Deep Thought Thursday: Does money change things?

Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring.—Hugh MacLeod in Ignore Everybody (page 64)


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34 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Does money change things?”

  1. Um, with all due respect to Hugh, my reaction to that is – sometimes.

    It depends on the artist and how they react and deal with selling. How they continue with their practice and to what extent they take into account “sellability” and decide to alter their work for it. The blame isn’t on the money – personal choice comes into it. Let’s take responsibility for our decisions.

  2. Then there is van Gogh, who sold nearly nothing and yet suffered mightily.

    I think the key is in the line: “The more you need money, the more people will tell you what to do.”

    Also, it’s fair to mention that Hugh is an advertising guy. Ad guys get told what to do all the time, and they take it and take it and take it. It becomes a habit. It may be he’s still disentangling himself.

  3. I’m not sure about this one – but I’d love to test it thoroughly, along with “money can’t buy happiness”… ;^D

    – Jack

  4. I tell any client up front that I retain full creative control. If they don’t like the product they don’t have to buy it but I retain the 50% upfront fee I charge for commissions. All of my clients though have been familiar with my work prior to approaching me for a commission though so they are already aware of the kind and quality of work they will receive.

    I would say though if art is nothing but a business to you then your likely to lose passion and compromise your work for the almighty dollar. I have a full time job outside of art as well which helps me to be selective and turn down a commission if it is something I’m not comfortable with.

  5. The lack of money is a major distraction to say the least. In a perfect world, it would be great to wake up every morning and be free from the constraints of a client’s wishes. But when your art business pays for say, health insurance, for your family, then it gets more complicated. It’s always a daily battle around here to balance the have to’s and the want to’s, but there a certain joy that comes with also helping your family to pay bills. So pay bills and fight for joy!

  6. I’m with Laura on this one: pay the bills and fight for joy! MacLoed’s statement is far too absolute for me. I’ve found that the need for money can be a great motivator and a tool to make your art better, it can drive you to focus on what’s important and what in your art connects with people. I’d rather turn out hundreds of pretty good pieces that I can sell than make one single masterpiece in obscurity, and the irony/paradox of this is that the turning out of the hundreds of pieces gets me a lot closer to being able to make a masterpiece.

    In my personal experience, I have found that the day job to pay the bills kills the joy and the creativity far more than need to make money by selling art. People generally buy what they respond to on an authentic emotional level, so you have to keep the joy in what you’re doing for it to have any success. For most people, you can only get good at what you want to do by doing it full time, and it’s really depressing and soul killing to be stuck at a day job knowing that your potential and your time is quickly slipping away.

  7. It depends if you see money as means to an end or simply an end.
    Throughout history, money has had the potential to propel art. For example, the Renaissance may not have happened if it wasn’t for wealthy families like the Medici family or the wealth of the church.

    However, if your only goal is get money, your art will suffer.

  8. People have paid for my art but I have never had anyone tell what to paint (I don’t do commissions). However, I can’t deny that if a certain subject is popular I might focus on it rather than something else. I love to paint lots fo things so why not focus on what sells if I would want to paint it anyway? Degas did that. When he need a few francs we knew that cranking out a couple little dancers would bring in some cash. And the art world is a better place for it.

  9. I have observed other artists involved with galleries abandon their creative path, when a generous patron makes known she dislikes certain colors palettes shift, disliked colors vanish! target marketing? or ? paying the bills? what is lost of the artist path when choices are made that effect creativity

  10. I disagree. I paint what’s within me, what excites me and draws me to interpret on paper or canvas. I don’t paint for the buyer. So if I have a show or am at a sale and people buy my work, that’s great. But if not, someone else will. I had work in a gallery once and the owner said I should paint roosters and hens because that was selling. They are the furthest from my interest, so I just eventually removed my work from that gallery. For me, I have to be true to myself first in my work.

  11. Hugh may be doing what he’s told because of the business he’s in, but really it’s a choice of each artist. I know many artists that do what their told, because of the choice of clients they have. And then I know other artists (my husband being one) that does what he wants, and somehow still makes his clients happy.

