For Money or Passion? Why You Need to Do Creative Work for the Money

For Money or Passion? Why You Need to Do Creative Work for the Money

June 11, 2013 by

The idea of doing creative work to make money, over doing it for love has often been met with scorn and heated opposition. Understandably so.

I want to talk about why, in most cases, people are wrong to resist the idea. I’m taking a gulp, because I know this could prove to be a contentious topic of discussion, but something I believe is true, and often ignored.

If your creative work is for income and paying your bills each month, your primary concern is not creativity or passion, it is money, or it should be. Providing a skill, service or a product that you rely on for a stream of income should be driven by the aim of making money and understanding how.

Before you stop reading and throw your laptop at the fridge, bear in mind what I’m about to say next. Doing what you love to do and what makes you come alive is second on the list of things to prioritise. So it’s still very important.

If you decide to become an illustrator, for example, so that you can make boatloads of cash and work with great companies, but you don’t have much interest in illustration, then that’s foolish, and not what I’m supporting.

Choosing what you want to do, based on what you are interested in comes first, but then think about your priorities.

It’s the being passionate about something – and its position in the pecking order – where people often get mixed up. They say you need to be passionate first, then the money might eventually come rolling in.

Putting passion at the forefront is ok if you’re doing this on the side, as a hobby, or just for fun. But for those of us who are taking a risk, dropping our day jobs, and doing what we do so that we can sleep without getting rained on at night, this is dangerous thinking.

By not prioritising money – a choice I think I could say that is made fairly often in the creative world – the urgency of taking actions that lead to making it, drift further and further away. Not so good if your income relies on your creativity and you don’t want your heater to stop working on an icy day.

By now you might be asking: ‘Won’t thinking about how to make money disrupt one’s organic, creative process?’ This is one of the concerns lying at the heart of the anti-money argument.

Yes, it could, if you are in the middle of a creative undertaking, like visualising a scene for your novel. But plan with the money and market in mind first, then go on to do the creative stuff. Both are important.

Your creativity and love for the work should not be compromised and doesn’t have to be, even if money is guiding the way. Being aware of how your work can succeed commercially will act as a boundary – enhancing rather than detracting from the creative process because your scope is no longer endless.

Obviously we do see commercially successful projects that weren’t particularly original or creative, but it can be argued that there was less care placed on the creative process.

You can still create Booker Prize-winning writing if you write with the money in mind. That is to say, with your potential audience and what they are willing to pay for, in mind.

Thinking about the commercial aspect of my own work (i.e. the people who will pay for my work and what works for them) has had one of the biggest direct influences on its positive progression over the years, that I can think of, and I’ve no doubt this applies to others in various forms of craft.

“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

Andy Warhol

Healthy creativity and having a love for what you are doing is still crucial, because it is these things that lead to work worth paying for (even if some things take a while for people to ‘warm’ to them). If your output is poor, or your creativity was somehow stunted in your process, it wouldn’t attract buyers anyway.

If it makes it easier, substitute the word ‘money’ for ‘value that other people are willing to pay for’.

Myself and many others have experienced the pain and frustration that comes with no funds in the bank, which incidentally is one of the quickest ways of losing the energy of creativity.

For the really ‘out there’ and original stuff, leave the money out of it and focus on doing something different. But for the most part, especially if you rely on what you do for financial survival, do it with the money in mind.

I’d love to hear your ideas on this! Do comment below and share this with others. Thank you!

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About the Author: Alex Mathers

Alex is a project starter, sometimes finisher, writer and illustrator. He started Red Lemon Club in 2009 with the aim of helping talented creative people leave their mark.

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"Your blog inspires me so much, and helps me feel somehow not as insignificant, despite the plethora of artists around the world."Natalie, artist

  • http://tattyboots.blogspot.co.uk/ Katie Rea

    Really glad you touched upon this topic. I seem to always have ideas for making money but never see them through, mainly due to the worries of pricing. I’ve created some hand illustrated items that I hope to sell but I fear that pricing them too high may throw people off, although on the other hand pricing them too low may devalue the item. It’s finding a balance between the two that I’m still struggling with. It’s sort of caused me to push my ideas to one side as it only causes me frustration. Although I’ve picked up some useful tips from this article, especially with just changing my approach and thinking of ‘value’ rather than the word ‘money’ as stated. It’s so incredibly simple but hugely effective!

