The Artist As An Entrepreneur | The Truth About Building a Artistic Business

I’d like to say that at the heart of every true artist is a dream to leave their dayjob and start their own business. In my experience, however, I have not found that to be true. Sometime late last year, I had to convince an artist friend of mine to discard their dayjob and focus on their art. My friend looked at me like I had lost my mind. What am I going to do about money?

I saw big dreams for this individual; but they didn’t see their art and their skills as something to make money from. If you have a talent and a calling, I agree that you should not solely pursue it to make money. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t make money from it. Why do so many artists have such a hard time seeking fair compensation for their work?

I don’t even think the person I am talking about even harboured any fantasies of leaving their dayjob and pursuing their art. They were fine. They had a job that paid sort of decently and that had nice benefits. While the rest of this person’s colleagues were secretly fantasising about leaving their dayjobs and starting a variety of boring and cliche businesses that would put any investor to sleep… My friend was fine.

Too many people who pitch their business ideas to me think that starting a business is going to make all their fantasies come true. Notice how I’ve used the word fantasy. One perennial truth is that we all have fantasies. It is a world of make-believe. If you were to peek into any human mind, you would find a cesspool of fantasies.

Let me tell you, we would all go mad if all our fantasies came true. We would go insane if all our fantasies became reality. It would leave us disoriented and without a compass. Fantasies have no real purpose other than to exist as a form of play. Not that there’s anything wrong with play and make-believe. It’s healthy to indulge in our fantasies from time to time.

Dreams, on the other hand, are different to fantasies. Most people usually only have one true dream, even if they possess many fantasies. A fantasy creates a mirage in the mind. It never feels real because it is not meant to be real. A dream is something that feels like it is full of potential and future possibilities. A dream is something you can hold onto. It will never leave you.

Creating a dream in reality… Let’s just say that it is a battle. You will face obstructions, conflicts and be pushed to swim against the tide. Exhaustion will burn through you. Many days you will wonder if you should go on. Many days you will contemplate giving up and taking a much-needed and overdue rest. It is an uphill battle. You may even feel lost and confused. You may wonder what possessed you to do any of this.

But you will know that that is the path for you and that there is no other path. Even if you walk another path temporarily, your dream will call you back. It will never leave you. Your dream cannot leave you. Your fantasies can dissipate. They can disappear so quickly that you even forget that they existed.

But a dream… it is what makes life worth living.


Last night, I heard a few Irish folk songs. There was a deep sense of yearning and lamenting in those songs. They are the songs of the land and of the journeys taken from which we can never return.

Through our art, we express our dreams and our yearnings.

There are plenty of creative art business ideas out there, but some have more potential to become lucrative in comparison to others. What holds enough universal appeal to make for a booming business? Even within the arts, there are traditional and innovative businesses. For instance, I see paintings and sculptures as a traditional art form and one that will never go out of style. On the other hand, inventing or creating software and hardware which allow artists to create or distribute their work, would be a more ‘innovative’ artistic business. It would require the creation of more ‘modern’ forms of technology that have not been invented yet.

Some art is high-brow and others are more accessible. Having grown up in Southeast Asia, I am amazed by the work of tattoo artists. Tattooing has been practiced across the globe since at least Neolithic times. While the reasons for getting a tattoo are many, in this part of the world, at least historically, a tattoo would identify you as part of a particular community. Tattooing was not just a design to beautify or mark the skin; it was a process that highlighted cultural connections of knowing and being viewed by the world, as well as the connection one has to their family, society and a particular place.

So, coming back to my artist friend. One thing I learned from my many years as an investor is that the real gems are hiding away. My job is to find them, find someone to polish them and then present them to the world.

I used to invest in more ‘traditional startups’, but these days, I have retired from that role. I have reached a stage where I don’t have the energy to talk.

Gemstones are not like trees. They do not stand tall on earth providing shade, shelter and food for everyone. Gemstones hide away because they do not want to be seen. They need to be pried away from the land and showcased.

In the past, I would go to all these startup events, but these days I don’t even have the energy to listen. I would rather find me a shovel and dig. And I will dig and dig and polish and polish… till the treasure I am seeking reveals itself to me and the world.

4 thoughts on “The Artist As An Entrepreneur | The Truth About Building a Artistic Business

  1. Thanks, Helios for the enlightening article! I especially like the understanding of needless fantasies versus dreams. My favourite quote from a course in Miracles is “A world of clashing dreams.” I can see even more frustration in clashing fantasies.

    As a cottage industry, arts and crafts based luxury fashion designer – coming from a thrifty New England upbringing, it no longer makes sense for me to self invest in this industry. Trying to make and sell clothing that takes days, or weeks to make, that even my wealthiest clientele baulk when hearing the price that offers minimum profitability. Frankly, I’m not comfortable even charging such for “clothes”.

    Offering a series of novels on the same subject matter of sentiment and sensuality, that most folks can afford makes more sense to me.

    I’m sure you are aware not all precious gems need digging. Some are hidden in plain sight under the oceans.

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  2. Early this year, I started to see the futility of chasing fantasies. It made me realise what my true dream was and own up to it. Good thing that castle on the cloud dissipated. I’m now focused on building a real one instead.

    I was in the luxury industry for many years as well. After I departed, I realised how unhappy and unfulfilled I had been. But that was my experience of it. When it comes to any business, it always comes down to who an artist or an entrepreneur (I see the two as very similar in many respects) are trying to reach… but also who they manage to reach. Not all art or all businesses make money. But as long as we keep creating and keep experimenting, we will find our way.

    Home is where you find it and where it finds you.

    You are right, I found my treasure in plain sight. It was there all along, but I didn’t notice it or appreciate it as much as I should have. It doesn’t look like what I thought it was going to look like… But it has been my wildest dream come true.

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  3. I really like the prompt to consider the difference between dreams and fantasies.

    I want to correct my quote- it is “We ask for peace and stillness, in the midst of all the turmoil born of clashing dreams.” Dreams are essential for a fulfilling life – yet I’m at a place where the benefits of releasing the lock grip of mine – then listening to and following only the highest self-guidance offer’s me consistently more substantial inner peace, which in every moment is all I want and require.

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