Saturday, September 13, 2008

What’s in your Wallet? Better question-- What’s in your Savings and Studio?

What’s in your Wallet? Better question-- What’s in your Savings and Studio?

When people think about artists they often think about people living a bohemian lifestyle. They imagine a group of people who are not concerned with financial or material gain and that are instead only focused on what they can gain and give creatively. That image--that myth-- is supported by the popular image of what it is to be ‘an artist’ that is depicted in many novels and films. It does not help that many artists adhere to the big screen philosophies of those stereotypes. However, most artists that I’ve known are very concerned about their finances and they don’t necessarily desire to be one of the ‘have nots’ simply to fit some noble image of selflessness. In fact, I think the majority of us strive to give something back to our community-- and to ourselves-- while exploring creativity, AND to get something in return be it respect, money, or both. I know, I know… some of you will say that art is about creating not about money… but know that I can point you to examples of people with that same philosophy who still place a price tag on their art. I’m just being realistic… so do not throw me to the lions yet-- I’ve had enough of those try to maul me in the past in the form of credit card debt. That is why I think it is important for artists to think about their finances in advance.

Times are tough. Gas prices near my residence just passed the $4 mark again. To put it bluntly, the economy is in the hole and the decisions you make with your money now may have a major impact on your future. This goes for everyone, but especially artists because when the economy is bad creative futures-- as in the future of your art and practice-- are often in peril. Why? Because with rising prices comes the rising expense of buying the materials of our creative process as well as an increase in fees for the promotion that we need in order to further gain exposure. In other words, the mediums you take for granted today-- in that you have them at your disposal-- may end up being the mediums you can’t afford tomorrow. I’m concerned that people may have to reduce or restrict their creative capacity because they did not think ahead. I understand that we all fall on hard times, but if I can share some wisdom and perhaps prevent someone else from making the same mistakes I made in the past I will do so. It is as simple as that.

As a painter I’ve fell a few times myself. I can remember having to buy acrylics because I could not afford oils… and then using donated inks because I could not afford acrylics-- and that was when the economy was ‘better‘. I will not say that it was a bad experience because I learned to appreciate acrylics and inks as a medium. However, with the current state of the economy what would have been considered a minor financial setback a few years ago can very well become a financial pitfall today. A setback today like the one I had in the past would have placed my creative future on the rocks more so than it was at that time. I guess you could say that I learned a valuable lesson about allocating my financial resources when I was unable to afford what I wanted to use and that it has made me a bit wiser today. I learned to think ahead and I think it is time for all of us, especially artists, to think ahead due to the times that we are facing. That is not to suggest that I know more than anyone else-- I just want to share what little wisdom I have.

So what should artists do to prevent-- or at least stave off-- financial pitfalls? Simple. Establish a nest egg for your creative endeavors. The way I see it artists have two paths of financial responsibility that they should follow. The first path is general savings, as in creating a savings account so that you will have money during financial or medical emergencies. The second path involves the creative nest egg I mentioned in that artists should think about having a second savings account to support their creative practice during hard economic times if needed. I advise separate accounts simply because that way it is easier, at least for me, to stay clear of the creative nest egg until I actually need it. Both paths involve preliminary work and the strength to keep your hand out of the cookie jar no matter how much the hunger pains you.

The preliminary work involves getting rid of all-- or most-- of the debt that you currently have. For example, if you have credit card debt you will want to get that out of the way before setting out on those two paths in my opinion. Why? Because all to often people earn interest in their savings account while not really making any steps forward because at the same time their credit card interest is eating their income. It can be a vicious cycle… a tug of war involving your wallet and your dignity. Thus, I found it best to knock credit card debt out of the way before focusing on the two savings accounts. This preliminary work means that an artist needs to prevent him or herself from being caught by the lure of excessive material need.

