Exploit your assets

Most artists earn only a small proportion of their income directly from their art practice (and many earn nothing at all from being an artist): there are many different ways to finance your career.

Some artists get work that is unrelated to the art world, perhaps using their creative skills as web designers, commercial photographers or project managers.  Other artists have jobs as press officers, technicians, educators or invigilators in galleries.

While the traditional model of selling artworks via a dealer or surviving on exhibition and commission fees might be the Holy Grail for many artists, in reality very few people manage this. Instead, many artists could benefit from exploiting other assets that they have.

By ‘asset’ we mean anything you have that you can sell – this might be artwork, specialist skills, consultancy or advice, experiences of being an artist, spare rooms in your property or studio, equipment rental, ideas or projects.  It needn’t just be objects, and it needn’t be an outright sale – some of these, including your ideas, images and projects, you may choose to license for a regular income without selling.

Some possible assets that an artist might have include:

Asset Example Potential
Physical
  • Property
  • Equipment
  • Studio
  • Subletting studio or part of studio (check your contract allows this) to offset some of your costs
  • If you have a parking space outside you studio you could let it out
  • Renting specialist or rare equipment when you’re not using it (make sure it’s insured and that these costs are covered in your rental costs)
Intellectual
  • Patent
  • License
Social
  • Networks
  • Mailing list
  • Promote third-party products and services in return for a fee (make sure your list knows you’re going to send this before you begin)
Technical
  • Skills
  • Teaching
  • Socially engaged practice
  • Teaching in primary, secondary or higher education
  • Private art classes
  • Gallery education
  • Film or video editing
  • Web development
  • Graphic design
  • Project management
  • Consultancy
  • Fundraising
Reputation/ brand
  • Your reputation as an artist
  • Smaller art classes with higher fees drawing on your reputation as an artist

Once you’ve identified your assets, look after them: knowledge and skills can become out of date; valuable equipment should be insured; intellectual property needs to be protected.

Whatever you’re selling, get any agreement about money in writing in a letter of agreement or contract to make sure you get paid, and the agreement is recorded.  You can also learn how to market your assets: how to work out how much your time is worth, how to work with commissioners, license your images and how relationships with commercial galleries work.

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