Why Money Matters and Why You Should Value Your Craft

2019-05-02 Essay


by Wendy Hamilton

Earning a living as a creative is difficult no matter what area of creative arts you pursue. My experiences with creatives have produced more heart-breaking stories of artists and others not value the artist’s work more than, I believe, in any other profession. I have never gone to a grocery store and expected them to give me my food for free. I have never taken my car into the mechanic, called a plumber, electrician, or any service professional and expected them to do their work for free.

Yet, artists are asked to work for free all the time.

Artists are asked to work without pay or without a living wage in the majority of their work. There is a reason why we have the “starving artist” stereotype because the stereotype is based upon a reality born from the lie that artists are not worthy of receiving pay for their work.

The request for free work may seem innocent enough.

In the past two weeks I have had a friend and a family member send me their work “to take a look at if I had free time.” While I love my friend and I love my family member, it was necessary to honor my boundaries-I work as writer and songwriter and train writers and songwriters, so I have to work. If I don’t work, I can’t do what I love to do which is meet the needs I see and help my family. University for my child is just as expensive as university for someone else’s child. I don’t get a pass on living expenses simply because I am a creative and neither do you. Logically, we know this but emotionally sometimes we need someone to reinforce the idea that we are worthy of having our needs met and to earn a living too.

Set Boundaries

To ensure that I earn enough money to “meet the needs I see” as well as help my family pay for additional expenses like college or university, I put boundaries around my “free” work. In the case of my friend, I explained that I didn’t have free time until next week. In the case of my family member, I suggested other options because the work needed was more than what I had time to complete. Because I honored myself and my work, others honor me. When I have been in situations where I did not honor and value my work then others did not honor me. It is important to remember that you are not responsible for another’s response. If someone cannot respect your boundaries then they do not honor you and you need to, if possible, find other people to be friends with or limit your contact with the other person.

To value your craft, it is essential to understand that people will treat you the way you let them treat you. If you struggle with setting boundaries with others, I highly recommend that you read the book Boundaries by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud. I encourage my kids and all the creatives I teach to remember: Your rights end where another person’s rights begin and their rights end where your rights begin. Functioning from a culture of honor should be acceptable and reasonable for most people.

It is very difficult to enjoy your artistry if you are struggling with basic needs or have nothing to show for your efforts. You have a right to have a roof over your head, a place to eat, clothes to wear and the ability to get where you need to go. Those basic necessities are essential to everyday life and you being successful at being an artist. Even if your income as a creative is additional in your household or not necessary to meet basic needs, every advantage any other profession would yield for someone else is an advantage you also should have.

When I encounter artisans in homeless shelters and on the street their stories are eerily similar. Someone they trusted did not value their craft, often insisted they did something else more practical and in many situations and relationships were severed immaturely and the creative was hurt. The environments they were exposed to in the majority of circumstances often created toxic, addictive, and harmful situations for them and resulted in significant negative results.

Honor yourself. Value your talent and your time. You are worthy of receiving payment for your work because you add value by what you do.

Be Generous

I believe that when we as artists live in a lifestyle of generosity that the way we do life is influenced favorably and generates better results than a less generous life. I set aside a portion of my working week to “give” my art away. Usually this time is dedicated to help individuals or non-profit organizations that otherwise could not provide someone with experience or passion to help people in significant need.

If you enjoy helping people and your help is about serving them and not about you then I highly encourage you to be generous and sow into the lives of others in ways that they can never repay you. Watch how they are transformed by generosity that creates ability without enabling. Be generous but not to a fault. If you are giving your time and talent, then there does need to be some expectation of their shared investment. For example, if you give free guitar lessons, the person/people you teach need to practice and learn the lesson. They need to try, learn, and improve. If they don’t want to invest to the extent that you do, then you may have to reconsider your investment. You have finite time to invest in the lives of others under “generosity” and you want to give or sow into hearts and minds that are eager to take what you give them and do something amazing.

How to Value Your Work

Everything you do as an artist has value. Determine ahead of time what your response will be to the request for your work. If you get caught off guard by a request, never feel obligated to give an immediate “yes”.

“Let me check my calendar/schedule” is an acceptable answer that gives you time to determine if what is asked compared to what is being offer fits your expectations and is a reasonable payment for the services you will provide. (Remember, you need to eat, have housing, clothing, and transportation too and you are worth receiving income to help you achieve whatever your personal or professional goals are.)

Be willing to value yourself and your work and take the time to process what is being asked of you and whether or not the offer gives you more than it takes. There are some opportunities that you and I would do for a reduced fee or no fee simply because the exposure or the marketing would be more beneficial or advantageous than if we received a fee. There are some opportunities that we should avoid altogether and only you know the answer for you.

Wendy M. Hamilton is a teacher of writing and songwriting at Inspired Life Ministries, a creative arts ministry, located in Dallas, Texas (USA), and partners with multiple organizations to equip and encourage writers and songwriters. She is the published author of many songs, books and devotionals including her one-month devotional for moms, 30 Verses to Heal a Mama’s Heart, available on Amazon.com and Amazon Europe.