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The Starving Artist Solves the Problem

The Starving Artist Solves the Problem

Paul was an artist, painting in several mediums and styles. He lived in a Northwestern city known for its love of the arts, if not always its ambition.

As Paul grew up, his family and teachers encouraged him to pursue art as a career instead of just a hobby. Paul was not especially organized, as we shall see, but this idea suited him well.

What Paul lacked in motivation, he made up for in talent. During high school he was always the best artist of the class. He managed to attend college on a partial arts scholarship that left him plenty of time to paint, but other things kept coming up. When he took the time to complete his work, he was the star student. When he slept in or underwent long periods of “artist’s block,” however, he lagged behind.

Paul was recruited and highly encouraged to enter local art shows, but felt put off by the application process. Deadlines! So many forms! A $20 application fee!

He complained about these things to other local artists, who somehow managed to meet the deadlines, complete the forms, and cough up the fees. “What a waste of time,” Paul said. After the shows, the other artists talked about how they had been a major source of income and commissions, bringing many of them a month’s income from one weekend. Paul said they must have been lucky.

In fact, luck and fate were the recurring themes in Paul’s limited career. When something went well, he attributed it to his skill and talent; when something didn’t work out, he blamed others. The art world was a “scam,” he said, with no way for new artists to break in. “Being an artist shouldn’t be about answering your email,” he said to anyone who would listen. Some people thought that was funny—but no one bought any of his art.

Once in a while, Paul managed to overcome the administrative handicaps and enter an arts fair or city festival. There were other artists there, of course, but Paul stood out—he had real talent and attracted a crowd of onlookers. When people asked where they could find his work, however, he had no answer.

A while back he had seen another artist with business cards. “Those are nice,” he said. “Where do you get them?”

“Oh, it’s easy,” she told him. “You just go to this site, upload your images, and place the order.” Paul liked the idea, but never got around to doing it. He finally decided that business cards weren’t for him. After all, he was a painter, not a businessman.

Paul’s website, which he had made during an assignment in college, was similarly elusive. It included a lengthy “artist’s statement” that went on at great length about Paul’s philosophy without saying much about Paul himself. There were no prices on his site, or any info on how to pay him if someone liked his work.

Yet, because Paul was so good, several buyers eventually found him anyway, offering an average of $2,500 for an original painting. Paul accepted the commissions but never got started—there was always something else to do.

Frustrated, Paul finally realized what the missing piece was: a higher-level art degree. Yes! That was it. He ordered glossy catalogs from East Coast MFA programs, dreaming of a place where his talent would finally be recognized without the need to carry business cards.

The debtload for the programs was astronomical—more than $30,000 a year for tuition alone, not counting supplies, housing, or food. Many students began the programs and never finished, and many students who finished never actually worked in art. But Paul knew if he could get his MFA he would be “set” for life. Because the art world was a scam, this degree would secure his entry among the gifted few. If only he could get into the right program, three years and six-figures of debt later, all would be well.

By some miracle, this time Paul was only a few days late on the deadlines. Since he wouldn’t need them anymore, he canceled the commissions he had never started. With 90 days until the news of his applications arrived, he settled in to wait. The future was bright. Wasn’t it?

###

Image: MP

93 Comments

  • DebC says:

    This is perfect. Great story.

    As a bookkeeper by trade,
    I so often see half-hearted attempts at the business-side of business.
    So easy for a business to fail if you ignore marketing, communication, finances . . .

    Loved reading your book.
    I couldn’t make your Bloomington, Indiana book tour stopover, but my daughter went.
    It was a good experience; she enjoyed it.

  • Christopher says:

    Brilliant!

    “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” Not my degree, or my boss, or the hope of tomorrow. I am, today.

  • Fiona says:

    This applies in so many areas. As a writer I’ve really resisted the idea of selling my work. Having to write pitch letters did my head in. I just wanted to write novels and then have them miraculously appear in print! Self-publishing has transformed that – I now say I’m a story teller and a story seller! It’s been such a good exercise in having to find ways to promote and publicise, and more importantly to find the confidence in what I’m producing to be able to put it in front of someone and say ‘you’re going to enjoy this’. I read a great quote the other day – “What do you call a writer who persists? Published.”

  • rob white says:

    Powerful example, Chris. We grow out of our childhood bodies, but few grow out of the childhood NO’s. Those voices of “NO” are sneaky. As talented as the Artist is, he has an overwhelming echo of “NO” that will keep him struggling and starving through life. Whenever a past NO detects the slightest weakness, it pounces and vandalizes our self-confidence. It’s a slick, dirty trick – don’t buy it! When we begin to understand the motives of “NO”, we end our wrong psychological involvement with your past.

  • Julie Kucinski says:

    Love this Chris. The longer narrative is a nice break from personal dev blog rat-a-tat.

    We all know a few Pauls and occasionally he is us.

    Forwarding to a few semi-Pauls now. Thanks for an easier way to start that conversation.

  • KG says:

    Great parable of self-sabatoge! (Or is this a real life story?)

    Thanks for sharing it.

