Ep. 7 | Freelance Cake Podcast
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Episode 7|

Art and Commerce Do Mix – Ditch the “Starving Artist” Mindset & Upgrade Your Limiting Beliefs About Money & Creativity

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In Episode 007, Austin discusses the false dichotomy between art and commerce. He also breaks down the Japanese concept of “ikigai. Finally, he encourages freelancers to overcome self-limiting beliefs about money by viewing it as a tool – rather than a goal – that allows them more creativity, freedom, and generosity.

We’re all familiar with the identity of the starving artist – the assumption that artists and freelance creatives must forego financial stability to preserve their creative integrity usually goes unchallenged.

But what if that way of thinking is wrong?

The truth is, you can make exceptionally good stuff while also creating a great livelihood for yourself. You can put an end to the starving artist mentality and embrace the reality that the right people will place a high value on your work.

Notable Quotes

"None of us can really make the case that financial struggles somehow make you a better artist, or that not struggling financially means you're bound to compromise your artistic integrity."

"Being paid to use a skill does not make you a second-rate artist, and not getting paid does not make you a first-rate artist."

"If we learn how to make more money in less time, we can serve our customers better, have more freedom, and give more generously without burning out or becoming people we don't like."

"Let’s toss out our false dichotomies into the wind and come up with some more robust and durable beliefs about the relationship between art and commerce. Once we upgrade our beliefs, we'll find it easier to build freelance businesses that we really love."

The "Ikigai" Concept and How It Relates to Freelancers

I launched the first-ever Business Bootcamp for Freelancers in February 2021. There was a really cool moment that happened in week one I want to tell you about.

Week 1 focuses on Finding Your Unique Mix as a freelancer, and one part of the training is a Japanese concept called Ikigai. The illustration of the Ikigai concept I’ve seen looks like a flattened flower with four petals. On the four edges of the petals, you will see these four ingredients:

  1. What you’re good at
  2. What you love
  3. What the world needs
  4. What you can get paid for

Most freelancers are caring and creative people who can totally get behind work that brings them joy. It’s easy for them to get excited about spending more time on what they're good at, what they love, and what the world needs.

So as I was explaining the Ikigai concept to my students, I punked them. I talked about the first three ingredients and got them all nodding, but then I introduced the fourth layer: “what you can get paid for.”

I asked everyone to raise a hand if they had heard a script in their heads similar to this one: “Either I can earn more than enough, or I can do work I love. It might be possible to do both in an ideal world, but we don’t live in an ideal world.”

Guess what? Every single student raised a hand.

The False Dichotomy Between Art and Commerce

Every single one of them raised a hand. I raised my hand too. I came out of a creative writing program where I got indoctrinated with a belief that art and commerce don't mix. Either you can be a pure artist and struggle to make ends meet, or you can be a sellout and use your creative gifts to make money.

Take, for example, Vincent van Gogh. Vincent is the paragon of the “pure” artist. For the most part, he couldn't sell his work and his brother, Theo, supported him financially during at least two periods of his life. Based on his letters to Theo, Van Gogh's dependence on his brother was embarrassing to him.

At times, he bought art supplies instead of food. He sacrificed his physical well-being to pursue his art. Again, Vincent van Gogh is the paragon of the “pure starving artist” who would rather not eat than not paint. Now, he is recognized as one of the most important artists in history, and his paintings sell for millions.

The only problem with this story is that it isn't true.

Vincent did not lack financial resources. When Theo gave him a monthly allowance, the amount was significant at the time – more than enough to live comfortably and buy the supplies he needed to draw and paint.

Vincent, however, had bad spending habits. He didn't just buy art supplies; he spent lavish amounts on his friends and frequently visited brothels. Of course, money was tight for someone who did not exercise self-restraint.

Van Gogh was not penniless. He was not a martyr for art. Like so many of us, he was a normal person who wasn't careful with his money.

A good counterpoint to Van Gogh is Pablo Picasso. Picasso was born in 1881, nine years before Van Gogh died. Do you think Pablo Picasso was a mediocre artist? I doubt it. He's famous for a reason.

When Picasso died in 1973, he owned five homes, including two chateaus. He had $4.5 million in cash, $1.3 million in gold, and an undisclosed number of stocks and bonds. A court-appointed auditor later estimated the total value of his estate at between $250 and $500 million.