In a sense, artist need to avoid material gain-- a new TV, designer clothing, what have you-- in order to provide art materials he or she may need in the studio later-- paint, clay, pencils, what have you. One could say that we need to play into the myth of ‘the artist’-- as in avoiding material (consumer) gain-- on our own terms. Instead of buying a new gadget with cash-- or furthering credit card debt-- one should probably use that money to pay off part of their credit card debt, correct? Once the credit card debt is out of the way the two paths mentioned before are opened. From that point on artists should focus the same energy on strengthening their savings.

This does not mean that the two accounts need to be treated equally. Obviously the savings account for emergencies should take importance. However, that does not mean the art material nest egg should be neglected. Just be realistic about it. Instead of ordering out or buying a new DVD think ahead and place that money in the savings account for your future studio material needs. That thick crust pizza may fill your stomach today, but what will you do if you are not able to satiate your creative hunger later? I think the better choice is to chow down on ramen noodles now so that you can create art with your chosen materials later.

It is all about responsibility-- being responsible for your life and your artistic growth. More often than not people blame corporations for their debt by using corporations as a scapegoat because they are unable to accept poor financial decision making. They use their debt as an example of the evils of corporate America and how corporations have destroyed the idea of the ‘American Dream’. It is not hard to find company with people who have the same view. However, I think it is more realistic to say that many people have destroyed their own dreams by not being responsible with their finances and trying to ‘keep up’ with their neighbors-- who are most likely in the same boat! I’ve been on that same boat so I know exactly of what I speak. Loathing parties should be avoided because in the end nothing is gained aside from further resentment for the nature of the financial beast.

Being angry will not pay your debt. Be realistic… no one forces you to apply for a credit card nor do they force you to buy the latest craze. True, mass advertising will try to talk you into spending money on the newest luxury cell phone, but I would like to think that we can avoid that call. Regardless of your position on corporations you must admit that no one prevents you from saving. A few dollars in your savings account per month is better than nothing, right? There are countless stories of people making something from nothing so don’t act as if you are beyond the point of saving for your future and for your art. Only you can make it happen.

I realize that everyone is different. What worked for me may not work for everyone else. Thus, it is important to remember that there are different routes to take in order to secure your creative future just incase the economy stumbles further into decline. For example, one of my peers buys a few materials at discount each month so that she can store them in mass if ever she needs to rely on them. She has a closet in her studio that is full of canvas rolls, brush sets, and her favorite oil paint. If prices go up she will be prepared-- hopefully prepared enough to wait out the hard times with the materials she has stored. That is not a bad idea if you have extra storage space and don’t go over the top with it. By over the top I mean that it is probably not a good idea to start stock piling turpentine in your garage. You could say that her choice is drastic, but I’ve noticed art supplies have went up in cost a lot in the last year alone-- at least where I am.

In closing, I’m fully aware that the ambitious individual will find ways to create art no matter what financial situation he or she is faced with. However, I think that most of us would rather continue where we are now with our materials of choice rather than to pick up on using nontraditional materials out of necessity. Thus, it is important to have a nest egg for your material needs-- as in the materials you create art with. Find the nest egg that works for you… be it financial or by simply storing materials for future use. Be prepared so that you can be active in your studio and promote yourself even in the worst of economic times. I learned that lesson the hard way in the past. I hope that you do not.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

This is good advice for emerging artists as well as artists who have made a career out of their art. Artists need to think about their financial future.

Anonymous said...

This is a topic that many people not just artists avoid talking about if you have not noticed by the lack of comments. Perfect reason for stuff like this being posted. I bet most of the people who read it don't have a savings plan and would be drawing on napkins if the economy crashed. How quick we are to buy a pack of smokes while doing nothing about financial stability!

Sarah said...

I think it's a very important topic to discuss, people will say that money doesn't matter, and that it doesn't buy happyness, but it certainly is alot harder to be happy without money. Many of the great artists throughout the centuries have worked on commisions and made artwork for financial gains aswel as for themselves.