  • Brenda says:

    Boy, I can relate to this scenario! I used to be full-on like Paul. Then I learned that the key is to MOVE! What used to stop me is fear — of looking stupid; making a mistake; not having enough experience, knowledge, money, whatever…The old thought patterns still lurk in the background, but taking action beats blame and regret any day! Thanks for a terrific post!!

  • Jana says:

    This is so true of many of my artist friends. They are so gifted and yet cannot organize their way out of a paper bag. Sometimes we are our own worst roadblock. Blaming things outside of ourselves. And yet, it is because of this focus on art and creativity, they create so beautifully.

    I wish my friends could just create art and have a staff of folks whose gift is for organization and marketing who could tend to the details. Maybe even establishing a bartering system network in which people could share their specific skills with those who do not have them and in turn receive original art. Ah, in a perfect world….

  • Erica says:

    Sheesh. So easy to see what he’s doing wrong when you write it like a story. I hope my life isn’t that bad, but I’m pretty sure I’ve shot myself in the foot a few times like this, too.

  • Gene says:

    Ugh! I get a little sick to my stomach when I think about Paul. Bless his heart. Like so many other artists, he refused to try to understand the “business” of art. As a writer, I can relate.

    Chris, you’re living proof that artists must learn the business of selling art. I’ve spoken to many writers who think that all they have to do is write and let someone else worry about selling their work.

    Wrong.

    Unless you have a proven track record and/or you’re a household name, the artist must learn to market his work as well as learn the “ins and outs” of his/her industry.

    Good reminder, Chris. Thanks again. See you in Portland!!

  • Ann says:

    Paul’s attitude is typical but if you want to actually make a living as a painter, you need to get over it. You’re also a business person and that includes all those chores that go with operating a business. I’ve had to overcome that block myself and it can be very hard as that attitude is fostered in many of the unversity art schools. No one really cares as much about what you do as “you.”

  • gwyn says:

    Wow this one really hits home and pushes a few buttons. I was a bit Paul at one time. I fell for the degrees and believed that it was more luck than work that made an artists successful but that is because it is what I was taught and what I saw in my own life. My Mother and Grandmother were both starving artists and worked very hard albeit cluelessly. They both sold some work, won an award here and there and taught painting to keep afloat. I was determined to be different but did not know how. Now with the tools available on the internet I am doing everything I am “supposed” to. I blog, I tweet, I interact, I support others, etc. I get an overwhelmingly positive response to my work, I just won a n award at a locally prestigious show, BUT I am selling nothing. I have a shop on my website that is easy to navigate and I am out there everyday trying, tweaking, working hard, and creating. My passion is strong but some days (today) it feels hopeless. I feel like just another cog in a different kind of wheel. The future is bright? Please let it be so.

  • Niki says:

    I’m not sure…is this article trying to be sarcastic?

    Because aside from that, I can amazingly relate with this Paul guy, it’s basically the story of my life, eg: the ‘rare’ talented artist (or as musician, in my case) yet very underachieving all because I very lack discipline, focus (got easily bored with things), hate details, and most especially probably all those -unfortunately- business-y and marketing stuff (or should I rather say ‘tricks’ ?), I hate the latter so much actually, and similarly like Paul, often wish that our so-called “real world” doesn’t ALL revolve around “hey it’s business, nothing personal eh”, profits, marketing gimmicks, blah blah.

    Because honestly? all these ‘making-money’ stuff is seriously too dull, boring, and rigid, for a super vivid, imaginative, creative person like me

    (Note: I don’t want to sound like boasting here, never my intention! it’s just I’m totally expressing 100% what’s in my heart, as a struggling artist/musician too. and oh, I’m not that good in lying and saying “sweet stuff” too…so sadly, I am doomed/cursed in this “all-about-sweet-talks” real world?…maybe).

  • Is this a trick question? My gut immediately told me that this scenario is way too common. From my perspective, an artist should know how to promote themselves and to run their business. If you do not know how, then learn! You see, at this very second there could not be more ways to do it than ever! Some people do put the cart before the horse while others just don’t see the horse at all. While I do respect higher learning, I don’t think it should ever be confused with raw artist propulsion. Get out there on the field and play, the lessons will follow. No one has ever thrown a touchdown from the stands. Be well and stay curious and wide-eyed my peeps!

  • You and I have talked about this Chris, but I love the way you put it here.

    Art as a business is still a business. If you want to make your income from it, you have to accept that side of things. It doesn’t have to be dull & boring – there are ways to make it fun – but sometimes you just gotta suck it up and do the bookkeeping, respond to email and organize things.

    I know I’m guilty of some of Paul’s behaviours, but I think I’m lucky to be aware of when I’m shooting myself in the foot. ;)

  • Heidi says:

    I wish I had a dollar for every artist that comes to me seeking “success,” but then time-wastes; second-guesses; rejects; every opportunity presented to them.

  • Milo says:

    Great parable Chris. You just summed up what my entire blog is about in one post! And yes, I recognise parts of myself in Paul, both past and present..

  • Christi D says:

    I wish Paul could muster up the courage and time to read Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belskey – it’s a life-changer for the creative soul adrift.

  • Dan Miller says:

    Chris – man you nailed this all so common phenomenon. Yes, you could substitute “Paul” with any name out there. So many artists, musicians and writers take this approach – hoping for success, thinking the world is unfair, yet never creating a plan to accompany their talent.

