Blog / 2008 / Why Making Money from Your Work Makes You a Better Artist

March 20, 2008

I’ve heard it said that, if a person is making a living as an artist, she-he must have sold out somehow. While I’m sure that does happen, I think that the opposite is possible too. The working artist can have more freedom and potential than an artist who depends on another source of income.

In the United States certainly, money is the most explicit form of communication possible between two non-intimate people. When strangers buy my work or commission me, I can have no doubt about how they feel about my work: they like it well enough to put their money where their mouths are.

When I was starting out, selling those first few paintings quashed my artistic insecurities. Far from leading me to repeat myself just to make a buck, this new-found confidence enabled me to find better ways to make my paintings.

Even today, every time I receive criticism about a particular piece or my work in general, I’m in a really good place to receive it—specifically because my only source of income is my work. If someone doesn’t like my paintings, I can comfort myself with the fact that, though this particular person doesn’t enjoy my work, plenty of other people are excited enough to buy it. This knowledge takes the sting out of even the harshest critique and allows me to consider more fully the individual’s opinion and to learn from it.

painted portrait of a white man with red hair
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
48 x 34 inches

One of my earliest commissions was this portrait of Herb. In our interview process, I asked him what he liked and didn’t like about my work, and, as we talked, he kept coming back to one portrait of my grandfather. Herb remarked that the painting showed how much I love my Papy.

client with portrait

Hearing Herb say that made me realize that my paintings should always mark what is special about the subject. I won’t pretend that I love every person who sits for me, but there is something good in just about everyone, and that’s always worth celebrating.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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