The Trend of the Artist Entrepreneur

Macchia by artist Dale ChihulyIt used to be that being an artist meant not making money (“starving artist”) except for a tiny few who hit the big time (such as Dale Chihuly).

But Steve King, a member of our Small Business Trends Expert network, has been profiling the trend toward artists combining entrepreneurship with art.  He points out how people are choosing art as their life’s passion and learning how to make a business of it, too, to support themselves and their families.

A few months ago over at the OPEN Forum site, he wrote about the artist entrepreneur, noting 3 underlying trends supporting this broader trend toward combining business and art skills:

” … [W]hile making a living as an artist continues to be difficult, 3 broad trends are combining to create new opportunities for artist entrepreneurs:

1. Consumer interest in unique, one-of-a-kind or handcrafted products is growing, broadening the market for works of art.

2. The Internet is creating new and effective methods for tech savvy artists to find an audience – and for art buyers to easily find art that interests them.

3. Technology is reducing the costs of producing many types of art, allowing artists to price at levels that attract new buyers and expand the art market. Technology also gives artist entrepreneurs the ability to create and manage small businesses with multiple revenue streams. This greatly increases the likelihood they will generate enough revenue to succeed.”

This past week the New York Times also picked up on the topic, citing Steve’s article and writing about several artists who are making a living through their art.  The New York Times article mentions Dr. Elliot  McGucken’s course in artist entrepreneurship, which teaches artists that they should have the skills to profit from their creations.

This is a welcome development.  It’s great to see artists who figure out how to cost-effectively produce and sell their artwork, and otherwise are able to combine entrepreneurship with their creative sides.

We used to own an art gallery, and were literally stunned when we started dealing with artists in a business relationship for the first time.  Many did not have practical business skills — and a surprising number lacked even basic organizational skills.

They’d move and leave no forwarding addresses so that it was impossible to send them payments for consigned work.   Some would go weeks or months without returning phone calls or answering letters or emails — even though you were trying to buy more of their work.  They’d take months to cash checks!

A large percentage of artists had no record-keeping system or accounting system — NOTHING, not even pencil and paper.  Some artists would completely forget which artworks they had delivered to you and their prices.  Although we never cheated anyone, I can imagine that many artists were flat out cheated for the work they so lovingly created.

Consider that if art is your life’s calling, shouldn’t you make a fair profit from it, too?  What’s wrong with that?


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

12 Reactions
  1. The combining of business and art is evident at our local college, Hood College. The head of the pottery classes was a former real estate client of ours. She is one of the first to combine business classes with her pottery classes. This innovation has set Hood College’s Arts Department in the forefront. She has branched out into 2-week summer sessions for those who are not interested in the full curriculum.

  2. As a graphic artist and a small business owner I know exactly what you are talking about. I studied fine art in college and not a single minute was spent talking about how to sell your work. In the art world commerce is often seen as a something to be avoided. It is nice to see that attitude shifting. However it should always be remembered that commerce is to art as water is to a boat; just enough will keep it afloat but too much will sink it.

  3. It’s great to hear that artists are taking the skills they were gifted with and using them to try to build a nice profitable business. Sounds like they could benefit from taking a small class on running a business with only the basic skills. It is surprising that if they are trying to live off of their art, they don’t make more of an effort to keep track of their sales.

  4. This really hits close to home. I also do the singer/songwriter thing and I’ve started to approach my music as a business. Right now I’m in the process of recording my first album and I think my business start-up experience has really played a positive role in the development of my musical persona.

  5. Anita,

    Interesting to hear that you have owned a gallery.

    My good friend Christer Sjöback has created a perfect jewellery collection for the businessman and the supporter of a free market. Check out his dollar sign collection at

  6. Minneapolis artist

    My college actually had a class just for teaching the fine art students what to do when college was over. Their were a couple of really helpful little books that they had us read, that I think would be really helpful for you. If I can find them I will email it or add it to the comments wall.

    Best of luck. Beautiful work by the way.

  7. When it was time for me to begin thinking about college, my father made a deal with me: he’d pay for my schooling, if I would figure out a major that would prepare me to be able to support myself. Translation: he didn’t want his daughter to be a starving artist, or to have to depend on a man to support her. Quite progressive for a father in the late 60’s. Thank heavens he didn’t tell me I could be a nurse, secretary, or teacher!

    Together, we discovered graphic design, something I’d never heard of before. It had art in it, so I was in, and you could get a job doing it, so it fit Dad’s criteria. Today, because of my father’s guidance, I own a marketing communications firm — and it will celebrate its 25th anniversary January 1, 2009.

    Art and business do mix. Thanks, Dad.

  8. WOW! This is some really great stuff!

    I have to say, that even though I hated some of my early day jobs, the basic business education I received as a result has been priceless to me as an artist entrepreneur. (LOVE that title BTW!)

    When I was in high school, I was serious about being a musician and went to a summer music camp that not only taught you about music, but about the business of music. What a find!

    Looking back, I think I’ve been lucky to have been pushed to become at least somewhat competent in the business aspects of the arts.

  9. Would further information regarding setting up an art business> esp from minneapolis artist,regarding the small books he was referring too> am setting up a small art studio and things are slow going. Off campus work is fine but would like to get people to the studio!!

  10. Love this article as it applies not just to still artists, but all artists. We’ve written about this very topic at IndieGoGo – online marketplace that provides filmmakers the tools to build, manage and engage their own audiences while also raise money through fans. We call it (Do-It-With-Others) Filmmaking. Kevin Kelly (former Wired Magazine editor) calls it “1000 True Fans.” If a filmmaker can build her fanbase to let’s say 1000, and she provides interesting content to warrant each fan spending $100, then that filmmaker is making a living ($100,000) making film. Maybe the number is 5000 at $20 each for other filmmakers, depending on their fanbase, but the concept of crowdfunding is in effect at IndieGoGo and just a part of how filmmakers are increasingly embracing their entrepreneurial sides.

  11. Great Article! As a jewelry artist myself, I can attest to the opportunities the web has provided for me that I would not have had access to 5 years ago. It’s easier and more affordable than ever to market yourself as an artist – it’s just a matter of how much you want to dig in. The possiblities are endless!

  12. Almost six years later and I think this article is still very relevant. I’d love to make a (full) living as an artist, not just in bits. And part of it, a crucial part of it, is entrepreneurship. The sweet spot is where purpose, passion, creativity and financial abundance meet. I’d like that.