  • Patricia GW says:

    A very wise man told me that there is only LUCK, TALENT, and NUMBERS. Luck comes and goes, talent you have to be born with, but as long as you’re working the numbers (always going on to the new project, always knocking on the next door, always making sure those blog posts come out every Monday and Thursday) then you’ll be successful.

  • Gayle says:

    Very effective way to get your message across. Liked it.

    Niki (above) your honesty is refreshing.

    While I think the post is amazingly effective in making it clear about the steps and the attitude that would go a long way to marketing oneself with all one’s might and feeling the fear and doing it anyway, I think perhaps, many artists and writers (of which I am one) need to ask themselves what their bottom line is and I’m not talking dollars because we all know that there are spectacularly creative and talented people who do all they could to make a living off their art and still barely make it because of the nature of the choice and the plethora of talent.

    I wonder what would happen if we made a personal choice to take money out of the equation? Then, maybe we could look at a bottom line that was based on other factors (our own pride in our work, creating beauty for others, and focused on joy and creation as the bottom line (making our money somewhere else) instead of focusing on becoming famous or getting rich, neither of which I’m opposed to.

    Just a few thoughts I had while reading the post while liking the message a lot.

  • I am laughing because I see myself in this story, and thankfully I talked myself out of going back to school to earn a photography degree. For about 5 minutes I considered it, but realized I didn’t want to put myself into more student loans (still have $35k) to pay off from grad school on another program. For me, school was a “safe” place. I love to learn. But I wasn’t growing in the areas I really needed to — facing my fears in marketing and selling myself.

    Since I have quit my job to pursue photography, more of my time has gone into learning these skills than photography. One successful photographer friend said, “my photography business is 90% business (calling clients, marketing, etc) and 10% taking pictures”. That is just the reality, unless you are financially independent and can spend all your time taking photos. Sure that is what I want, but for now, I am stepping out of my comfort zone to be successful.

  • SlowX says:

    What’s so sad is that he doesn’t need a degree, but an iPad. And not just any iPad, but an iPad2, loaded with features like WiFi, loads of RAM, central air, white-wall tires, a pretty wife/husband, and a shelfload of “Here’s What You Need to Be You” books.

    THEN He can get that degree and be happy.
    ;)

  • Gray says:

    I’ve known many like Paul. I certainly have Paul-ish tendencies, and it has been a conscious decision to move out of them. Reading and implementing some of Chris’ ideas is part of it; so is starting the “Personal MBA” self-education. I’m trying to look at the making of money as more of a game than a chore, and also seeing it as a move towards freedom to do more of what I want. One big dilemma: imposter syndrome. To quote the LoLcats, I haz it. Chris, I’d love to hear your thoughts on overcoming the “everybody’s gonna realize I’m a fake” syndrome.

  • Lisa says:

    Ouch. At first glance I scanned through and then suddenly stopped and said, wait…and went back to the top and read it. This was my story pursuing a singing career in Opera. Talent is not enough. You have to understand business or hire someone who does to help you. It’s interesting because now, I’m a recruiter for an MBA program. People come to me and think getting their MBA will get them the new dream job. Certainly an MBA will help you gain new knowledge, tools, confidence and access to a network etc, but the person has to take action to make it happen.

    Thanks for this reminder!

  • Julie Kucinski says:

    @RobWhite & @Christi D – check out the War of Art or Do the Work (currently a free Kindle download thanks to a corporate sponsor) – he calls it Resistance and nails it very well.

  • Jessica says:

    Great post, Chris!

    It’s interesting (and tragic) how frequently we choose to pursue the common path rather than the obvious one, regardless of what our art is. Effort, passion, and intentionality go a lot farther than working the rut with the rest of the masses. Thanks for the continued encouragement to shrug off the usual path.

  • Morgan says:

    I am positive I have been Paul more than once in my life. However, I’ve grown out of the ‘I shouldn’t have to sell out to be a TRUE artist’ phase.

    Now what’s frustrating, is seeing so many of my friends and people I randomly meet with so much TALENT but what are they doing instead? Going to school to get a ‘real’ degree. Or working up the corporate latter because it’s a ‘real’ job. Their reply to my questioning their choices? “It’s just a hobby, it couldn’t possibly be a real career.”

    I so wish more people would utilize their talents. As I always say, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” There are going to be extremely rough patches, but it doesn’t last forever.

    Great story!!!

  • Aileen says:

    Great story. Sad to say it, but Paul will probably disagree with the course. He probably won’t finish it, because he doesn’t seem to finish anything. He leaves everything up to fate and luck, and hates the fact it appears he has neither on this side. What he needs to do is cop on and take more chances, fill out more forms, and forget this one dimensional vision of ‘the artist’.

    I’ve always wanted to write, but I hated How-To books on writing creatively. A while later I realized that I wasn’t going to improve without them, and without feedback. Paul’s got to put himself out there more. NETWORK.

  • Eddie Hudson says:

    Wow, I could substitute my name, here. I have plenty of insight and great ideas; I even have a schedule of weekly activities…we wont discuss how rarely I execute the schedule, even the parts I supposedly love. I’ll simply say the discipline has not transformed from the other areas of my life, but it will, and soon! Thanks Chris!