    When a client asks for something that my artist husband doesn’t want to do, he turns down the work. Just yesterday, someone asked for a commission in Japanese style art. He doesn’t like to do Japanese style art (he has his own distinctive style), so he referred the client to an artist who does.

    You don’t have to “swallow bullshit” unless you choose to. Artists can always draw the line, and still make money. Those that don’t know how to get quite grumpy about it.

  12. As others have already said, Hugh’s statement is an absolute. To me it sounds like he hates his job. He’s whining and we all know how Alyson feels about those guys. If he has lost his passion he should get out of the biz. Why is he still there if he resents his creativity being dictated to him?

    Yes, even artists need money to survive and thrive, but it is the individual’s choice to remain with a project or “job” that is only about the money. If one can’t work within the parameters of a potential client or supervisor then don’t take on the project or job. Sometimes a financial hit is worth the peace of mind and when it’s not, get out of there as soon as you can.

    Whose fault is it if you keep banging your head on the same concrete wall, Hugh?

  13. Paraphrased from Hugh’s book…man: I don’t know if I should be an artist or a millionaire? woman:Why don’t you just compromise & be a millionaire artist?

  14. To whom it applies: I took Hugh’s quote out of the context of a chapter. I purposely listed the page number not only so you could check it, but to remind you that it was in the middle of the book.

    I suggest putting a quote in context before you take personal jabs at someone.

    Deep Thought Thursday is here to make you think. It just so happens that you might also need to think about how you respond to something. I know for myself that I tend to respond hotly to quotes like this. This isn’t good. It’s more helpful to step back and think about where the quote might be coming from and where my (your) response is coming from.

  15. My comments stand for the quote as it is. If there is some further commentary that changes it, then posting it out of context changes the meaning the original author meant but not the comment we responded to.

    It is the same as the oft quoted “My country right or wrong” which is almost always quoted without the important continuing line. “if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

    Out of curiosity, what was the context? (And I must remember Alyson has played this game before and will likely play it again. Must remember to watch out for that. )


  16. I just bought the book, so maybe I can help…The context is actually that he is saying things he didn’t do…He points to wrong choices in quotes, & then tells you within the chapter how he got around making that wrong choice…So , he explains that he stayed in advertising because he didn’t want to have to compromise his values in his cartoons(other job), which he loves…He doesn’t mind changing stuff up in ads during his day job, but draws the line for his art…So the quote is a little orphaned without reading the book…(as all quotes generally are…) For the record, it’s a fun read & one chapter really spoke to me directly- the one about How originally you show your work(like cool locations) is as important as how original your work itself is…(this made me feel alot better about showing right now in a health supplement resource centre…)

  17. So… the point of the original blog post was not, in fact, the question asked (“Does money change things?” with a supposed comment (now known tobe taken out of context) by a specific artist to emphasize the negative aspect traditionally inherent wrt art) but rather an exercise in reacting to said quote. A bit underhanded but I should have seen that coming as Alyson has done this before.

    Must remember, it isn’t the concept posed that’s in question but rather the concept of reacting to what one reads. A totally different pedagogy.

  18. All sorts of related *surface* statements need deeper probing to uncover
    the real truth(s). For instance, many will glibly describe Warhol as a sold out artist, especially in his portraits after he’d been shot. But if you examine his later works, there are the commissioned portraits (which he did to get the funds to do his real art),and a lot of great real art (in the last two years of his life…all during his life for that matter, whether you like Warhol or not that is my opinion and increasingly art critical opinion). Warhol needed money to make his art…and he was savvy enough to get it. Just think if he hadn’t had the money what would he have produced–damn little?!

  19. Does money change things??? OMG!!!! I say YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Money changes everything. I know. I have lived many different lifestyles. I have never been super rich, but I have been super poor. Now, I am somewhere in the middle class and I LOVE it!
    If you don’t think money matters, let me tell you about living a bohemian art life in a ghetto, cockroach, mouse infested studio. Let me tell you about walking over drunks, and around prostitutes while living in an urban cultural center. Let me tell you about not having a dollar to buy art supplies and going to people’s houses and begging for leftover house paint.
    It is so different now. I live in a safe, beautiful environment. I buy art supplies in bulk online. I don’t worry about whether I can afford food or worry about going to a doctor. The list could go on and on and on.
    Oh please, be real. Of course money matters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I know about this because I have lived it.