  • Alex Mathers

    Thanks for the comment, Katie. I would lean to the higher end if you’re thinking about pricing, because it gives automatic value to your work, and you’ll never know how high people are willing to pay if you start too low. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  • robertbrittonjr

    I think you hit the nail on the head. People aren’t really giving up cash for a painting. They are deciding how much they value the painting, the cash is just a representation of that. We have to find out what it is that is driving them towards that painting and help them magnify it, help them see that value clearly.
    Really cool article, very helpful. And, FWIW, I relate because I have no money in the bank and when times are tough, you have to keep digging.

  • http://jetsetcitizen.com/ John Bardos – JetSetCitizen

    Money is a difficult subject.

    When I see the global impact of non-profit projects like Wikipedia, the Khan Academy or even MIT’s Open Courseware, I wonder about the effectiveness of our pre-occupation with money. What could humanity accomplish if there were other priorities than income and consumption?

    In our consumer culture we are constantly bombarded with advertising messages to convince us to buy stuff we don’t really need. I think most would agree that our excessive consumption is having a devastating impact on the planet, our health and even our personal well-being. If we weren’t such conspicuous consumers, it would be pretty easy to cut our expenses and therefore income in half, or better.

    On the other hand we all do need to make a living, and there is no denying that our market system has led to amazing improvements in our standards of living.

    We certainly don’t have a shortage of food, shelter and clothing in the developed world. There is more than enough to go around. The problem is how it’s distributed. Isn’t it possible that there is something beyond industrial age capitalism?

    Imagine if everyone worked enough to be comfortable but gave away their best art for free. It’s happening in a limited sense by bloggers, uploaded videos, free meetup groups, etc.

    It’s going to happen more, because the marginal costs to create most online art is zero. (price tends to marginal cost in economics)

    Yes, money is important, but is it critical?

  • johan cosijns

    Interesting topic but i think the Warhol-quote is overstating things a bit.
    It’s a way of looking at it but not a universal truth, it’s a choice.
    And saying making money should be your primary concern is something i don’t agree with either. Everyone should decide for himself how far you want to go into ‘making money’ or ‘suffering for the arts’. It’s all ok to me anyway.
    If you look through history you see many who didn’t do it for the money but did start to make money with it along the way, often by accident. If these people did what they did with the above mentioned philosophy in mind, they might never have made it at all.
    To me the passion and creativity should go hand in hand with the money bit but the emphasis should still be on the first two.

    I also believe it has a lot to do with self-awareness and knowing for yourself what values you cherish most in life. That also means accepting the consequences of course.
    If you are ok with that then there isn’t really a problem.
    Finding balance between the two extremes is what most want of course but this world needs people who takes risks on all levels even when it means it might end in failure.

    Then again, it never hurt anyone being a bit practical once in a while, we all need to eat!

  • Steven Symes

    This post really spoke to me. I’ve learned over time to swallow my pride and to go for the money, while still being creative. When your creative job is your full income and you have kids depending on you it really does change your perspective on the money thing. Five years ago I would have said this was all backwards, but that was when I was a hobby writer.

  • Estella Bell

    Hi Alex, thank You, this was quite as helpful as I had expected.You
    often help differenciate things by looking at them soberly, detangling
    prejudices from actual coherences. I´m not that anti-money person, but I
    was raised by them(in art school) and I defenately have those big NOs
    popping up in my mind when I try to think about art and money in the
    same sentence,… so I still have a hard time figuring out the most
    efficient way to develope the strands of artwork I´m creating. Heaving
    read this, I personally would say I have a vast stream of “what I´ll
    always need to do for the sake of art” and what is relevant NOW for the
    sake of money. It is so confusing, because the second(the money making
    focused kind) has to come from the first one but the first one in the
    long run can only be sustained with the aid of a successful second. I
    try to prioritise in thisway: I mostly focus on the kind of work that
    I´m customizing for my target audiences and always make time for free
    projects “on the side yet at the core”.

  • Lloyd Harvey

    Hmm… While you raise a very good point in thinking in terms of Value to the end consumer, I’m not sure I agree with the “Passion vs Money” argument at the start. I feel this article isn’t about that argument at all.

    If you remove passion and money from the argument and focus on the value aspect only, then your passion in life should be “to add value” to other people’s lives by providing a service or product that improves or enriches their life in some way. You’ve said something like this before in your Promo 3.0 ebook and, not alone in saying this, internet marketing man Chris Cardell, made it his top tip to do to any business owner as getting passionate about improving people’s lives is more powerful and motivating than making money.