  • Jean says:

    There is no substitute for putting your butt in the chair and doing the work — whether it’s writing or painting or music — and making it happen. One must also put one’s butt in the chair to take care of the business — maing the phone calls, answering the emails, doing the research, finding someone to pick up some of these details for you, using the resources and networks available to you. All the talk about how difficult or unfair the artist’s life is or the need for another degree is just an excuse for not doing the work. The business side of the creative life is not nearly so overwhelming when you create a plan for the parts you are least comfortable doing, and then work the plan, step by tiny step.

  • You can’t fix Paul. He has to fix himself. It’s sad to see this happen – especially if it’s someone we love. But the drive and ambition have to be within Paul.

    The art world is highly competitive and many talented artists don’t have the stomach for it.

  • Momekh says:

    Learn to sell. To market.
    Or to find a system that will take you where your talents should go.

    I love to give the example of Messi. Had it not been for the wonderfully well-oiled machinery of selling and distribution, Messi would be paying a monthly fees at some club to play their on weekends, instead of earning 30 million euros a year. Same talent, different seller.

  • This is also why some people really need to potentially find a trusting partner to do the work they are not capable or willing to do. Someone to focus on the “art” and someone to focus on the “art of business”. It’s unfortunate that many great artists have so much talent that is not being used to fund their life. Great post though to remind me to look at myself and make sure Im not following this path.

  • Chris says:

    Wow, I really hope this is a fiction story meant to help us all learn more about ourselves!

    The hard part about life is understanding that with any way of life there is the mundane that just has to be dealt with. It is hard, but a truth that once understood has helped me get a lot more the the enjoyable into my daily routine!

    Good luck to all the Paul’s we know out there.

  • Chris, I’ve heard this story so many times that I’ve memorized the lines. My artist friends—and “artist” includes poets, fiction writers, photographers, painters, illustrators, dancers, singers, musicians, and others—complain about their jobs. They just want to pursue their passions. But even when they have a little extra time to themselves, they fritter it away on Facebook, sleeping late, and purposeless activity. They blame our culture for its lack of appreciation for true art. They chalk up their inertia as a lack of inspiration. They have so much talent and even prophetic vision, but they always show up late to anything when they remember to show up. They sometimes start and rarely finish. They feel guilty for letting their gifts gather rust, but they don’t change their habits. They’re busy trying to use chocolate kettles to boil water. They stand to lose a great deal of joy, and the world stands to lose a great deal of beauty. I used to be an artist like that, and then I finished—finally!—a book about meeting creative goals. Change is possible.

  • Rose says:

    I can relate to Paul tremendously! I don’t have an extreme talent. But I have an extreme desire to do the best I can. I write and write and write. I bang my head on walls trying to figure out what’s missing. I work hard, extra hard, and really hard. I reach out, I ask, I observe, I read, I try but there’s just something… I’m frustrated that my words aren’t as profound as they should be. I’m frustrated that I love people but hate the constant contact they need. I’m frustrated that my health isn’t tough enough to carry me to the places I need to be. I know that right now, I’m behaving too intensely. But I’m 44 and my thick brain just can’t grasp some (simple?) information needed to get on the path to success. And I’m wore out working the ‘real’ paying jobs, where I don’t belong. I follow this blog for the hope it gives me. It ‘feels’ like I’m on the edge of almost ‘getting it’.

  • James says:

    For every talented artist who goes undiscovered there are thousands of lame artists willing to do whatever ridiculous thing possible to “succeed” and make a lot of money for folks who design flashy websits, print glossy business cards, hold sales seminars, charge submission fees for their art shows, and sell inspirational e-books.

    It’s possible for a talented artist to succeed on their own terms and without pimping themselves out for everyone else to capitalize on. Street smarts and hard work can go a long way. If it really is too much for you, get a friend or relative to help.

  • Nicky Spur says:

    I like these little parables — I often find there’s more lessons contained in a short story then there is in a set lesson. Everyone can see bits of themselves or someone else when they read this. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

  • Beth says:

    I’m laughing at how TRUE this story is. I’m an actor and certainly guilty of several of Paul’s sins. And what’s interesting is that you point out that Paul has numerous examples of how to move forward, ways he could expand his reach and grow, it’s just that he doesn’t DO any of them. Being a creative professional (and not just a CREATIVE) involves 1. realizing that there’s no magic fairy that comes and heaps riches upon you just for being talented 2. learning the ways to be professional & accessible and 3. actually doing those things.
    We get fed these stories of “discovery” from a very young age, and get disappointed when the real world doesn’t work that way.
    You just gotta keep on keepin’ on, peeps!

  • Gilliom says:

    Perhaps a lot of artists suffer from the romantic myth that they are supposed to be some kind of visionary shaman who is more sensitive than ordinary people and who should not be burdened with the drudgery of day to day life.

    Isn’t it so that an awful lot of aspiring artists secretly believe this idea to be true and think of themselves as “really really really special people”?

    And then they have to make a painting.

    You go and make a painting when you know it is supposed to be a testimony of all that inner glow and genius that is residing in your heart and mind! What if the painting isn’t all that good? What if people would suddenly discover that you are just a guy with a brush and a box of colors.