  20. Sheree – Having money has obviously had a huge impact on your personal lifestyle. Have you found a change in either the art you create or the choices you make in your art in order to earn a living as an artist?

    I eloquently describe how unromantic starving for your art truly is. I think that those of us who have the good fortune never to have lived in those conditions tend to romanticize the life of the starving artist without thinking about the very real and sometimes tragic consequences. Thank you for that reality check.

  21. Sheree – I don’t think anyone would deny that money changes things *generally*. But the quote was about the artwork itself, and whether by selling your artwork or commissioning it the ARTWORK itself changes or suffers.

    Glad to hear things are better in your life though. 🙂

  22. Tina,
    You are assuming or suggesting I didn’t understand the premise of this discussion. I am sorry you didn’t catch the inuendo and subtlety of my comment. I will try to explain it to you. When I was poor, I made art out of found objects painted with HOUSE PAINT. Now, I make art with any kind of art supplies I want which I buy in BULK online. Does this clarify things for you. YES. The art looks different and has changed. Do you understand my point now?

  23. Michael,
    You hit the nail on the head. Being a starving artists sucks big time. This is true in regard to your art and lifestyle. Asking if the kind of art I make is different seems so obvious and such a moot point to me. Of course, my art is different. Back in the day, my art was very gritty and could be associated with a type of “found object” type art which was crudely painted and made with household materials. Now my art is far more conventional only because I use pristine canvases and expensive artist’s paints. The sentiment is similar, but the vision is for more elegant.

  24. Thanks for clarifying Sheree – I didn’t mean any offense by my reply and am sorry your experiences were so horrible, but you didn’t actually mention your art in your first reply. hence my reply. 🙁 I have my own experiences with being poor and it certainly isn’t romantic and I wouldn’t make it out to be!

  25. Money matters, but it all depends on the individual’s wants/needs in life. For myself, I decided a while back that money will not affect my work. I will draw and paint whether I make one dollar or a million dollars. It all comes down to personal choice.

  26. I just realized this and I’m a little confused why my post was taken down from this discussion. I did not take a jab at anyone, all I said was if the author stated what is quoted above then that is what “he believes.” Or did believe-that money makes you art suffer. I further went on to say that I have worked my commitments around not having to compromise in my art work, and that the money has no effect one way or the other on my art. I actually think the author has come over to my school of thought since I assume he wrote this book, his art, for pay? Did he feel his writng suffered?
    Also, there are other post here that are much more argumentative then mine, but not removed. I was not in the least bit “heated” when I wrote the post, rather calm, so I really wondered the motivation for editing such comments.Was really attributing his own written words to his feelings that outrageous?

  27. Steve: I don’t know what happened, but rest assured that I didn’t remove your comment. I don’t have a record of it and I never delete a comment from the system. Only on rare occasion will I not approve something or, even rarer, remove it entirely. I apologize that your comment was somehow lost. We appreciate hearing your thoughts.

  28. Thanks Alyson for the response. Must have been one of those cliches that happens with a computer. My post had been on the site and then I saw your comments yesterday, and noticed my comments were gone, so I assumed incorrectly that they had been removed. You know the old “Odd Couple” joke of what happens when you assume. Well, I guess I’m guilty of that. Keep up the great work, and I will continue to give my two cents, well, maybe my opinions are up to a nickel. Have a great weekend.

  29. No one has mentioned sculpture so I assume the rising price of copper hasn’t effected everyone. Unless you have lived in a black hole lately you realize the cost of foundry prices has risen dramatically in the last few years. It tends to have you work a lot in clay and leave your work draped in the corner waiting to decide whether you can afford to cast or whether it is good enough to cast. There is where the shadow falls on the creative side of a sculptor, the pressure this causes is tremendous and I don’t think that any sculptor can say it does not effect them. Creativity is a child inside that loves to run rampant and play carelessly without a care of what something is costing.

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