What this means is that none of us can really make the case that financial struggles somehow make you a better artist, or that not struggling financially means you're bound to compromise your artistic integrity.

Many famous and celebrated artists did not struggle financially for their entire lives. That's a point I want you to remember.

Artists and writers were just like other people. Some writers do have persistent money problems. Some writers don't. Some people who make $30,000 a year will live comfortably, and some people who make $300,000 a year will go bankrupt.

How much stress and anxiety we have associated with money depends upon the gap between what we earn and what we spend. If we underspend and live our lives inside of our means, then we will have fewer money problems over the course of our lives.

How Do We Define Artistic Integrity Anyway?

If critics like your work, does that make you good and “pure”?

What about Danielle Steel, who has sold over 800 million copies worldwide and seen all of her novels become bestsellers, despite a resounding lack of critical acclaim?

Does that mean she's not good? Who decides what's good? Who decides what artistic integrity is?

What about John Kennedy Toole’s book, A Confederacy of Dunces, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize after he died? His book wasn't published until 1980 – 11 years after he committed suicide.

Being paid to use a skill like writing, painting, or design does not make you a second-rate artist, and not getting paid does not make you a first-rate artist. Whether you receive critical acclaim or achieve commercial success has more to do with your commitment to craft and gaining business acumen than with some ineffable quality like purity.

We cannot turn critical acclaim and commercial success into a false dichotomy. Because they sometimes fall on the same person. Art and commerce sleep in the same bed, always have, and they're happy about it.

Let’s toss out our false dichotomies into the wind and come up with some more robust and durable beliefs about the relationship between art and commerce. And once we do, once we upgrade our beliefs, we'll find it easier to build freelance businesses that we really love. And ones that meet our financial needs, too.

When you get all up in your head about money, raising your prices, or what it might mean to live comfortably, I hope you'll read these words and keep reading them to yourself.

If we learn how to make more money in less time, we can serve our customers better, have more freedom, and give more generously without burning out or becoming people we don't like.

Links and Resources from this Episode

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Freelance Cake Podcast. I'm your host, Austin L. Church. The goal of this show is to help full-time, committed freelancers get better leverage.

[00:00:13] As the sworn enemy of busyness and burnout, I have no desire to see you work harder. Instead, I reveal the specific beliefs, principles, and practices you can use right away to make the freelance game more profitable and enjoyable. So chill out and listen in, because the best is yet to come.

[00:35] In February 2021, I kicked off the first-ever Business Bootcamp for Freelancers. There was a really cool moment in week 1 I want to tell you about.

[00:00:47] Week 1 focuses on Finding Your Unique Mix as a freelancer, and one part of the training is a Japanese concept I really like, Ikigai. Ikigai is your reason for being – the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning.

[00:01:09] The illustration of the Ikigai concept I’ve seen looks like a flattened flower with four petals. On the four edges of the petals, you will see what we’ll call Ikigai ingredients. Here they are. Number one, what you’re good at. Number 2, what you love. Number 3, what the world needs, and number 4, what you can get paid for.

[00:01:37] It’s easy for most freelancers to get excited about spending more time on what we’re good at, what we love, what the world needs, so in Business Bootcamp for Freelancers, as I was going over this concept, I punked my students.

[00:01:55] I talked about the first three ingredients and I got them all nodding – I mean these are caring and creative people and they can totally get behind work that brings them joy, but then I introduce the fourth layer, which is again what you can get paid for.

[00:02:13] I asked everyone to raise a hand if they had heard a script in their heads similar to this one: “Either I can earn more than enough or I can do work I love. In an ideal world, that might be possible to do both, but we don’t live in an ideal world.” Guess what? Every single student raised a hand. Every single one. I raised my hand too.

[00:02:43] I came out of a creative writing program where I got indoctrinated with a belief that art and commerce don't mix. Either you can be a pure artist and struggle to make ends meet or you can be a sellout and use your creative gifts to make money. Take, for example, Vincent van Gogh. He is the paragon of the pure artist. For the most part, he couldn't sell his work and his brother, Theo, supported him financially during at least two periods of his life. Based on letters to Theo, van Gogh's dependence on his brother was embarrassing to him.

[00:03:26] At times, he bought art supplies instead of food, he sacrificed his physical well-being to pursue his art. Like I said, Vincent van Gogh is the paragon of the pure starving artists who would rather not eat than not paint. Now, he is recognized as one of the most important artists in history, and his paintings sell for millions.