    If you create something that will really improve someone’s life, regardless of it being a creative endeavour or not, and get passionate about selling that to people because you believe it will make their life better, then the price of that product becomes less important to the end user. We have only to look at Apple products and how they market them, to see that people don’t buy on price. They may think they do, but they don’t.

    With the Apple approach, you’ll hear them saying “its a dream to use,” “you’ll love playing with this,” and also showing how their products make your life better. You then look at their price tags and they are at the higher end of the market, yet still out sell their competitors.

    Also, at the start of Daniel H Pink’s book: “Drive,” he cites 2 experiments that showed that what motivates people, isn’t outside rewards such as money.

    But look, I’ve been in a position where I had next to no money sitting in my account and bills looming, and while the feeling was unpleasant, it did in that instance get me moving for a few months to work my way out of that position by taking on work I wouldn’t normally take on.

    Money, or rather, the lack of it, can be a bigger motivator than passion, but not always.

  • Alex Mathers

    Nice input to the conversation, John, and this is certainly something that is going to be discussed well into the future of mankind.

    Money is simply currency. A means to pay for something of similar value. If placed in the wrong hands, that’s not a good thing. This is what governments and the people need to strive to avoid, not necessarily money per se.

    Right now, with money as the main currency that reflects creative value, this is what we’re dealing with, and this is my argument. We need to prioritise that which keeps us as creatives alive, motivated (whether you like the idea or not), and in business.

  • Alex Mathers

    Thank you Lloyd, and so happy you picked out what I’d said in Promo 3.0! A really interesting thought.

    You said it at the end of your comment, no money in anyone’s account is not a good thing in this age.

    You also bring up Apple, which incidentally provides an excellent example of the importance of prioritising BOTH money (which they clearly do very well), and being passionate about their product, especially from the perspective of it helping their customers, their community.

    Let’s see if, as creatives (in the same way that Apple is) we can apply this same perspective of doing it for the money whilst maintaining our passion for what we do.

  • Alex Mathers

    Absolutely Johan, well said.

    It’s also worth reminding us of the simplicity of the question being asked. What are you working for? If you do this to pay your bills, do it for the money. If it’s about the creativity and the love of it with no intention of making money from it, do it for that. If it’s for both, do it for both.

    Don’t discount the money because you dislike the idea of it if you rely on it. That would be foolhardy.

  • Alex Mathers

    Thanks for the comment, Estella. It sounds like you are making the right decisions.

  • Alex Mathers

    Thanks Steven! Good for you.

  • Alex Mathers

    Nicely said, Robert. You are right to say that cash is a representation of the value placed on a painting. Value is important, but actually receiving the monetary equivalent of that value is even better. The buyer has actually made an investment in that value, and in you.

  • http://www.shrunkenheaddesign.co.uk/ Lloyd Harvey

    What we as creatives need to realise is that the work we produce, has a lot of value to it, and we need to price our work accordingly and need to stand by what we charge. Just like Apple.

    And just like Apple, we need to get good at communicating the benefits of using our services/buying our products, so that we can easily justify what we charge.

  • Jeremy J. Freeman

    Thank You Alex, for your helpful advice! Trying to decide what to do next is the big question. I’ve spent 12 years, (and more if you count freelancing), ok, closer to 25 yrs more like it, in the printing/graphic design industry. I’ve seen almost every creative thing produced without any computer aid to nearly everything done with it now. I’ll try not to get on a roll about being nostalgic of the good ‘ol of commercial design days but I honestly sense that if consumers understand and appreciate the value of art they will pay top dollar for it.

    However, I’ve learned from experience that sometimes it all depends on the demographics and where you live. I’m from small town midwest, a few local colleges are here and there and TONS of farms everywhere but black and white framed fine art photography doesn’t sell here. I feel that the Wal Marts and Hobby Lobbys of the world have degraded the value of good art and as long as people can get things cheaper for art that they think is just as good as the art the bohemian art dude is producing at coffee shops all day long, it’s gonna continue to be an uphill battle.

