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Mastering the Creative Hustle Requires a Balancing Act

Being a creative doesn’t suck, but it sure as hell isn’t easy. And while all paths in life are not easy, a career in the arts can be shakier than others. Nevertheless, there is something about working the creative industry that makes one’s soul light up like a Christmas tree. And thanks to technology and the open-mindedness of this generation, creatives from different fields can pursue their passion and actually make money from it, with relative ease compared to the era of Picasso. If this is the path you’re planning to choose or have already chosen, be prepared with a good dose of hunger for creativity and have a clear view of your goals. It’s going to be a crazy, exhausting journey; of course, it’s going to be very rewarding too.

Aside from the common problems every creative entrepreneur faces – such as inconsistent finances and self-doubt – there’s also the dilemma that every creative will, at some point of their career, have to face. Some will drown in it without even noticing, others will spot it right away. Either way, it’s something you need to address the moment you notice it, or risk getting lost in the interwoven relationship of your creative hustle and the business of survival.

We’re talking about the dilemma of balancing your passion with your practical needs, otherwise known as the creative hustle. Being able to keep writing poems or keep painting or keep designing portfolios, while at the same time making money from it to pay your bills, isn’t always easy. It is easy, however, to fall into the trap of valuing the money you make more than the passion you put into your creative work. Believe it or not, when you start becoming less passionate about your creative hustle, when you create just for the sake of creating and you become fixated on the cash, people will notice. Your business will be at risk. We did some digging and asked a few artists in various creative fields how they deal with this inevitable issue. Here’s what we found:

creative business
A successful artist has confidence in their practice but is also open to criticism.

Remember that your art is a piece of you

This may sound corny, but your art is a piece of you. Keep in mind that in the creative industry, you are selling your work, something nobody else can do but you. This is not something you can just hire someone to do if you’re feeling tired or uninspired. During those times, it’s your duty to yourself to circle back to why you chose this path in the first place. One of the common mistakes creative business owners make is that they let the money inspire them. Always, always keep in mind that it’s your creativity and passion that put you in the business. If you lose value in those two, the artist in you will slowly fade and your creative business will invariably come to an end.

Always be learning

It’s quite common for folks in the creative field to push boundaries, refuse to learn and to just do their thing. That’s all good. That, after all, is what sparks creativity – the curiosity and the bravery to experiment. The problem begins when one refuses to listen to others who have already made it. Josh Dale, founder and editor-in-chief of Thirty West Publishing House, says that “If the artist succumbs to the criticism and surrenders, then their journey of creative expression is likely over or at least exiled to the privacy of the artist themselves.” It is one thing to accept a criticism, it’s another to actually listen to it. In order to survive in a creative business, it’s necessary to listen closely and to always be willing to learn.

Of course, checking in with yourself is just as necessary. Visual artist Carmen Ashley Rice shared that she’s been told multiple times, by friends and galleries that she would have to “choose one avenue or else she’ll saturate everything.” Rice is a multimedia artist. “Since birth, I’ve created first and foremost for myself. It is my therapeutic outlet for depression; my voice of suppressed emotions. It is a platform to touch and inspire the lives of others. It is my lifeline” she shared. And in her case, which is similar to the case of many artists out there, listening to your inner-self becomes more critical. Rice decided to continue doing what she loves the most. “I shrug these options [of choosing one avenue] because I’ve always created first and foremost for myself.” Rice noted. “There is no critic that could break my artistic soul. Art is either liked or disliked, and as long as I like what I make, and that it touches the lives of those who like my art, no other opinion matters.”

creative industry
You never know who will end up seeing your work, and how they’ll feel about it. Be prepared for negative responses.

Don’t saturate your passion for a buck

This is yet another helpful tip from Rice. In the creative industry, it’s easy to fall into the trap of valuing money more than your craft. What used to be a work inspired by your creative gremlins could sooner than later become a creation inspired by your hunger for money. Of course, finances are important, and it’s an aspect that requires major adjustments. But keep in mind that your duty as a creative business owner is to create, first and foremost, for yourself. Don’t give in to the temptation of creating something simply because it’s a social media hit. As Josh Dale says: “The rabbit hole elongates, yet narrows, for the artist begins to work within the constraints of the market and the platform’s demand of them.” Unless you want to be stuck in that hole, you better remind yourself to not saturate your passion for a buck.

Accept that your work is meant to be liked and disliked

This perhaps, is one of the most common reasons why folks in the art industry end their careers. There is no way everyone you meet will like your work. Don’t let any criticism take your career away from you. And most certainly, do not stress yourself out following every single rule people tell you. This world loves to put everything in boxes. As an artist, if you listen to all these rules with the hopes of increasing your reach, your audience and your finances, know that you’ll end up achieving the opposite. Accept that your work is meant to be liked and disliked because that’s part of the industry. Some galleries may feature you, others may think your work is crap. Whatever you hear them say, keep in mind that you are creating for yourself; money will always follow if you put in enough passion. As potter and painter Tiffany Thomas said, “I feel that a piece of myself is in my art,” and that is what being creative for a living should feel like.

creative hustle
Take care of yourself and your work. Spending money on expensive materials and breaks can sometimes be greatly beneficial.

Don’t feel guilty about spending

Finances are tricky no matter what we do. Most artists tend to feel guilty about spending, either on materials or simply when they grab a lunch with fellow artist friends. Understanding the balance between how much you should charge is a big question mark for many. Tiffany Thomas of @tthomasarts told us, “I think the main thing to remember when monetizing your art is value. When you use the best ‘ingredients’, you should charge accordingly.” So yes, if you’re wondering if it’s worth it opting for a more expensive paint, it probably is.

Furthermore, keep in mind that expenses should not just be about your work. Self-care expenses like a short trip to the coffee shop to relax your mind is something you should allow yourself. After all, no matter how much time you spend in your studio, if you are stressed out or your mind isn’t functioning, you won’t be able to create something of worth. Value yourself just as much as you value your creation.

There’s not enough words to explain how fulfilling it is to build a business in the creative industry, and to actually make that business work. It’s a different kind of roller coaster ride – a kind most people don’t even fully understand. But for artists, budding ones and pros alike, this roller coaster is what completes their life. Mastering the creative hustle is so much more than knowing the best art techniques or social media hacks to have a bigger tribe. It’s a glamorous dance between your adult responsibilities, your artist self, and you.

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About the author

Tammy Danan

Part-poet, part-writer, and full-blooded human megaphone of the oppressed, Tammy Danan is a freelance storyteller. She is an introverted queer who gets by with unhealthy amounts of coffee, the sound of tattoo machines and the smell of a newly cleaned typewriter. And oh, she’s curious about a lot of things.

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