Creativity Is A Precious Commodity

Free Stamp
This photo of Claes Oldenburg's sculpture is by clarkbw.

Last week I received a total of nine emails from Artists asking if I would be willing to trade one of my workshops in exchange for some type of Art work or some other product they create.  Each email was basically the same.

It starts off with a little bit of sweet talk and compliments, followed by the reason why they can't pay, then finished off with a comment that says "it's ok if you say no".

The thing that all of these emails have in common--and believe me, I receive these all the time--is that they tend to be from Artists that tell me the reason why they can't pay is because they are at the beginning stages or are simply struggling themselves to make it financially as an Artist these days.

So basically, they expect me to receive no monetary pay for something they themselves are wishing and praying people would pay them for anyways.

What I hate about these emails more than anything is the fact that these Artists' behaviors and their mind-sets are the actual thing that is keeping them from being successful and self-sustainable as an Artist. Not my prices or what may seem as my "unwillingness" to help them.

If you want to make a living from your creativity--if you want to have a self-sustainable lifestyle from being an Artist you have to embrace that this is a business and back that belief up with a bit of integrity in all of your actions and inquiries.

Business is about making money.

Money is simply energy.

Chris Zydel of Creative Juices Arts is one of my dearest and beloved friends and there have been times that I have needed her professional advice and help with something in regards to my business.  Sure, I could just call her up and ask her.  But I don't.  Because as much as I'm her friend, I respect her incredibly as a colleague and as a fellow business owner in the same industry as me.

So I pay her.  I pay her for her time, her expertise, and energy.  And Chris has done exactly the same thing for my help as well.

This act of paying for something that you would want others to pay you for regardlessly, is a core value to having some integrity to your business and simply to you as an Artist.

Bartering is ok--if both parties go into it with the same energy and excitement.

But bartering as an alternative to paying because you are feeling lack in your own life or business is not an equal exchange of energy for either party involved.  Period.

First, as the person suggesting it--it immediately disempowers you. That's what kills me about those emails I receive.  My whole business is about empowering Artists--building their confidence in not what they do--but in how they embody this great calling of being an Artist.  In how they live their lives from a place of power and authenticity.  Because damn it, Artists are special people.  We have special gifts and resources that the rest of the world don't have access to.

Look around you--creativity is a precious commodity.  Artists are at a HUGE advantage, but more than any other business, so many Artists have trouble realizing this.  And it pisses me off.

The reason why is because it is those Artists that don't value themselves enough to see how precious creativity really is--they are the ones that are not only harming themselves--but each time they devalue the work of another Artist they are actually telling ALL of society that it's ok NOT to respect, value, and honor the Arts.  That the work we do is just a hobby--just something that can be traded for like baseball cards or bubble gum.

Last week, the amazing Nona Jordan, who I admire very much, wrote an incredible post on Kind Over Matter about the same topic I'm speaking of now--and I want to share her words because they explain things so absolutely perfectly and eloquently.  Here is a little of what Nona says about the whole exchange of money, and I completely agree:

1. When we value ourselves enough to charge what we are worth, we lead others. We show them that it’s okay for them to value themselves, too. It isn’t always easy, especially when you first begin. People may balk - but that will be short lived. 
2. Money is an energetic exchange - more times than not, when people get something for nothing, they simply don’t value it. The money they pay is about their investment in themselves just, as much as it’s about what you do. 
3. When we ask for payment, we are also teaching people about self-responsibility. We are telling them that we believe in their ability to take care of their own needs and be resilient. In the long run, this is extreme generosity - the kindest gift you can give another. 
4. Being profitable and creating a successful business gives you the option and the power to support change you believe in, instead of simply complaining about the way things are – for instance, I donate a portion of my profits to Global Giving, focusing the donation toward helping budding women entrepreneurs in 3rd world countries. Profits don’t mean I’m a greedy asshole (which I used to believe) it means I have the opportunity to create more of what I want in the future.

I'll be honest with you--it has taken me a long time to write about this--even though I've had these feelings and views  for years now.

My reason is not because I'm worried that I'll be viewed as money hungry or greedy--it's because it's difficult for me to write positively and effectively,  if I am coming from a place of anger.

And you see, it's  my anger that I don't want to be misread.  Because my anger is simply stemming from a place of deep pain to witness that the ones that hurt the overall value of Artists are actually the Artists themselves.

The fact that so many struggle as Artists is not because it's our culture or society versus us.  It's us versus us many times.

Artists need to stand up and value what we ALL do and back that up with some integrity.

I'm going to say it again: CREATIVITY IS A PRECIOUS COMMODITY.


Harmony said...


As a business woman, and an artist, I can't agree more. In fact, I face this all the time in business also. I work in communications and helping others "market" themselves, product or service. CONTINUALLY I have people ask me for advice, "over coffee perhaps" or "a quick phone chat," and for years I obliged. In my humble observation, this is what I found - most of those people never implement what I told them from free anyway - AND, I remained in a state of constant financial turmoil trying to care for people who need to learn self-care for themselves. I wasn't really helping. (There are rare cases where this isn't so - and they are a gift in our lives for sure).
I think one of our gifts to the world as artists is to help us all find perspective - see that life is never only one hard fast "truth" but that we are so powerful that we are able to create FIRE from two rocks. Perspective - seeing life differently is EXACTLY what we do when we value ourselves and the powerfulness of others, by not devaluing either one in the poverty circle.
THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts on this, for as I write back boldly, I am thinking of the projects I am presently doing for Free for others. :-)

Dana Leavy said...