    So then they go: “No, I am not afraid to start painting! Did I need to start painting? Who says? I am an artist! Nobody tells me what to do! Did you commission a painting? I can’t be bothered remembering trivial things like that! I am an artist!” and so on…

    Yeah right…

    Perhaps, if we could just get rid of that urge to be so very special, we could actually go on and get some work done. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as it sounds. We all know that, don’t we?

  • Jaeleen says:

    Great post ~ unfortunately, I know way too many people that do this. They seem to think that they need “just one more thing ~ a degree” before they actually take a step.

  • Hector says:

    Looks like he needs a new 17 inch Mac Book Pro with all the bells and whistles. It would change his life.

  • Sue says:

    The first thing that leaps to my mind here is the fantastic opportunity this scenario presents for someone else!

    I have several friends who work full-time in artist representation – they have amazing skills at marketing, administration, etc, and the partnership allows the artists to spend their time creating while the rep spends their time promoting, selling, cold-calling, organizing, etc. Especially for truly talented artists whose work just about sells itself (like Paul’s), the deal is a win-win – both sides can make quite a bit of money from the sales (and resulting commissions for the rep). A rep can have a stable of several artists at the same time, since much of the work doesn’t need to be duplicated over and over for each artist. Plus, it’s a pretty interesting and inspiring world to work in (even though they do often tear their hair out at some of the obstructions and disorganization and ridiculousness the artists come up with!).

  • Monique says:

    This guy sounds just like both my father and brother. Both extremely talented artists who don’t and didn’t know how to sell their work. Dad died without his art ever reaching a gallery and my brother is still struggling to find a way to live off his art. Happy side to this is I married an artist is who doing the opposite. He has a strong sales side to him and knows it takes hard work to get noticed.

  • mo says:

    Inertia works with people, too.

  • Just what I needed to read this morning. I have been feeling like “this is all too much work”, “why do I bother?” and many more equally destructive emotions.
    Feeling motivated and inspired now. Thanks!

  • Elsa Xiao says:

    It is a great story because it raises many thoughts/questions in one’s head! I have been wondering lately about what is “business”? Is doing business essential to our life at the present age? “Business” occurs to me with negative impression (due to some bias that I am not fully aware of?). Is it true we can’t live without money so we can’t live without business because business makes money? And as usual, I consult with dictionary and the one I like goes: “archaic : purposeful activity”. Paul’s problem is that he has something he wants but he did not make necessary effort or put his efforts at wrong places…I got that idea. However, I am still unclear what should I think of about “business” and associate one’s life with business all the time. Maybe the solution is just the attitude: don’t think of business = making money and one needs money. I can still be a nice person and doing meaningful things to myself and to society (while making some money?) :S

  • Rosario says:

    Very true. The two ways of creativity and action should lead one to success. We are too scared of the ‘sale/business’ side in art, but after all it is about sharing your talent with people who can appreciate it.

  • Robert Gisel says:

    Is this a complete story with a bitter sweet ending? Or the first of a series? It is a truism that the artist can be exceptionally genius in his command of aesthetics and still lack the practicality to administer the business side of things. It is a good idea for such an artist to outsource his marketing and administrative when he has no affinity for these activities. N’est pas?

  • You nailed it, Chris.

    I started my online course, the Thriving Artists Project, to help bust the starving artist mindset. Just showing people that there ARE artists who are thriving makes such a difference!

    There are a lot of ways to bring in income and succeed as an artist (whatever that means to you), but sitting around and waiting is not one of them.

  • Karen Nilsen says:

    I think my generation has been sold some snake oil on the idea that more education is always the key, and now some of us are saddled with crippling debt working in fields that we really aren’t suited to. If you love something, do it. Take a class if you have to, but keep doing it, whatever it is. And don’t get me started on the other writers I know :). Most of them wonderful, talented people who just won’t take the bull by the horns–they all have some excuse or another: “writing is just a hobby”, “if I could just take one more class, I’d have my MFA and then I’d be a real writer . . .”, “self-publishing/marketing is something those evil hacks do–I’m an literary artist, not a hack”, “I need an agent, and they’re only looking for YA vampire books”, “I’m too old”, “I’m too young”, and the worst one of all “why would someone else be interested in reading this?”

    I was lucky–I had two parents who were artists and business people, especially my mother. I’m not saying our family made a ton of money–but we were happy and mom and dad sold their work. Whenever I get discouraged and wonder what to do next, I think of my folks. Great post as always, Chris, and good luck everyone!

  • ErinMargaret says:

    I have always had a long list of things that I am good at. Things that it would be easy for me to make money at if I just sat down and did them. I have yet to find the one that I am compelled to do. For now I do them anyways but it is easy to fall in the a habbit of procrastination like Paul. If art comes easy but it is not his path prehaps he needs to find a new path.

  • Jennifer says:

    You know what frustrates me about all of these “being an entrepreneur is SO WONDERFUL” sites? Just because you’re an artist or some other person who can’t get a job in a regular field that supports you with a regular paycheck and health insurance, it’s talked up that you simply HAVE to be an entrepreneur. Because there’s no other options to do what you love and still eat.

