Art vs Business? Or with?

I’m going to jump right into this because (a) I tend to meander and blab and (b) there’s a pretty wide scope to this topic and I don’t want to ramble about it.

The awkward tight-rope act that can be the Art-Business relationship is nothing new to anyone who has any experience with it. The debate of whether they can work together, should work together and of course, which is more or less important – well it’s a debate as old as both fields very existence I think.

Today it’s coming up more hotly as technology, more freedom of expression and rights and a greater, more expansive global environment that gives both lines greater than ever opportunity are creating a massive playing field.

An interesting comparison. (click to enlarge)

For the longest time art was ephemeral – this rare, magical gift that few were willing and able to create. Be it music or painting or writing or acting, anything, it was not common. But it was idealised and romanticised and the artist (particularly the cliche of the starving artist) was immortalised. People were patrons to creative madness and the world of the artist was clearly defined as seperate from “normal” society.

On the other hand you have business – the stable, down to earth life choice. The thing that sustains our economies, our systems and has been a massive driving force in the way history has played out. You would be surprised if you spent some time studying how economic goals and ventures (sometimes crazy ones) and the desire for wealth and growth have spurred comfortable or even stagnant situations to suddenly bloom into centres of innovation and change.

They are in some ways opposing forces. One is free thought  and passion and chasing dreams and ideals and providing inspiration. The other is meant to provide stability and creature comforts and more practical development and thought. One can see how they are at odds.

BUT the truth is that they cannot be exclusive and will never be so – at least that’s my opinion.

Whether through patronage (which has a new lease on life in this modern age through things like Patreon and Kickstarter crowdfunding), having a day-job and pursuing creative goals in the rest of your time (which someone like me is familiar with) or following the more isolated starving, forever struggling artist route – there are many ways to do it but in the end creating art is unfortunately not a means unto itself. I could choose to isolate myself and create a masterpiece but I need to at the very least eat, I need the supplies (whatever they may be) to create my art, I need a space where I can work – very little of which comes for free.

And in business you can be solid, be dependable, be hard-working and have a good, stable life. But having seen that all my life and having lived it for 10 years myself, I can tell you that it’s not enough. Observe the business world and its history and you can see that it is also fed by the creative muses. Today more than ever before it feeds on the inspirations and brain-waves of individuals and teams. That same innovation and oft times leap-of-faith is what drove many of those world-changing business ideas I mentioned above.

BUT – and this is a big but – there is a kind of friction between the two that always bothers me and a great many people through their shared history.

We all know the and have heard stories both factual and fictional about the clash between the artist and the money-minded business executive. The tug of war over whether the success and profits are more important than the creative expression and innovation. Musicians and labels, writers and publishers, film-makers/actors and studios – these are just examples of the kinds of clashes in ideology that we all know and have heard about at some time or other.

Yes. There is just cause for angst from the creative people who just want to let their muse flow.
Yes. There is something to be said for how the need for financial gain over creativity can be a stifling force.
Yes. Things like marketing/advertisements and other practices have been more of a negative than a positive with their influence and power growing over artists.
However, No. Business itself is not the enemy. Today we have the crowdfunding setups I referenced above – like it or not, they too are businesses, albeit less profit centric. But still, businesses.

And that’s fine.

In a utopian setup, the world would keep spinning, people would be able to live a more balanced and stress free life and would not want for any of the basic needs of a person – would have all their basic rights upheld. And if you were artistically inclined, you’d be free to do so without fear that pursuing it would make people treat you differently or that you’d be left wanting for food or a home and so on.

But we are not in a utopia.

And truthfully, being a starving artist… I personally think it’s over-rated. Sure, people still do it and will keep doing it and for many, it may well work – if it does, more power to you.

In this modern world however, you don’t have to be and from what I’ve observed, there’s no reason. In the last ten+ years where I’ve been a full-time working person for a completely non-artistic business, I’ve also pursued my creative ends. As have many, many people out there who I’ve been fortunate to meet. They all find some relatively more mundane vocation that keeps the gears moving and gives one the creature comforts, while affording you the ability to pursue your creative interests more on your own terms.

This last part is a big part of why I personally went the way I did. I started as a writer after college – I worked freelance for some newspapers and travel magazines and even worked full-time at a mag for a short while. But I realised that I was putting all my energies as a writer to write things that I didn’t care about just to be able to pay my bills. So I tried something else – and now I’m a more-or-less constructively contributing member of “normal” society, BUT that pursuit gave me the means to not only write what I WANT to write, it gave me the means to go from being a writer who dreamt of writing odd little stories to becoming a publisher in my own right and give opportunities to other writers and artists who crossed my path over the last 6 years.

Is it easy? No. It is worth considering though.

The explosion of mind-blowing artists and writers and musicians that we see today is testament to how a creative person can also be a businessman and a businessman can also be someone with a passion for creativity – they don’t have to be exclusive. People like Mathew Inman who crowdfunded the Tesla Centre, musicians like Amanda Palmer who bucked the money and power driven musical industry by letting fans fund production and shows, artists and writers like the Image Comics founders who stepped away from corporate comics and gave rise to a new world of creator-owned comic publishing, Steve Jobs chose to eschew normal business and made flow, humanity and aesthetic key components of Apples products, Netflix sells its shows directly to the viewer and uses their money to make original programming without advert revenue like regular TV, Jack Conti founded Patreon to bring back the best of patronage and connect creators and the audience, even the Oculus Rift which is a purely tech innovation was crowd-funded and revolutionised VR tech… these are just some of a multitude of stories out there about how with that wonderful innovation that drives ALL aspects of human society forward, the divide between business and art can be narrowed.

The need for money will always be there so long as it is a part of society. But if we can find ways to narrow that chasm as we are today, we can do so much more and frankly, have a lot less angst in life.

Is it perfect? Will it solve things? No. Differences will always be there, priorities shift, greed and egos and creative-crazy will be hurdles always.

The wheel will however keep turning. So to me the question is will you move forward with it or keep pulling against it to live up to some cliche from the past that artists must always be unique snow-flakes who starve and that businessmen/women need always be boring and money-minded and stifling of innovation and dreaming.

What about you?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. scott snyder says:

    Sorry to hear Metal isn’t for you, but thanks anyway, man. Good luck with your writing, and nest to you and yours

    1. Aku says:

      Hi Mr. S, honestly I’m blown away that you saw my random thought and actually came here to comment and were so chill about it.
      And thanks, I’m still barely an upstart little comic dude from India but thanks.
      And no one is sadder than me that Metal isn’t connecting with me because I’ve been a Bat-fan since I was a kid (even had the bat-night-suit w/ cape) and I’ve enjoyed your work on the character since back in Detective Comics – your earliest Bat-stuff was for me the best + I must admit, I like your non-Bat comics perhaps more than your Batman work even.
      Sometimes I guess some stuff just doesn’t work for some people. Such is life.
      You keep doing you, because it seems to work. Look forward to what you do next.

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