    Right now, I’m contemplating going back to college for either art history, comic/illustration or digital cinematography. Not practical degrees at all. The only takeaway that I want other people to know on this forum is, being in the design world for so long has left me jaded and frankly turned off by all the consumer design stuff out there. The markets are so saturated. I can remember a time when there were 2 or 3 versions of toothpaste on the shelves, now there are 30 or 40.
    Personally I think we should go back to the bartering system, (you trade your service or product for mine) and get rid of money altogether but, you run into big trust issues there I would suppose, plus it’s a very anti-capitalist idea.

    Anyway, my advice would be: find a practical profession that pays the bills but keep on producing the art that you love and are passionate about as side projects, that way you don’t run the risk of becoming bitter, (Ok, I’ll admit that’s my wife’s advice). Peace. – Jeremy

  • Leoni Selby

    Great piece. I also find sometimes good to have a paid project just to get those creative juices flowing. And I agree fully that no money in the bank is a real creativity killer.. thanks for that :)

  • Alex Mathers

    thanks Leoni, I agree!

  • ikaj

    I like having money as a source of motivation for my creative work. It lets me actively seek out what my audience want and what they think, because in the end as a painter, it’s about sharing my work to others and not just for myself.

  • Chris Shaw

    I must say I disagree almost completely, although I respect how difficult this subject is. Money is hugely important but it doesn’t drive me. You said “Putting passion at the forefront is ok if you’re doing this on the side, as a hobby, or just for fun”. This is the part I disagree with the most. Design has always been a huge passion. It’s what drove me to study it at ND and degree level. That passion still drives me to create work that I believe answers the brief and solves the problem. The money is a bi-product. If it was the focal point I would have quit this job and focussed on getting a job in finance. In Anna Gerber’s book ‘Influences’ someone states that money is the main reason they do what they do. I can’t remember Jonathan Barnbrook’s exact reply, but it is extremely rude and points out that anyone that think like this is an idiot. I’m not accusing you of being an idiot (I’m a huge fan of this site and your work so please don’t think that) but I just will never believe that making tons of money is my main goal. Nothing will ever beat getting a super creative brief and the continuous learning process at the heart of this industry. A good topic to discuss though.

  • http://takenoticemagazine.co.uk/ Sheldon Stewart

    Great article!

    I believe being able to do creative work for the money is such a huge bonus, as there are many people who are doing jobs where, yes, they still get paid – but get no satisfaction out of the job.

    So for people who are in the creative sector and if they are able to prioritise (just as you mentioned), then for me it falls into the win = win situation. Life is too short to say no, then years later regret on not trying out something different.

  • Alex Mathers

    Thanks for the words, Jeremy – really interesting. I personally feel market saturation is a result more of poor creative and marketing decisions than trying to be commercial. Value, creativity, and originality will always prevail, and money, for the time-being, will reward this.

  • Alex Mathers

    Great points, Chris and I do agree. My point stresses the combination of passion for craft with actively seeking appropriate financial reward, not simply the money part on its own.

  • Chris Shaw

    I completely agree. Let’s face it if we couldnt monetise our passion we’d soon be starving. It was just this part I disagreed with the most: “Putting passion at the forefront is ok if you’re doing this on the side, as a hobby, or just for fun.” When I’m rendering a project at 3am when I have to be up at 7am it’s passion that keeps me going. Still, it was a really good, interesting post :)

  • Jason Rafferty

    Nice words Alex, I definitely agree. I think it’s useful to find role models that were able to unify creativity and income effectively, such as you’ve done with Warhol. And emulate how they did it. A big one for me has been Peter Paul Rubens, a prolific Baroque oil painter.

    Thanks for your writing!

    Best,
    Jason Rafferty
    http://www.jasonrafferty.com

  • Alex Mathers

    Totally agree, Jason, thanks for the comment! He’s definitely someone to look at.

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  • nedux

    Thank you, I totally agree. While it’s good to prioritize work you like over work you don’t like it’s foolish to do so when you don’t have money. I’m so glad to see you touched this issue.

    Designers who struggle with this problem and need to decide quick if they take on a project or not while the client is waiting and answer in the mail, They can ask themselves: What are the factors that make me be more creative? It could be the social and cultural space I operate in, and the tools I use, and maybe also the weekend long parties I go to or oh maybe that girl I went out with last week. Definitely my emotional landscape and, let’s not forget being well nurtured, having an office to work and a place to sleep… Now : Will I be able to grow my tallent without all the above?

    keep the greater goal in mind, stay calm and do the work.

