My Art Is My Business– And Now Both Are Stuck!

  1. Your Emotions Have Something to Tell You
  2. My Art Is My Business– And Now Both Are Stuck!
  3. Advice for First-Time Entrepreneurs
  4. Q&A: How Much is Too Much for Professional Development?
  5. Advice for People ‘Living the Dream’
  6. How Do I Make Good Decisions about Investing In My Business?
  7. The Non-Skeevy Way For Introverts To Make “Friends” Online
  8. “How do I get to know people without feeling competitive?”
  9. “I need to charge more. Is this a valid reason to raise my prices?”
  10. Q&A: The Fundamentals of Growing Your List
  11. Where Do I Spend Money on My Microbiz Until It’s Successful?
  12. Q&A: How Do I Know When I’m Making Enough Money To Hire Help?
  13. Q&A: When Will It All Hang Together?
  14. 3 Times When You Don’t Have To Answer The Four Questions (and 1 Where You Do)
  15. Help! A Client Called My Bluff! What Do I Do Now?

I have a business creating high-end jewelry. It’s starting to gain traction. I’ve been in a couple juried shows, and local jewellers are starting to carry my stock. The only problem is, I’ve hit a wall creatively. I can barely bring myself to go into my workshop or do the work that I used to be most passionate about. I used to get totally absorbed in the process, losing track of time. Now I just feel stuck and anxious. I’ve started going to a zen center for meditation and also to a Buddhist talk every week.

While that is all really helpful on a personal level, it does nothing to help me where I need it most right now — DOING and taking ACTION (ANY action) with my business.I had someone tell me recently that they don’t think making jewelry (as a business) is what I really want to do. Maybe. But is it that simple, or is it that it’s what I really want to do right NOW, but I can’t help but think ahead to the inevitable time when it’s no longer what I want to do, so why even do it at all??


I’m highly suspicious of action for action’s sake. I suspect it’s mainly a smokescreen to cover the extreme doubt and resultant paralysis. Just any old action might help the paralysis, but it might not do anything good for your business. No, I actually think it would be better to spend some time back at the basics.

Why did you get into jewellery design? What feeling did you have then? Then explore how to create and recreate that feeling. What does it require? How can you control it, explore it, experience it? And then, and only then, will you really see what you need to be doing with your business. When you talk about being passionate about your craft, it sounds like art, not a business. The two are not the same. Making money from art is a different process than making art. That’s where a lot of artists run into trouble, because they start to blend together. Well, see it’s a different skill set… a different art, if you will.

[Tweet “Making money from art is a different process than making art”]

If you want to do art, you can do art. But if you want to get paid for it, you need to learn a new skillset. However, you can’t pollute the impulse of the first too much with the impulses of the second. Plus, few people are really as passionate about building business or selling as they are about their art. So they get pretty down about that, because it doesn’t come as easily and organically as their art does. I find this happens when people learn about marketing. Trying to make something people will buy and all the pre-judgement that comes with it really messes with the creative impulse. Try looking at your business and your art as separate processes that you get satisfaction from.

  1. You like creating jewelry. You like making the idea in your head real. And to that end, you’ve developed skills to do that better and better.
  2. You like getting your jewelry into the hands of people who appreciate it as a work of art, and an expression of who they are as an individual — So… why do you get satisfaction from that, and what skills can you/do you want to develop to get better at it?
  3. You like getting paid for your skills/jewelry because it is an affirmation of you and your chosen art. — so, is this as valuable to you as 1&2, and what skills do you need/want to pick up to get better at it? Presumably, only inasmuch as it doesn’t interfere with 1&2

Each of these layers is predicated on the layer that comes before it. Money is not why you make art. But being paid for your work by people who find your work a joy to wear, that’s added layers of satisfaction. But to get that satisfaction, first, you have to be able to create joyfully, independent of how others value your work. It takes practice to make these layers separate and distinct, which it why I usually advise people to keep art as a sideline until this practice is mastered.

It’s very easy to kill a passion by putting ‘business’ pressure on it. As an artist, your creative expression is going to grow and change, and sometimes that expression isn’t going to be a hit economically. That’s always been an issue for artists, and always will be. It’s therefore crucial to keep your creative interests buffered from your business interests. Every artist tackles that differently, but they all have to do it.

Your Turn

Got any other questions for me? Email me to get your question included in a future column.


14 thoughts on “My Art Is My Business– And Now Both Are Stuck!”

  1. my experience with turning passion into business is this:
    I would have 2 kinds of work days:  either a “lose track of time because I’m so into what I’m doing” kind of day or a “I love what I do, but today I’d rather be at the beach, or in bed, or with my man, etc” kind of day.  (because life isn’t all about work)
    That’s pretty much it.  My point, is that when you love what you do, you LOVE it.  There is no doubt, or lukewarm feelings about it.  Not in my experience.  
    (and that experience is 14 yrs as a cake artist / pastry chef)
    The things that I LIKE doing are hobbies.  A hobby is something I love doing only sometimes.  It isn’t my life’s work and it couldn’t be because I would have days like the one described in the box.  Where I feel blocked and anxious.
    For me, it really is that simple.  But, that’s just me.
    The advice you gave in the post about separating business from art is good!  It’s true – business is an annoying, unnatural side of the art biz.  But, still… for me, I was still motivated to suck it up and do the business side of things because I was so anxious to get back to creating part.  Kinda like being a kid and quickly cleaning your room because you can’t wait to play outside or get whatever other treat your mom promised you.
    Hope that helps!