[00:03:55] The only problem with this story is that it isn't true. Van Gogh did not lack financial resources. When Theo gave him a monthly allowance, the amount was significant at the time, more than enough to live comfortably and buy what he needed to draw and paint. However, Van Gogh had bad spending habits. He didn't just buy art supplies, he spent lavish amounts on his friends and often visited brothels too.

[00:04:31] Of course, money was tight for someone who did not exercise self-restraint. Van Gogh was not penniless. He was not a martyr for art. Like so many of us, he was a normal person who wasn't careful with his money. Many famous and celebrated artists did not struggle financially for their entire lives. That's a point I want you to remember.

[00:04:59] A good counterpoint to Van Gogh is Pablo Picasso. Picasso was born in 1881, nine years before Van Gogh died. Do you think Pablo Picasso was a mediocre artist? I doubt it. He's famous for a reason. Yeah, when Picasso died in 1973, he owned five homes, including two chateaus. He had $4.5 million in cash, $1.3 million in gold, and an undisclosed number of stocks and bonds.

[00:05:35] A court-appointed auditor later estimated the total value of his estate at between $250 and $500 million. What this means is that none of us can really make the case that financial struggles somehow make you a better artist, or that not struggling financially means that you're bound to compromise your artistic integrity.

[00:06:05] Some writers do have persistent money problems. Some writers don't. Some people who make $30,000 a year will live comfortably. And some people who make $300,000 a year, 10X as much, will go bankrupt. Artists and writers were just like other people. How much stress and anxiety we have associated with money depends upon the gap between what we earn and what we spend. If we underspend and live lives inside of our means, then we will have fewer money problems over the course of our lives. Common sense, I guess.

[00:06:52] And how do we define artistic integrity anyway? If critics like your work, does that make you good and “pure”? What about an author like Danielle Steel? Despite a resounding lack of critical acclaim, according to Publishers Weekly, Steele has seen all of her novels become bestsellers, including those issued in hardback. She has sold over 800 million copies worldwide. And that must mean she's not good, right? Critics don't like her. She's not good. But her readers love her. But if critics don't like her, you get where I'm going.

[00:07:39] Who decides what's good? Who decides what artistic integrity is? What about John Kennedy Toole’s book, A Confederacy of Dunces, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize after he died. It wasn't published until 1980, 11 years after Toole committed suicide.

[00:08:00] What's the point? Being paid to use a skill like writing, painting, or design does not make you a second-rate artist. And not getting paid does not make you a first-rate artist. Whether you receive critical acclaim or achieve commercial success has more to do with your commitment to craft and to gaining business acumen than to some ineffable quality like purity. 

[00:08:34] We cannot turn critical acclaim and commercial success into a false dichotomy, false opposites. Because they sometimes fall on the same person. Shoot! One of the best ways to sell a bunch of copies of whatever is to win a big prize or award, Nobel, Pulitzer, Guggenheim Fellowship, MacArthur Genius Grant. Many of our most celebrated artists end up becoming wealthy while they're still alive. Art and commerce sleep in the same bed, always have, and they're happy about it. Here's what I want to leave you with.

[00:09:17] We'd better throw out our false dichotomies, throw ‘em into the wind and come up with some more robust and durable beliefs about the relationship between art and commerce. And once we do, once we upgrade our beliefs, we'll find it easier to build freelance businesses that we really love. And ones that meet our financial needs, too.

[00:09:47] I hope you'll write down the words that I'm about to share. And when you find yourself getting all up in your head about money or raising your prices or what it might mean to actually live comfortably, I hope you'll read these words and keep reading them to yourself. Here they are.

[00:10:04] If we learn how to make more money in less time, we can serve our customers better, have more freedom, and give more generously without burning out or becoming people we don't like. Remember, the best is yet to come.

[00:10:32] Before you go, a quick reminder. Be sure to check out the Freelance Cake coaching program. The program is for committed, full-time freelancers, and it’s designed to help you get better leverage in your business.

[00:10:47] We have group sessions, a private community, and on-demand trainings. And each week, you focus on implementing a specific lever such as your positioning cheat code, juicy offers, or morning marketing habit.

[00:11:02] The same or better income with more free time, fun, and creative challenges - that’s the point, right?

[00:11:09] So go to FreelanceCake.com/coaching. My friends, the best is yet to come. See you in the next episode!

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