    This is how I cope with situations like this: If the low creativity work is affecting my creativity in my free time I do the work I love to recharge. And that’s how it goes. it’s like low level oxygen training. :)

  • Alex Mathers

    great comment! thanks man

  • Design Cuts

    Spot on Alex! Although I do think passion should be equally held up with money. Particularly with creative jobs I think you need to go all in on it. Otherwise you might as well get a standard boring job that pays the bills. Creative jobs are tough, so passion needs to be top of the pecking order, along with money. In the tougher months, passion and true happiness from your art can help you struggle through.

  • Alex Mathers

    Yes! When you rely on creative work for money – the two things are right at the top. They’re interchangeable in that way, expect, for the purpose of emphasising the importance of earning, money goes to first place :).

  • http://www.octopus-creative.co.uk/ Octopus Creative Design

    Money has never been a great motivator for me as a graphic designer. But I have to be realistic, a family, kids and mortgage don’t come cheap! I’m a big believer in finding an occupation you love doing and I’m glad I chose this profession. When you have a passion for what you create it shows. Find the right people and they’ll happily pay for that. Just make sure you never undervalue what you do and recognise potential clients that aren’t prepared to pay a fair price. And move on quickly.

  • McFlyyy

    It is always weird to see that a creative person has problem with “making money” off their work.

    But that’s quite a rule.

    You quoted warhol, and he is quite right. But his idea is so far from the behaviour you’re talkig about. Never got that.

  • Rick Hoffman

    I am artist & a musician. I also worked for 20 years as the head of brand personality for a fortune 50 company. I went to art school & wanted to paint. For 10 years before I worked in corporate I did so. I painted for my own creative reasons. I NEVER SOLD OUT. I sold some of my work & have always had success in galleries & in competitions.There were opportunities for success but they clearly were crass or opportunistic. There are 200,000 artist/waiters in NYC. When i wanted to make a better living I moved for a while to my corporate career. I never stopped making art or music. I assure you the passion of creativity vs making money have nothing to do with each other. Are you a better artist If you end up like Picasso never carrying money, going to bars & restaurants & scribbling on napkins & after an evening – having the waiter think he was beat for the bill – when he sees there was a signed Picasso left on his check? Or is the gift of creativity the joy a starving painter in a garret unknown in life or after but whose every moment with a brush in hand is a personal enlightenment really an artist. Ry Cooder said “the greatest songs are never heard, the best records are never played………”

  • Alex Mathers

    Thanks for the comment Rick!

    This still doesn’t change the fact that if you’re creating to earn a living, you must do it for the money (at least prioritising it), ‘selling out’ or not. Don’t forget that money is a reflection of value in the real world and has nothing to do with greed, moral corruption, or manipulation, in and of itself. What you choose to do with your money is a different issue.

    Value in art results from being conscious- of process, and understanding audience, even if that audience is one single person. The more love and creativity you bring to that the better.

    And so, it becomes the responsibility of the working artist to strive for both adding value, and doing it with love.

    My question to you is this: are you a better artist if you need to move to a corporate job to make money, sacrificing your progression as an artist and ignoring your audience in the process?

  • Janet MacCallum

    I recently started my business freelancing in corporate (and creative) writing and art. I’ve always created artwork for personal and financial reasons, but when I worked in my previous corporate (boring) role, where I sometimes worked a 60 hour week, I didn’t have the energy to do paid art commissions, let alone art for fun.

    Although the corporate writing pays the bulk of my rent and bills and does interest me – art is my passion. The art commissions have also cranked up more than anticipated which has been a pleasant surprise. However, if I could generate the bulk of my income through art commissions/projects I would be rather pleased indeed! It has after all been a long-term goal of mine…

    I understand artists feel guilty about doing paid art commissions, or charging a decent price for their artwork (I used to). However, some people have placed more value on my art than I expected. I do get quite ratty when friends expect me to do artwork for them for free mind you :/

    I think worrying about paying the rent and bills is a fast track way to kill your creativity rather than selling out through doing paid art commissions. I also donate artwork to charity so that brings back some equilibrium :)

  • Alex Mathers

    Good thoughts on compromise and balance, Janet, thank you.

  • Cami

    This is exactly what I’m battling right now. I’m thinking about this just last night and I’m so confused with money and passion. If I create stuff to fulfill my passion, sometimes the result is not something people would pay for. It’s so difficult to be inspired if you just do it for the money. How do you get that inspiration? I love this post. Thankyou