    1.  @deniseurena That’s a GREAT definition of a hobby: something you only love some of the time. I keep looking for hobbies that are as fun as business, but that I don’t feel tempted to monetize somehow. No luck so far, but your definition makes me realize I should widen my net!

  2. Way to distinguish between real momentum and action for action’s sake. And way to feature that Donkey picture in your post. I really want to know what search criteria you used to find that one. 🙂
    I think the layer imagery is appropriate here. You gotta start with the first layer when you’re making a five layer cake. Sometimes we just want to skip to the last layer, the one that means we completed something, without caring what the thing looks like after bypassing some critical parts.
    I’m trying to turn my passion into a business by the way. It’s been three months so it’s too early to tell. The early results are promising but man, I have a lot of layers I need to add to this baby.

    1.  @joeyjoejoe I was looking for a picture of Shrek with the onion quote, but this is all I could find. 🙂
      I find the ‘passion’ businesses are also the most iterative, because once you manage to build all those layers, then you start refining the recipe, feeling your way into little tweaks and big transformations. I hope you realize that’s perfectly normal too!

  3. I think this is probably something every artist faces when they try to monetize their art. I like the way to look at things in layers; I do something similar.
    What I’ve been doing is listening to what works and what doesn’t, keeping my artist and my businessman separate enough to learn from each other (as opposed to combining them and trying to find compromises). For example, late last year I started monetizing my creative writing for the first time and since then both my inner artist and my inner businessman have learned a lot.
    The artist has learned that having people paying monthly for a subscription to my writing is actually a huge distraction: I feel obligated to create and publish at a certain frequency because people are paying me monthly and a lot of extra energy goes into overcoming that pressure and simply creating when I’m ready to create.
    The businessman has learned that creation is an absolute necessity and that perhaps offering an annual subscription at a lower price-point would be more harmonious with the way the artist creates. It would also give the artist a huge block of time (one year) to create and to provide value in exchange for that subscription.
    All of this, of course, is specific to the way I create. Others may be able to create and publish something every day. I know that I spend more time diving into topics in my head and reflecting on ideas before I publish them. 
    What I think is important is that the artist and the businessman learn to communicate and share information with each other. For some, that could mean the artist needs one full week of creativity to create his or her art, entirely free of business tasks. Then, perhaps the businessman or businesswoman comes in and switches to business-mode (or hires someone else to take care of the business and marketing aspects altogether).
    It’s important to continue experimenting, to continue trying new ways of assigning responsibilities and time to the inner artist and the inner businessman/businesswoman.

    1.  @RaamDev Your comment is so excellent I don’t know what to add. Especially this bit, “All of this, of course, is specific to the way I create.” I think a lot of people get hung up by looking for “what works” as opposed to “what works for them.”
      My creative side turtles up completely when it’s depended upon to pay the bills so I maintain several sidebusinesses to ensure that it doesn’t have to. 🙂

  4. This is great, Shanna. As I seriously start to put things in motion for starting up an Etsy shop, I’ve been worrying a little about how art and money will mix for me down the road, if this goes anywhere at all. I don’t want to turn it into my main source of income, which I think will help. But the idea of bridging art and money with that #2 is incredibly insightful and helpful. Thanks!

    1.  @remadebyhand Thanks, Erin! I was just rereading that, and I meant to say that step two is actually the basis of your marketing– which is weird and counterintuitive, b/c people often think marketing is the last thing you do. 

  5. I wish I had read this when I was fresh out of college and convinced that I wanted to “make it” as a musician. As soon as I realized that I needed to make money from playing music, I got pretty jaded and lost the passion for songwriting that I once had. I ultimately decided to keep music as a serious hobby because it brings me  way more joy that way.
    In my own business (now) I still face the layers issue in some regard. I think all bloggers do. Because you don’t get paid to blog. You get paid when you sell products or services.  So I like to try to keep my blogging (which is something I love doing because I love what I write about) separate from the money I make from clients, even though one leads into the other. 

    1.  @ethanwaldman Isn’t it staggering how much motivation for creativity flags when you start putting dollar signs behind it? I’m so impressed with the letter writer for getting as far as she did.
      I think you hit the right solution: figure out the way to experience your passion that brings you the most joy, whether it’s as a business, or as a hobby, or something in between. And that line is different for every passion and every person.
      Yeah, I don’t know why this isn’t taught. 🙂

  6. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately – it’s particularly challenging when your “art” involves theatre spaces and lighting equipment and weeks of time and multiple other people to keep it as a passion thing and not get burned out on it. But that’s another story for another day…. 😉 I think this is really great advice though. I’m wondering though, what do you recommend when the art is already something that the person is relying on for financial stability? How do you step back from that and recapture doing art for the love of it without losing the roof over your head?

    1.  @sarahemily It is tough to half-ass some arts. You’re either in or you’re out. And if you’re already financially intertwined, it’s even harder. If I were in that position, I think I’d fall back to The Artists’ Way to relearn how to claw back some unpressured creative time, even if the rest is all spoken for. Having the book to help takes the pressure of deciding what to do, and just leaves finding the time and energy to do it. 

  7. Pingback: Notes: The Inner Artist and the Inner Businessman - Raam Dev

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