Creativity and Commerce: Money and Motivation

creative cultivation


A study of economic/creative history reveals that most of the advances in art have launched during recessions. It would seem that the opposite should be true—that with prosperity comes sponsorship. Yet most creative geniuses arise from the middle class (with a very few, though famous, exceptions). Money and art have never been harmonious bedfellows. Examine any of the forms from architecture to graphics, from painting, to music. An investigation of any creative career reveals:

Truths of the idea business:

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Economic rollercoaster. Somehow there is a perverse satisfaction knowing that Frank Lloyd Wright had economic dry spells. Living on commissions makes prediction and dependability fragile. It follows a feast and famine pattern.
The way organizations utilize creative talents is the parallel rollercoaster—many design tasks are done once.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Star system. When you’re hot, you’re hot; when you’re not, you’re not. Fame doesn’t necessarily feed the bank account. A great example is the career of Mark Rothko who was famous but starving. Then, overnight, he was selling so many paintings that his shoe boxes overflowed.
For the organization, being connected to a famous creative accomplishment is the best form of advertising. Great ideas accelerate marketing and careers, transforming both to the next business level.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Recession resources. Tough times can be the most inspiring—the green horizon looks so much better than the current desert. More is done with less. Necessity can be the best editor. Often those who have money lose the economic validation that comes with the test of marketplace competition and what is fiscally responsible.
For the purchaser of creative services, in a recession offers a greater choices of suppliers. Timing can be leveraged. Budgets can be maximized.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Angst makes good art. Inventions respond to grievances. How many sad songs are popular versus happy ones? Desperation also causes risks to seem less perilous. If hungry, foraging for food in new places seems both reasonable and necessary.
Similarly, for the organization, discovering the areas of greatest member discontent points to needed investment.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Opposites attract. As a reaction or even a backlash, creative thinkers question the prevailing norms. The Arts & Crafts Movement was a rebellion against industrialization. Dada and Pop art elevated commercialism.
Opposites can be used by an organization to stretch and as insurance against future obsolescence. Just as oil and water don’t mix, when shaken together, they can form the perfect vinaigrette for the organizational salad. This embracing of opposing viewpoints recognizes ambiguities through original combinations.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Issues inspire demographic entry. Just as Watergate inspired an increase of journalism students and subsequent professionals, trends influence competition. The rise of the Internet initially doubled the work of all communication designers before it doubled the competition.
An organization flourishes when they are trend creators. Members expect an association to be visionary and to lead in (or at least reflect) new developments.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Myths increase misdirection. The nobility of the starving artist is seductive and justifies a disconnect between supply and demand. Art schools want students, so often they perpetuate opportunities that don’t exist, ill-preparing graduates for the reality of the professional world. Those who treat creative professionals as magicians demonstrate ignorance for the process.
Prevailing myths inhibit organizations from productive use of creating thinking. Often ignored by executive directors and board members, myopic vision prevents advancement. Untapped creative thinking at the top of an organization is a red flag.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Time is misspent. The most frustrating aspect of being in a creative profession is the time spent on non-creative tasks. This is why so many creative thinkers are not good business people. Sales inhibits many artists—the Impressionists are a classic example. And even those who eventually make money by selling ideas are often not good at managing it—witness the lost fortunes of many famous actors. Managing money and making require two different skill sets.
Clients hire creative thinkers to come up with products and want to pay only for that time. They don’t realize that in a creative business, only a minor percentage of time is actually spent in the idea think-tank or in executing the craft. Just as much time is spent in meetings, budget management, and invoice collections. If clients want lower fees, they can minimize such non-creative tasks so that they pay more for the idea development than for many nonessential and avoidable pursuits.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Communication snafus are project-killers. All creative pursuits have parameters. For the fine artist, these may include materials, scope, and skill level. For the designer, these may include budget, media, and politics. Perceptions abound. When Diego Rivera was creating a mural for Rockefeller Plaza, he ignored the client requests. Thus he was fired and his work whitewashed. Most creative pursuits, especially large ones, require collaboration.
When there are disconnects between decision-makers within an organization, the money on creative projects will be lost and the projects will remain unfinished. Solid processes yield solid results.

glass collection of Liane Sebastian Anonymity is the enemy. Unlike noncreative fields, boldness is necessary. Especially in a difficult economy where competition can quickly snuff the squeak of a dissenting voice. When bills need to be paid, taking a bold position can feel too risky—yet to do so is the maker or breaker of progress.
For the organization, the mission has to determine the level of creative boldness. Any group staking claim to leadership has to embrace the exposure and criticism of strong statements.

The economics of creative endeavors is not easy. And it takes different skills than the business side. So blending the two is destined to be interesting and, hopefully, supportive. Perhaps the strongest design teams are a partnership where each brings the opposite skills to the table. It is a rare creative individual that is also savvy in money management.

coin and glass by Liane Sebastian

Photo from my glass collection. This crystal can reflect either upside down or magnify.

See the developing series of Idea Incubators.

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer

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One Response to “Creativity and Commerce: Money and Motivation”

  1. Epitomizing Beauty: Summer Glass « Wisdomofwork's Blog Says:

    […] enjoy the Winter Glass photo and the Money Glass photo (at the end of the post) that enhance my “Creative Cultivation” […]

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