    Thing is, not all of us are GOOD at this. Not all of us have the self-motivation or money skills, even if we go to college or have good art skills. Paul to me is an example of a man who should NOT be in business for himself. He may be an awesome artist, but clearly the man doesn’t have the skills or interest to manage himself, pimp himself, and run the finances. Should he be an entrepreneur? I’m thinking the answer is NO. Maybe that wasn’t the answer you wanted us to take from reading this, but to me it kind of indicates that self-starting isn’t everyone’s thing, even if it is the only option to have an alternative career. If Paul can’t find a business nanny to take care of him entirely, he can’t have a business. And shouldn’t.

    I’m with Niki on this one. I can’t do it either. Day job for me forever, probably.

  • Thank goodness for all of the “Pauls” out there! They make it easier for those of us actually doing the work by reducing the amount of competition we meet!

  • Andrea says:

    I went to school with a whole bunch of “Paul’s” as artists we have to be business people as well. If your not good at it get someone to help you. If art is what you want to do for your living than you have to learn to make the steps to get your work out there. There is no luck in this business there is just being in the right places and making choices (good or bad) just make them don’t let inaction make them for you.

  • Karla says:

    This was a good reminder to get out of my own way, and follow through on a few basics that help me build my business. It also reminds me of how our beliefs and thoughts can so frequently imprison us. Changing your thoughts is a powerful instrument for changing how you experience and create life. Success is in taking the action, each and every time.

  • Brian says:

    Poor Paul. What a waste of time and talent.

  • Jennifer says:

    “If your not good at it get someone to help you.”

    Easier said than done, unfortunately.

  • Vicky says:

    Ouch!! (loved it!)

  • Dan Jensen says:

    I like the article. I have had a dream of my own business. It has required work and some education. I think if this artist were to depend solely on education he would get no where.

    Relying only on education empowers others but yourself. Selling youself empowers yourself. Have a dream, trust in God, believe your dream, work for it, and you will succeed.

  • What a great clarion call especially for the self-employed, whatever one’s field. If you’re planning on making a living by directly selling your talents, time, expertise, creativity, art or energy directly to end users (and not a big corporation), you’d better learn how to market. It goes with the territory but seems the #1 lesson not taught to anyone. It’s like “marketing” or promotion have become dirty words. Not so.

    Reminds me of the Sally Hogshead TEDx Atlanta video I just saw on YouTube – as Sally says “We need to get people to fall in love with us, to be fascinated by us. It doesn’t matter how incredible your ideas are if nobody knows. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most brilliant blogger but nobody reads what you write. Creativity does not operate in a vacuum. We have to be able to share our ideas.” It’s a must-watch.

    Sharing means getting in the game, getting out there, and not being shy about tooting your own horn. Thanks for the reminder Chris.

  • Elsa Xiao says:

    After talking with my friends, I kinda agree making money is not necessarily a business. Industry (mining, cutting trees, etc) is not a business. Running a farm or trading goods is not business. Tutoring students at the hours and places you like is not a business. And non-business doesn’t pay business tax. I also learned that if your are running a business, you can’t reject serving a customer. So it sounds like business is associated to some consistency (a certain place for customer to buy Paul’s painting, for example). But I am still wondering the relationship between the life and business (without running a farm, or working in industry, or academia). Is it no other way around to live a decent life standard (like I do right now: ~(25,000 – my tuition) per year) without running a business? I guess not, because I need more or less consistent income over years.

  • Bridget says:

    Do you really think that Paul’s attitude is all that’s stopping him? I’m betting he has a mental illness, a lack of self-esteem, an issue in his 3rd chakra.
    Not that he shouldn’t be motivated to do something and look outside himself, but often a bad attitude has a source that could be fixed. Maybe digging deeper in his story would be interesting.

  • Nick says:

    Speaking from experience, it sounds like Paul has ADD. It bothers me that so many people are coming down on Paul when there may be something other than following an outdated mentality and/or laziness at play here. My dad had ADD, my sister has it, I have it and before any of us were diagnosed, we made it through life reasonably okay. Once we were diagnosed and treated, the “laziness” or “lack of focus/drive” all went away. And we were all near or past 30 when we were diagnosed, we weren’t the annoying kids in school with bad grades, all AP students, all college grads, a PhD and decent in our “careers”, but going nowhere fast.

  • Etsuko says:

    I don’t think this is unique to artists. This story reminded me of this genius guy with super high IQ discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” – forgot his name, but this guy didn’t make much of his life because he lacked certain skills – such as organization or assertiveness or whatever was necessary for him to position himself where he needed to be.

    I would have liked to see slightly lighter ending with a helpful suggestion. A first-timer Paul would have just walked away reading your post, depressed, without looking around what else you have to offer.

  • Barry says:

    Well done, Chris! It’s amazing how often we miss the forest for the trees – concentrating on the detail of the sale and missing the rest of the business. This is what musicians have been speaking about for years, saying “we make music, but where is all of our money?”

    There’s a fascinating flipside to this, too – if you know the business side well, you don’t have to be especially good at the precise service itself. I’m in the middle of writing a post on exactly this topic, and hope to have it up soon. Thanks for the motivation!