I'm with Harmony, coming from the perspective of someone who's an artist and small business supporter, and I often work with creatives as well. I think you put into words what many are thinking, but haven't constructively communicated yet. Anyone in business for themselves struggles with pricing their work and knowing their worth in the beginning, but creatives and artists are particularly bad at this, because we struggle to see "creativity" as a tangible product. We're not just getting paid for the hours we work, but for our talent and year of expertise. Bravo - great write up! Cheers!

Artologist's Studio said...

Well said! It makes me crazy when I'm vending my handmade books and people expect them the price to be less because I'm using upcycled materials. They aren't complicated, (or so I thought), but it still takes time, effort and my ideas to create these items.
When we respect ourselves as artists and our work as art, we're teaching those around us to do the same.

Marianne Cantwell said...

Connie!!! Once again with the wavelength crossover. I have been mulling over writing a similar article this week (called 'why I stopped giving freebies') but you said it so well! Though mine wasn't exclusively about artists, I agree that creatives suffer most from this issue. From the 'giver' perspective I noticed that when I gave 'free advice', it was almost never implemented. Same advice to someone who paid? Action was taken. Love that you're respecting yourself enough to use your energy where it serves people (and yourself) the best. xx

Marianne Cantwell said...

Connie!!! Once again with the wavelength crossover. I have been mulling over writing a similar article this week (called 'why I stopped giving freebies') but you said it so well! Though mine wasn't exclusively about artists, I agree that creatives suffer most from this issue. From the 'giver' perspective I noticed that when I gave 'free advice', it was almost never implemented. Same advice to someone who paid? Action was taken. Love that you're respecting yourself enough to use your energy where it serves people (and yourself) the best. xx

Jules Dolly said...

Your post Connie is so timely and *hats off to you for actually writing this. I find this such a difficult subject. As a writer, I'm just finishing my 2nd book on creating your first ever CV (resume). My first book was how to write expression statements for university and published last year. They're both full of activities and great 'blooming' exercises to get creative juices flowing and find the right words for skills. I have friends who ask to borrow the book (It's about £6 on Amazon) or to meet with their children to help them and I get a cake in return, or when I say that I don't have any spare books, I don't hear from them in months. It is people that I wouldn't consider close friends (but friends, if you know what I mean) who actually pay me. I know this is about how I approach it - for sure... but it's still something that I need to really consider and reflect upon. Thanks for reminding me. xx

Natasha said...

Every single human being needs to read this - every one. I'm willing to travel to places where they don't have computers with printed copies of this for people to read. Sister, you have spoken a truth that I can only speak to by saying Amen. Thank you to you and all the beautiful Artists and business owners referenced in this article and responding ...another breath of fresh air from an artist who inspires me today and always. Thank you for writing this. And I'm totally serious about contacting every human being

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Christie said...

I concur! Graphic designers fit in here, too. It's a vicious cycle. The starving artist cliche has sunk deep into the roots of our culture because left brain logic has all but squashed to death the right brain expansion and freedom. We create what we believe so it's up to us as individuals to break free and forge a new path of prosperity.

freecreate said...

good one Connie...I can feel the energy in your words. i am going to have my husband read this, becasue even though he is an Electrician, people will try to offer him a case of beer in exchange for hours of work! And I too have had a fear of charging for my art, but you gave me the boost I needed. Thank you love you.xx

~hali said...

Thank You for this. Pretty sure this is getting printed out and put in my IGNITE book... because these truths, wherever they come from (anger or no) need to be heard until we can all find a comfort in the discomfort of this discussion... because that is what will empower those to claim their worth.
I think many see money as the enemy, the boundary, the shackle, the limitation and cage... we need to heal our relationship with this energetic exchange, and honor ourselves, and our precious creative time in this life, by honoring it. I have struggled with this conditioning, too - but my life is changing in beautiful ways as I embrace this truth.
I believe those who have offered an exchange to you truly have what they see as fine intentions... but they have obviously never experienced the worth, empowerment and energy of your workshops.
I thank you again, for walking your talk here, Sister, and opening this discussion for contemplation...

Traci Bunkers said...

Fabulous post Connie!

cindyolson said...

Although I agree with you, it sounded a little harsh.

Whytefeather said...

I would love to take one of your classes... I would have never thought of trying to get in to one without paying you for your time, energy, and experience.

I will admit I devalue my own work, I'm working on that... moving in to my confidence on it and being ok with asking people to pay for it rather than giving it away. I'm getting ready to make that jump... scarey. BUT I can't for a moment imagine projecting that on to another artist I admire.

Lauren said...

Oh wow... I admit openly to beig one of the artists who asked if we could trade. I am not ashamed of that... I apologize for causing you any anger. I understand your frustration. I am familiar with trading in my neck of the woods - I trade regularly with all kinds of people, it's not always about not having money though, sometimes people want to trade for fun or other reasons. I value your opinion Connie. I hope you aren't offended personally by me or the other artists who approached you about trades, and I hope you can still keep an open mind about what each artist's reasons may be for doing so. If someone really wants to take your eCourse there should be no reason why they can't manifest the money. I do agree with you on that! Wishin you a relaxed day mama. Peace.

Cheryl said...

I agree completely. Thank you for standing up.

Robin Westphal said...

I absolutely agree!

Gabrielle Fabian said...

Fabulous post. Well-stated and spot on. As a full-time educator and part-time artist, I'm in the process of repositioning my life so the above adjectives can be reversed. Integrity is key in everything. Period.

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