What to do when Financial Distress Threatens your Art



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Financial distress. It can get the best of us into a heap of worries. But what does it do to our art?

I’m reading through Austin Kleon’s new book, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Badand I have to say that it’s really making me think about things differently. Or at least, it’s got my brain going in directions other than the annoying circle it’s been in for the last several weeks.

So, as many of you know, I work for Filles Vertes Publishing as their nonfiction editor. I love my work with FVP. But I’m also a writer. I’ve written a book that I don’t know what to do with, and what’s funny is that now I can’t write anymore. I mean, other than my journal and the occasional blog post. I’m not even good at keeping up on my blog.

And I think some of that is due to the fact that my family needs me to bring in more income, and I’m feeling some strange things about my art and writing. I’m feeling:


a) Like everything I produce must be perfect and able to be put on display.

b) Like everything I produce must be something I can sell or otherwise make an income from.

c) Like I must work all the time.


So the things I love, the things I’m passionate about, art and writing, have become a source of pressure. I am putting way too much pressure on myself to bring in money from things that were once just a great hobby. But now that I have sold articles and had my work printed in exchange for money (now that I know I am capable of doing that), I feel like everything I produce must be at least that good.

As a result, I can’t write and I never draw. I threw some paint on a piece of paper yesterday and made a very bad abstract, and that felt wonderful. But I’m achieving neither of my goals. Because of the pressure I’m putting on myself, I’m not only not making any money from my work, I’m just plain not working. I don’t even know what my real work is anymore.

This is a myth and a tragedy. Kleon writes, “Forget the noun, do the verb.” He circumvents this fear of failure and need to make a living off your work by avoiding calling oneself an artist or writer, and instead just focusing on the acts of making art or writing.

Are you paralyzed by perfectionism? Is financial distress putting more pressure on your art than you want?

All I can do is fill out the job applications. Write the blog posts. Draw the portraits. Maybe throw in a timely op-ed piece. I can’t control whether I get an interview. I can’t control whether anyone reads my writing, all I can do is put it out there. I mostly suck at drawing, but maybe I can encourage someone else who feels like they suck too.

I cannot control the results. I can only do the work that is in front of me.

*If you are interested in Kleon’s other books, here they are. Quick, easy reads that really get your creativity going. I love all three of them.


What about you? Are you feeling the weight of the economy on your canvas? How do you navigate or balance needing to make art with needing to make money? Let me know in the comments!

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