated with art and not business? And, maybe more importantly, why does the word empathetic include the word/root pathetic?

I am in the business of creativity. This has taken many forms over the last 20 years, but the common thread is that my work, my interests and where I seem to make the biggest difference is at the intersection of creativity and commerce. I paddled out into the middle of the summer camp lake and set up shop there.

I’m honest about the fact that I enjoy making money off my art. A purist (also known as a delusional person) might think that I’m a sell-out. I trade art for dollars by selling products, courses, writing, sponsorships and more.

I love selling out—I do it on a daily basis (sometimes many times a day). It means someone is willing to trade their money for my creativity. It’s pretty much the best.

How I can easily come to terms with being a sell-out is that while I let money guide my work and its direction, I don’t let money change my work. To be more clear: I would never do something for a buck that I wouldn’t do for free if I could. And I definitely wouldn’t do anything that doesn’t align with my values as a creative.

As a society, creating this separation is one of our dumber accomplishments. Commerce has the ability to ruin, dilute or sully creativity, for sure. Throughout history, well meaning artists have been taken advantage of by business (just look at the music industry). But it doesn’t have to. In fact, the more creatives know and get savvy about commerce, the better artists they can become.

I treat business the exact same way as I treat my writing, speaking and design work: as a way I can stretch my imagination to accomplish what needs doing.

Savvier artists than myself do the same thing (only better). Commerce is simply another type of creative skill that can completely align with who you are as an artist. And if you’re in control of it, then you get to call the shots.

But you’ve got to make sure your art makes business sense. This will easily take up half of your time. If you aren’t cool with being in the business of your creativity, that’s fine. Do art on the side and make a living elsewhere. There’s no harm, shame or problem with that.

But if you are interested in having a long-term career in trading creativity for commerce, then you’ve got to figure out how you’ll get paid and how you can ensure that you getting paid will happen – consistently and bring in enough to support your life.

Maybe as a society we should be interested in tearing down the two separate camps and building a new one in the middle—which happens to be the middle of the lake, so it’d have to be underwater (which would be pretty fucking cool, right?!)