Stoic Street Smarts

Brushes and Balance: Decoding the Eternal Duel between Art and Business

Published 6 months ago • 4 min read

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While the following is only my opinion, it's an opinion rooted in the definition of words, both formally and colloquially.

I find that many people confuse interpretation and perspective with facts and data. For example, it's a fact that the planet's temperature is rising. It's an interpretation that this is due to human-influenced climate change or part of a natural cycle.

It's a fact that there are more blacks in prison in America. It's a perspective that this is due to a racial bias by the justice system or the residual effects of slavery.

If you're ever confused about the difference between a fact or data point and a perspective or interpretation, the former can be calculated entirely, while the latter can only be partially speculated. A computer can measure the increase in temperature or break down the prison population by race. People can (and do, quite enthusiastically) debate the causes of those numbers.

You can show two people the same data set, and they can reach two entirely different conclusions about what that data means—and both be "correct."

There's rarely a problem agreeing on what happened or is happening. The issue is always in determinin—and coming to a consensus on—how or why.

Or put differently, we're great at discussing and agreeing on outcomes (subjective or objective; "This is dark" and "This is black"), but we commonly disagree on the process ("That was easy. I don't know why you thought it was difficult").

This nicely brings us to the "art vs. business" discussion.

What Is Art? What Is Business?

Art is a process. It's a mode of expression.

While others may enjoy it (to the point where that artist enjoys commercial and financial success), art is created with attention to the method and the artist's personal satisfaction. Financial gains are possible (especially if you are talented), but money is not the initial goal or sustaining motivation.

To the 1st point, the method. There are many mediums of artistic expression. You can write, paint, sculpt, sing, rap, etc. You can run, jump, swing a bat, throw a ball, etc. Yes, I'm considering sports as art. Anything can be considered an artistic pursuit.

"A man can be an artist in anything. Food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." -Paul Rayburn, "Man On Fire"

We choose a method that suits our personality and interests. People with athlete-level physical ability don't always choose the sport with the highest payday. If the mode of artistic expression were always chosen with money in mind, every artist would learn to write screenplays and sing pop music.

This is not to say that there aren't elements of business that will help your art succeed, but the moment personal expression takes a backseat to commercial motivation, you have moved further into business than art.

The definition of a successful business is one that turns a profit. This is not my opinion. If you disagree, show me a business that exists but does not turn a profit and is not subsidized. You won't be able to because they don't stick around for long.

However, the conditions for a successful artist are pretty arbitrary. There isn't any way to objectively say that one piece of art or performance is superior to another. We can recognize a lousy performance or piece of art, but differentiation between artistic ability becomes difficult after a certain skill level.

  • Who's a better composer? Beethoven or Mozart?
  • Which is more enjoyable? Country or rap

Yes, these are preferences, but business does not have preferences. They are either in the red or the black.

On the flip side, you can be a broke artist. More specifically, financial compensation is poorly correlated with artistic skill.

There are business elements that need to be introduced to make an artist commercially and financially successful, but the crux of my argument is that when you create with the intention of profiting, you move closer to business.

Can You Do Both?

Absolutely! And you should do both, in my opinion. With that said, never lie to yourself about why you made the decision to go a certain way with your creations.

There's a good reason and the real reason.

If the real reason you wrote that post is for SEO ranking and to make an affiliate sale, then your writing must reflect that. Don't get angry if your brilliant prose and wordplay don't translate into sales.

On the flip side, you can't get frustrated if your peers don't consider you a serious writer if the only thing you've written is advertisement copy.

The best thing to do is create the highest quality product possible. Whatever you do, try to be the best at it and make sure you get better every day.

If you turn your passion into a business, do so with the complete understanding that your market may either not have the money to spend or not have the interest in spending money.

However, what's FAR more likely is that your ego is standing in the way of you accepting that you need to learn business. You also probably aren't as good as you think you are. At least not good enough to "go pro."

Business makes you a better artist because it forces you to fix deficiencies in your ability you've ignored because people weren't paying.

Art will make you better at business because it forces you to develop craftsmanship, hone expression, and appreciate attention to detail.

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