  • Victoria says:

    Hey! That was me in the design industry some years ago. I wasn’t getting many clients, because I basically hated marketing (or I didn’t know how to do it, found every excuse not to) so I thought I’d “wait.” I took a teaching job while waiting, and I enjoyed it much, MUCH, more; and discovered that I was a way better teacher than a designer. I also discovered that this is where I make a difference.

    The “waiting” period actually put me on the path I’m meant to walk, and the journey is one that I am so loving! There’s less money, but I hardly notice.

    Hopefully Paul’s waiting time will be just as life-changing.

  • GutsyWriter says:

    Sadly, someone with less talent than Paul, and more marketing skills can do better in today’s world.

  • Nick says:

    Wonderful! (as always). Thank you. My wife, Ming-Zhu, has written a post inspired by you that includes a celebration of the brilliant German artist Uli Westphal that you might also like to take a look at. Thank you again for your wisdom and pithy relevance.

  • Debora says:

    OK, you’re hitting me where it hurts!

  • Karen Divine says:

    It seems he has a ways to go before he figures out that what is important is taking action and creating his artwork, doing what moves him. He is still stuck in externals. All that matters is that he pull his energy in and focus on the actual creation…that’s what is important here first. Marketing and promoting his artwork is secondary and useless until he figures out the first problem.

  • Ren says:

    Artistic talent brings beauty and truth to this world. It is like ripping the wings off of sacred beings when you have been gifted with talent and don’t bother to explore it, expand it and share it.

  • Hugh says:

    I love this post and all of the brilliant comments! As an echo, we all know too many people like this and we all have a little bit of Paul in us at times. The key is to recognize the Paul in us and do something about it – live our lives actively instead of passively.

    This brings to mind one of my all-time favorite movie quotes, from A Bronx Tale: “The worst thing in life is wasted talent.”

    Have a kick-ass weekend everyone!

  • Hi Chris, thanks for this story – stories really resonate with us because they gradually reveal details that subconsciously insert us into the plot!

    This post made me wonder: What happened to the whole Renaissance period and way of thinking? I think about my life and how I feel like I am living and growing so much more when I am consistently wearing different hats.

    It seems that there is a current perception of having to fit into one role, becoming a specialist or expert – this can be really frustrating to someone who thrives on learning and building expertise in a lot of different areas. I think there’s a lot of fear also of trying new things.

    Thanks for reminding us to step out and be the renaissance man once in awhile to be a DaVinci type scientist and an artist. It’s not only okay to be multiple things, it can be essential to your success. Thanks for the encouragement to EXPLORE!

  • So true. Not always the best goes the farthest. Very interesting and thank you.

  • Karen says:

    To everyone recognising their ‘artist/musician/writer’ friends in this story, please don’t limit yourselves. I am none of the above, and yet I completely recognise myself here. Thanks for the story Chris, it’s give me the massive boot up the butt to get moving. Deadlines are looming, and like some forgotten character in some book I once read, I [used to] love[d] the sound they make[made] as they rush[ed] by. Today I learn to tie a lasso and practice swinging that thing.

  • Donna says:

    I’ve got a couple of thoughts. One is that I recognize myself in that I really have no interest in learning about marketing, however much I realize its necessity. I do the work of “learning” about it, attending seminars and reading books, but it doesn’t stick or it seems like an amount of work that it’s difficult to decide to invest in activities that may or may not pay off. BUT the other is to remember my Fashion Institute of Technology training and why I would sell that school to anyone with ambitions to earn a living in the arts. After a one-year intensive textile design program that began 9 days before 9/11 and ended the next May, sending us into the worse market ever to find a job, I not only knew my textile design skills, I knew how to go about making a living with them. Slowly, freelance to part-time-to full-time, I came to the point that I can say truthfully that I earned my living in New York City as an artist. I’m not in NYC anymore, and not earning my living as an artist, and wishing I knew how to market myself effectively. This post reminds me that I do know that. I just need to use what I learned in a new location.

  • Khaled allen says:

    I definitely see myself in this story as well as most of the really talented people I know. It seems that businesspeople are willing to do the hard work and sell great stuff and make a name for themselves even when they aren’t as good as some of the artists who are too lazy to do the work of selling their stuff. When I read the craftsman creed on Personal MBA it changed how I saw self promotion and it made a lot more sense. I recommend it for anyone who wants to make a living doing their craft. Great story chris, thanks for sharing.

  • I am a great fan of yours, however this post left me a little unenthusiastic. I can relate to Paul, but I also work hard at the business side of my art practice. So hard that we have turned the downstairs of our home into a gallery/shop. We live in a very touristy area but the only people who call in are artists and they don’t have the money to buy any of my work. I have tried so many things to get people to come in, from advertising free art classes, live music mornings with coffee and pastries to a table to sit and be creative at with free art materials by the gate, with the words “feed your inner artist here”, my 5 year old daughter was the only person who did. I do all the tech stuff too with the help of my husband but I have only sold a grand total of 5 euros worth of art all year, three very small sales. I have a Masters degree but that does not sell art.
    Thank you for sharing all of your inspiring living.

