Is it unethical to say you are an artist if you’ve never made any money from it?

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You love making music, or writing or producing paintings or sculptures. However, you have never made any money from it so is it unethical to call yourself an artist?

After all a lawyer, an accountant or a credit controller calls themselves this because that is what they are paid to do. Does the same apply to art or writing or music? Do you have to be earning money from it to be an artist, a writer or a musician?

Or can you just be one anyway, because you love it irrespective of whether it brings in any revenue.

Yes you are an artist

As far as I’m concerned, if you make art or make music or make words on a page or make anything — then you are an artist, a musician, a writer or a jeweller. You are practising your craft, whenever you have the time, with patience and discipline. Sometimes what you do is only for your own consumption, other times it is offered publically to others. If you are doing this on a regular basis then you are an artist.

Who made up the rule that says you have to make money from it?

Who made up the rule that you are only a real artist if you do it for a living as your sole income earning activity? I had a quick google of this conundrum and there are various points of view out there. But the one that resonated with me most was that this — you made up the rule. It is in your head.

You determined that to be a proper writer you have to be published. You determined that to be a genuine musician you have to be out there doing professional gigs. You determined that true artists are the ones that sell their work in swanky, expensive galleries.

Society seems to enforce these rules. If you tell someone you are writing a book the first question you’ll get is “when will it be published?” If you hear that enough times then it becomes a suitable end goal before you can call yourself a writer.

The layman is excited when you say that you are a fine artist with your own studio but they get disappointed when you say that you work as a private tutor to make ends meet.

Lose the but

As artists we need to be careful how we describe ourselves. You might say “I’m a painter but I work in a call centre”. When we use the word “but” it eliminates anything that comes before it. For example, “I like your dress but isn’t it a bit short?” The person in the dress doesn’t hear the compliment in the first part of the sentence, just the criticism about the length of the dress.

Another common statement is “I’m a writer but I’m not published yet.” However if you change this to “I’m a writer and I’m not published yet” it sounds a lot better. I’m a writer and I don’t happen to be published yet. So what? In fact this statement leaves the door open that you might well be published in the future.

“I play in a band but we don’t make much money from it.” How about “I play in a band and we don’t make much money.” You play in a band, it sounds very enjoyable and you don’t do it for the money. How lovely.

To go back to my first example “I’m a painter and I work in a call centre.” One statement no longer negates the other. You are both and there is no room to question either of them.

Value art for art’s sake

If you have to use a “but” then you are not valuing your art. Is it a hobby that you have to shamefully hide? Are you not valid because you don’t earn your income from it?

How about just valuing the art for art’s sake? How about giving yourself a massive pat on the back because you’ve got off your arse and created something? You’ve created some not just once, but time and time again. How about valuing the discipline to do this, the skills that you have honed, the money you might have spent learning how to do whatever it is that you love to do?

Love — mm — there’s a good word. How about valuing your art simply because you love to do it?

Isn’t it unethical not to value yourself and your creations?

Originally published at gentlewarrior.co.uk

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Realistic advice on being creative alongside your busy life. www.gentlecreative.com. I write novels too. Need romantic escapism? Check out www.calibird.com

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