Why Artists Fail In Business

Everyone knows the cliché of the starving artist. Parents discourage their kids from becoming artists in fear that their kids will end up struggling to support themselves. In today’s society, entrepreneurs are celebrated for creating successful businesses.

But did you know that artists and entrepreneurs have a lot in common? Both like to march to the beat of their own drum, both are risk-takers and both are creators.

Both have a vision and a need to create. So if artists and entrepreneurs have a lot in common, then why is it that so many artists fail at business?

What makes somebody a Vincent Van Gogh, an artistic genius who ended up dying broke, versus Thomas Kinkade, an artist who became one of the most wealthy ones of all time?

Why Many Artists Fail At Business

The main reason why artists fail at business is that they don’t identify a viable market to fill. Creating art is a self-indulgent activity. Artists listen to the inner voice that drives them to create.

Overall, it’s a really great thing. Art has the power to move us, to transport us to new worlds and to inspire us. And creating good art is difficult. It takes a lot of introspection and searching.

But creating good art isn’t enough to make a viable business. A lot of artists who go into business for themselves try to start a t-shirt or print business. They usually fail because there aren’t enough fans of their work to sustain the business.

The barrier to entry is pretty low, so there’s also a ton of competition. Furthermore, the market size for art prints is pretty limited. Most people who buy art prints are art students or fellow artists. People usually buy a t-shirt because they relate to it in some kind of way, not necessarily for the art. So when it comes to making a business, artists need to think not only about what they want to make but also why a consumer would want to buy it.

What’s the need and how can they fill it in a unique way? Aligning your artistic passion and with a market, need is the challenge for the artist-entrepreneur.

How To Go From Artist To Entrepreneur

The Difference Between Artists And Designers

It’s all in the mindset. The designer’s approach is completely different than the artist’s. A designer constantly thinks about the end-user. They conduct market research, identify a problem, and then use their artistic skills to create something that fills a market need.

This is why creative problem solving is one of the most important skills of a good designer. Artists will become more successful at entrepreneurship by thinking more like designers. They have to think about how they can take their art and leverage it in solving a problem. What is a product or service people need, and how can they fulfill it? How can they delight people with their art and solve their problems?

Recently a group of artists started their own business, Live in a Story. It was a wall decal business. They noticed a lot of wall decal companies fulfilling a need. Parents need to decorate their children’s rooms in a cost and time-efficient way. Wall decals make a lot of sense. They are easy to apply, removable, inexpensive, and safe. This is one of the rare opportunities where they saw a clear market need and thought that they could offer a better product than the existing companies out there. The art that wall decal companies currently offer is pretty bad. They look generic and the quality of the decals is often cheap.

When the artistic group thought of the idea of making wall decals with friends from the publishing industry. Wouldn’t it be great to make wall decals out of the best children’s book illustrations? The group would be fulfilling an existing need and offering a better product. They find a way to offer more value by providing gorgeous art from artists who have dedicated their lives to making art for children.

The Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are system builders. Their art is creating their own business and design is only one part of the system. There’s so much more to consider. Marketing, sales, and customer service are just a few.

The reason why Vincent Van Gogh died alone and broke wasn’t that his art wasn’t good. It was because he wasn’t an entrepreneur.

There wasn’t a current market demand for his paintings and he didn’t know how to market or educate the public to create demand. As for Thomas Kinkade, despite the fact that art critics loathed his art, he was able to successfully market and sell his work to mainstream America. He was a very good entrepreneur and a savvy marketer.

He coined himself the “Painter of Light.” Kinkade also built a scalable business model and a system for production. He had a factory producing prints and workers that dabbled paint onto prints to make them seem like unique paintings.

By doing so, he was able to charge thousands of dollars for a print because it was more like a painting than a print. Consumers walked away delighted feeling they had bought a painting from the “Painter of Light.”

Entrepreneur Heroes

As an artist and an entrepreneur, the artists need to think a lot about what they want to create in the world and how to make a living doing it.

I have a bunch of entrepreneurial heroes: Walt Disney, Jim Henson, and Steve Jobs just to mention a few. What all these entrepreneurs have in common is that their business is their art.

They had a deep passion for building their business and a strong sense of purpose. For Walt Disney, he wanted to make cartoons, then thought of as just short films, into full-length feature films. Jim Henson wanted to show that puppetry could be a real art form for stories. And of course, Steve Jobs wanted to make technology accessible to the everyday person through good design.

In our example, the mission of Live in a Story is simple: Connect the work of artists to families through dazzling consumer products. The entrepreneur artists behind this project are working hard every day on this mission.

To be successful at entrepreneurship, artists need to think more like designers in creating products and they have to embrace the role of a system builder.

What motivates you? What’s your art? Then put on your designer hat and think about a product or service you can provide that solves a problem.

When you start your business, you’ll become a system builder and wear multiple hats. That’s when you are an entrepreneur! Don’t be afraid to start. There are a lot of good resources and people to learn from.

Article contributions by Arree Chung by My Wife Quit her Job

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*the pictures have references to the artistic in alt text and they are links to the artists' platforms.

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