  • AJ Silvers says:

    This reminds me of conversations I used to have with other writers I met on my degree. Some stubbornly held on to the idea that if they wrote the perfect novel/screenplay/script that the world would reward them.

    As a writer there are two key components to having a best selling book – the book and the selling. Any trip in to a highstreet bookstore shows that good selling tends to compensate for average books and I can guarantee there are some amazing books and scripts gathering virtual dust on hard drives all across the planet because of similar ‘Paul-like’ attitudes.

    Some times that artist’s struggle is not with their art but with the everything but their art.

  • Ome says:

    I had to read the story twice to get the idea … the summary is talent + hardwork is needed … you may have all the talent, but the work needs also to be done… thank you … I think I see Paul in me with my side ventures :/

  • The fact that he completed a piece of work and had the courage to sell it even once to the public to me is a victory in and of itself. The truth is I don’t know enough about this guy in order to make a subjective judgement. Maybe this person has so many mental obstacles and inner demons that the pieces of art he was able to create in spite of all the negativity he experiences from within was to him the “victory”. Maybe in his own mind he’s a success because he was able to overcome all of his self-defeating thoughts and create these beautiful pieces of art. Maybe the next level on this path he will have to muster up more strength from within since it seems like he’s on his own on this journey of his. Just because other artists do and have done what others think he should be able to do doesn’t mean it’s easy for him to do so; and it also undermines the efforts of the other artists who were able to become successful financially. Other people dismissing what this guy was able to do as merely God given talent kind of undermines what he has been able to do and has done. As far as we know, it took everything he had in order to create these pieces of art.

  • Sheila says:

    Surely you mean Vincent Van Gogh? This portrait (minus the degree program) could fit him in many ways. I was struck with the similarities with artists of the last century and a half. This is a deeply engrained bias. Artists must starve for their art, not because of it. Of course, the reality is something different and more managable. Like AJ (above) says, there are two components–the art and the selling, or the book and the selling, or the invented thing and the selling. Thanks for the shaft of light.

  • Jean Burman says:

    Yep… artists are an easy target. Just ask Vincent… [the world never got him either] But look whose laughing now [even if he is now technically dead and therefore unable to enjoy it] ;-)

    The reality is that left brainers will never entirely comprehend the challenges of the right brain genius striving to live and work in a predominantly left brain world. Personally I think we should cut them some slack.

    Never before have artists had to struggle so hard to survive… unsupported as they once were by wealthy patronage… undervalued for their contribution to civilisation culture and society… and now wilfully misunderstood and maligned for their motives [or perceived lack thereof]

    I’m kind of sad for what’s been lost… and long for the day when artists may once again receive the respect and support they have long deserved from a fast moving society that is too quick to judge on its own narrow standards.

    Not all artistic success can [or should] be measured in simple $ terms. An artist’s contribution and net artistic worth should be so much more than his or her bankable income.

    [No... it's not what everyone else is saying... but this is the Art of Non Conformity isn't it... and I've always been a non conformist]

  • Great story! Funny. And, while I don’t want to “blame” others – after having gone to art school and working in the commercial arena for many years, when you spend good $$ on college, the least they can do is spend more than one or two classes at the end of your many years studying art, on business skills. How to be an Artist not just an artist.

    The real world is where I get/got my business skills. Had the schools incorporated these lessons with more focus on internships, thing would have been much different! Why is that so much to ask?

  • Planner2015 says:

    I think we all know a Paul, and maybe can see some Paul in ourselves if we’re willing to admit it. You are correct that, unless you are in the minoritiy of people who are independently wealthy, you must be concerned with the business side of your art.

    If the starving artist won’t take care of business, no one will. Take care of business now, and (one day) when he is no longer starving, he can hire a team to take care of business. For now, he must be the head cook, chief bottle washer, and yes, artist.

    Or he can just be unremarkable for the rest of his life. But if that were enough, he wouldn’t be reading this blog.

  • Wyman says:

    Great post,

    It sounded like all the excuses I use to make. Scary!

    Sounds like he needs one of us as a business marketing partner.

    Lots of product owners on pages 2-???? on Google search. Go for them.

  • Loved this post Chris. Thanks for writing it. I read it just before a client arrived for her coaching session with me this morning; a client who wants to succeed in the arts world.

    As a result, we spent the whole coaching session unpacking Paul’s story and looking at where she had:
    - been put off at the first hurdle
    - had assumed someone was lucky rather than seeing their real efforts
    - blamed others rather than turning within
    - created a story about her industry
    - not taken easy practical steps for people to find out about her
    - developed a story about what an artist should and shouldn’t have to do and then used that not to pursue her dream
    - become busy with insignificant tasks.

    She walked away with an entirely new understanding of herself and her actions.

    Thanks for the inspiration and for helping to change people’s lives. Elegant, clear and truthful writing at its best. :)

  • Jack Shealy says:

    A good friend sent this article to me. I guess I am going to change my name to Paul…

  • Lea says:

    This is me to a fault. I need to print this out in a big bold font and put it somewhere I can see it every day.

  • Sounds like a lot of people I run into every day (including myself a not so long time ago).

    And yes, Paul, you are a businessman—or should be.

    By the way, sweet looking site, Chris.

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