Artist or Businessperson?

by Abby on March 22, 2013

Artist vs. Businesswoman

As long as I can remember in my adult life, I have grappled with two sides of myself: artist vs. businessperson. It’s why I gravitate towards people with offbeat careers and too many tattoos while still maintaining a (neglected) LinkedIn profile. It’s why I have two sets of business cards and two websites. It’s why I sometimes put “freelance writer” and sometimes leave the occupation line blank on forms.

I was raised by two teachers who encouraged me to pursue anything that interested me when I was growing up. That included gymnastics, tap dancing, painting, writing, piano, French, and unfortunate ‘80s hairstyles. Actually, the piano lessons were my parents’ idea. The asymmetrical haircut was all me.

There was no pressure to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up or to pick a sensible career. Like most academics, my parents figured I had plenty of time to figure that out later, like in grad school. (In case you were raised in a very different sort of family and are tempted to grass-is-greener me here, I will tell you this wasn’t some privileged, Upper-West-Side childhood. We lived in faculty housing and I wore my older brother’s hand-me-down burnt-orange Toughskins. So there.)

A side effect of growing up with teachers for parents is that you are shockingly unaware of how different their life is from the 9-5 existence of most adults. People like to paint teaching as some idyllic vocation where you stand on desks reciting poetry to rapt students and get summers off. From my perspective, it looked like endless paper-grading and faculty meetings. But my parents were mostly around for breakfast and dinner and school vacations, unlike most of my friends’ parents.

So it was a terrible shock to me when I grew up and found the only paying job I could get was answering phones in a drab office building and that I did NOT get summers off. WTH?! (Again, if you’re tempted to write me off as some clueless privileged kid, note that I started working at age 15 – 12 if you count babysitting and a paper route. It was mostly to get out of the house, which was super-boring because my parents were always grading papers. )

Even though a part of me always knew I wanted to be a writer, I couldn’t figure out how to do that and still pay my rent. Nobody wanted to pay for anything I wanted to write. So I answered phones for pay and wrote for free. Eventually, I began writing for pay, but it was a “shadow career,” as Julia Cameron put it.

Here’s where I tell you that I haven’t even read “The Artist’s Way.” Even though lots of my writer friends swear by it. It’s because I can’t call myself an “artist.” See? I even had to put it in quotes. “Artist” sounds self-important and pompous, like I should say it with a French accent while wearing a beret. (And I was a French major in college! I KNOW! The irony is staggering!!)

Remember how I got the artist squashed out of me by the art professor who dissed my representational style? I can’t blame her entirely, but if you add that up with the condescension from random strangers over my articles in bridal magazines, the constant queries from people about when I’m going to get a “real job” or “go back to work,” and the roller-coaster bank account balance, you learn to stop thinking of yourself as an artist. Artists are dreamers, slackers, people who need to grow up, buckle down, get real. That’s the story I tell myself, the story that a lot of would-be artists tell themselves.

So then I try on the businessperson hat for a while. I start thinking in terms of hourly rates, marketing strategy, platform-building, engaging my audience, monetizing, promoting, networking. I read the articles about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg with interest and opinions, if not personal investment. After all, I opted out of that corporate world. Sort of. By default. For now…?

But the articles about the actors and the singers and the REAL artists keep calling to me. The creative urge is still there, below the interviews and invoices. Someone asks me what I do. I falter, fumble for an answer. I’m back where I started – stuck between two worlds.

I don’t know if I’ll ever come to terms with my artist and businessperson sides. Maybe I don’t have to choose; maybe they can peacefully coexist. Maybe one day I will pick up “The Artist’s Way” and read it. In public. Beret optional.

LINK O’ THE DAY: I was link-hopping and I found this post. It spoke to me. Singer-songwriter Christa Wells, “This one’s for the mother-artists…

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Angie Mizzell March 22, 2013 at 10:12 am

I work from both sides of my brain, too, and it’s tough to find the place where they coexist. Perhaps the problem arises when we allow them to work against each other. The artist brain is just as judgmental to the business brain as the business brain is to the artist brain. Maybe they don’t have to operate full throttle at the same time. Maybe there are times and places for both.

I believe the artist comes from a soul place, and it must be given room to breathe. The business brain is the “function in the real world” part of us, and we need it, but we can’t allow it to bully us into catering to our critics and fears. We must speak directly to the hearts of those who are waiting and eager for us to share our art.

That’s just me, and what I’m thinking after a jog on the treadmill. 🙂


Abby March 22, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Well said. You sound more like an artist to me. 🙂 If I didn’t know better, knowing you have had great success in business, too!


Angie Mizzell March 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I just had an epiphany. I’m definitely an artist. But I know how to market myself and my work. But before I can really do that, I need to fully understand my work and what it is I’m “selling.” I have to fully believe in it first, and I’m still getting there.


Abby March 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I think artists in general have a tough time marketing and selling. They are more likely to see their work as art instead of a product. Not that I consider my writing high art, necessarily, but it’s definitely different than selling jewelry or something that I’m not personally attached to.


Angie Mizzell March 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Exactly. It’s not like we can set up an Etsy shop. But then I look at the bloggers and writers and authors that I personally admire, and most of them have a clarity of message or a clarity of “this is me” and this is what I’m doing. So then, they are marketing, but they are doing it by being themselves. And I like that… at least that’s where I want to be.

Angie Mizzell March 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm

But to be clear, I struggle with what you talked about in your post and I’m certain we are not alone. Some of it’s timing, or connections, and things we don’t really control.

Maureen March 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm

You’re artsy. At least I think of you as artsy. A cool mom who has artistic, creative talent. And it’s your business too so I guess you’re both. You’re Abby 🙂


Abby March 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Thank you! That means a lot coming from a tattooed mom who likes cool music. 🙂


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