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Are You an Artist? The Crazy Conflict Between Making Art & Making Money

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I am an artist.

I am in business.


Is this even possible?

Yes, of course…

But why does this concept seem odd to many people?

I practice law. But I spent 10 years before law school wanting to be an artist.

I acted.

I went to film school.

I wrote screenplays. I made and edited CDs and DVDs.

I worked in production.

Then I went to law school. I stopped writing (for a while). I stopped working on productions.

But when I learned how to be a lawyer, I brought the “artist” with me.

I still know what it is like to create something.

I still remember what it is like to “give birth” to a creative project ‒ to put your entire mind and soul into something ‒ to have a passion that does not go away, even if you create, and write, and build something.

I know what it is like to sit and wait in anticipation when you show your creation — your art — to someone. You hope that the audience loves the art — your art — as much as you do. You hope, deep down, that someone thinks your art is amazing and brilliant. And important.

I also know the feeling of trying to make money from my art. Essentially, I just carried this baby around for years, and then I went through labor, and gave birth to this creation.

And now someone is asking me to sell my baby.

How dare they! How could I sell my own child? How could I compromise my art by trying to sell it? Or trying to make money from it? Or giving someone else authority, or even ownership, of it? What kind of evil person would do that to my art?

The Conflict Between Art and Business

There is a conflict, or tension, between art and business.

By art, I mean any type of creative endeavor. Obviously, art includes writing, music, and filmmaking. But it can include any type of creation. And by business, I mean the concept of being a professional, making money, and making a living to support yourself and your family.

As an entertainment attorney, I regularly receive calls from artists (filmmakers, musicians, producers, authors, writers, etc.) who love the “art” side of being an artist but do not like the “business” side of being an artist. The artist does not want to compromise her art. She does not want to think about actually selling (or worse, marketing!) her art.

Sales is a curse word that should never be mentioned in many artistic circles.

I often have a hard time convincing these types of artists that I can help. After all, if you are not interested in marketing, you will probably not have the interest (or means) to hire someone like me.

But some artists call me and recognize that there is a business component to their art. They realize that focusing on sales and marketing can actually allow them to continue making art for a long time — potentially for the rest of their lives.

These types of artists are truly receptive when I discuss how I can help.

The Art-Business Continuum

In my years of managing the tension between art and business, I have come to believe a continuum exists, with art on one side and business on the other.

For example, when I attended film school, one student did not care about plot or characters: He shot short films on 16 mm black and white film stock.

(Yes, when I went to film school, we still shot actual film.)

Then, this student would color, by hand, each individual frame of the black and white film, with Crayola crayons.

The final product was a messy, incoherent short film, with no plot but unique (although confusing) visuals. This student did not care one bit about the business side of filmmaking and production. He only wanted to express his artistic self through his art. I am not judging this student at all.

People engage in art for very personal reasons. I know that. But if we were to place him on the continuum above, he would be as far left as possible.

I usually have a hard time helping these types of artists. I have little to offer that would interest them. This artist is just not interested in any type of business use of his art.

Furthermore, there are certain people who do not care about the “art” side of a project at all. These people only want to make money, and nothing else. This person is all the way on the right side of the continuum above. He does not care about the art. As an example, this type of person might make pornography. Generally, I cannot help this type of person, and frankly, I do not really want to.

I am most interested in the artist who cares about his art and truly believes that he has something important to say. I am most interested in the artist who realizes that the path to becoming an artist as a vocation — and not as a hobby, wish, dream, or general desire — is to move closer to the business side of the continuum above.

This is where I can absolutely help.

First, I am an attorney who understands and has dealt with legal issues in the entertainment and business fields.

Second, I have started multiple businesses myself and I have worked in business for many years. I can often help, and if I can’t, I will let someone know.

Art Needs an Audience

In Jeff Goins’ book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, he states that “art needs an audience.”

All artists need to hear this. As you move from the left to the right on the continuum above ‒ from art to business ‒ you do not have to stop making the art that you want to make. You only need to recognize that art needs an audience. There is value in understanding who will enjoy and ultimately pay for the experience of your art.

The Advantage of Limitations

In fact, this realization can sometimes be interpreted as a limitation or a constraint.

Many artists do not like limits. In fact, they abhor them.

Many artists believe that their art needs to be unconstrained.

But in reality, an artist’s move towards a business mindset can become the greatest advantage in the artist’s lifetime.

Orson Welles, one of my favorite artists, once famously said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

I completely agree with Orson Welles. So many artists I know and have read about have succeeded massively when severe limitations were placed on them.

The limitation ended up being a catalyst that allowed the artist to creatively solve a problem.

One of the best teacher of leaders, Craig Groeschel, has said that “limitation breeds innovation.” Again, when we confine our art, we can innovate, and in terms of the artist: we can create.

  • Don’t have enough money? Think your way around it.
  • Don’t have enough people? Find the right ones.
  • Don’t have enough time? It is amazing what you can accomplish with a deadline. Think about how much work you get done the day or week before you go on vacation.

So when I tell artists, or business owners, or you, that it is okay to believe in your art or your creativity, but you need to add some business thinking into life ‒ I am not telling you to think less of your art. I am telling you to think in a way that will allow you to be an artist for the rest of your life.

I am not telling you to think less of your art. I am telling you to think in a way that will allow you to be an artist for the rest of your life.

I Wish I Met Me Ten Years Ago…

I often tell artists that I am the person that I wish I met ten years ago. If I met me ten years ago, I would probably be making movies right now.

Now, is that really true?


I am still making art… Now I just know where I am on the continuum.

I love what I do now. I believe I am in the exact spot where I am supposed to be. But I also realize that artists need to learn from someone who thinks in the language of business and who can teach the artist to move toward the business side of the continuum.

love talking about art and business.

love when art and business interact.

love to see artists create a business from their art.

In short, we need more artists who understand business.

In my experience in the entertainment industry, this is true. And even in my own life, this is absolutely true. I suspect it is true in your own life as well.

Keep creating. And stay in touch.

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John Mashni
John Mashni Author

I only write about what I have done: no theory. Writer, Attorney, Entrepreneur, Movie Producer, and more… 

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