Once upon a time, I wrote a piece about how an artist stood out at a local street fair by being interesting and unique. As a consequence, that artist sold more than her peers and connected with several new clients. By offering unique and interesting products, both she and her customers won.

A brave soul took umbrage with my post, saying:

“You miss the point. Artists sell to be able to create more art, they do not create art in order to sell it.”

I appreciate the stance but I believe that this philosophy makes a mockery of an artist’s customers. If you decide to sell your art, everything changes.

You now have a business, not a hobby.

Do you have a hobby or a business?

It comes down to this question, do you have a hobby or do you run a business? There’s a wide gap between the two. If you attempt to sell your product then you are running a business, and a business is a great responsibility. On the other hand, if you just make art for your personal amusement or to give away, then you have a hobby. Hobbies carry no inherent responsibility.

As a business owner, your first and best responsibility is to provide value to other people, your customers. You’ve decided to enter the world and offer value, you are asking others to place a value on your work. It might not feel like that but to see it any other way is disingenuous. Why else would you have a booth at a trade fair or offer your work in a shop for others to purchase?

You are giving people a value, but also letting them give you a value in return. To say that those relationships are secondary to your art is a terrible way to run your business, and yet that’s what many artists do.

With great power comes great responsibility

You can’t honestly shirk the responsibility and still sell your art. You can tell yourself that people who “get” you will buy, but that’s simply not good enough. You are giving up on your responsibility. You have the power to bring great joy and happiness to people but you have to realize one important thing…

If you run a business then you have to consider relationships.

How this all ties together

One of the central principles of business and relationships is the idea of uniqueness. You won’t deeply connect with someone you think is like everyone else. There’s something that stands out about that person, something that sets him or her apart. The same principle applies to an artist as business owner.

If you have a hobby, you don’t have to worry about uniqueness, or other people for that matter. You do what you do and create what feels right without any thought about others. Why would you, it’s your hobby.

But a business is different. Now you have to stand out, to make your art more valuable to others to get more value in return. You have to consider what the customer thinks is valuable and change your work accordingly. This is not the same as a hobby no matter how much you wish it was.

Business is a relationship, not about you

Because once you decide to sell, to make your art public and ask for customers to place a value on it, you are entering into a relationship. That implies give and take, a working together, and, yes, sometimes that means compromise. While it’s true that some artists have been successful by not compromising, typically they were dead or it was a hobby that got lucky. If you start a business with your art, then you have deal with relationships and all that entails.

It’s either a hobby or a business

You need to decide.

Artists sell to give value to the other person and receive some value in return, not so they can create more art. There are far easier ways to make money. Don’t sell yourself, or your customer’s short by pretending your efforts are something they are not.

So what do you have, a hobby or a business?