Back in November, I was interviewed by Lizzie O’Leary, host of NPR’s Marketplace Weekend who was querying different kinds of folks about their relationship to money, including me the artist. Our short chat was inspiring and has prompted more writing on the subject.
Lizzie asked me to explain why I believe it isn’t noble to be a broke artist. We have to free ourselves, I told her, from the very old story that money is evil and has a corrupting influence on our art. That just keeps money at arm’s length.
A person who separates art from money is like someone who walks their bicycle. Money is a vehicle. You don’t walk it, you ride it. You let it take you somewhere, which first means trusting that it can and will show up and support you. Money is currency and green is not its only color.
Asked how I came by my lessons about money, I shared that I’ve had to unravel my own inherited money myths. After years of employment outside the arts, I finally in my mid-30s heeded the call of the voice within that said Sing! Sing full-time. And so I gave up the security of a fantastic corporate job for the chancy life of a nightclub singer. Every time that company’s stock split in the years thereafter, I wondered if I hadn’t made a huge mistake. I was still of the mindset that money showed up as payment for effort and nothing more. Something to put in the bank and live on. That led me down the path of fretting about money too. Luckily, I’ve always surrounded myself with people who really believe in my talent and understand the role that passion and a serious work ethic play in anyone’s success. And I’ve counted on these few trusted souls to nudge me back on the path of art whenever I threatened to veer off into safer havens or defiantly push away money and abundance.
I thought of that while riding my bicycle.
– Albert Einstein
on the Theory of Relativity
I’ve learned that money IS currency in a very broad sense. I’ve learned that when I am true to my art and calling, money will follow me anywhere I wish to go. In fact, it’s often already there waiting for me when I arrive. I trust money. I trust money as current and energy. Money is streaming energy and wants nothing but to flow. Money doesn’t want to be at the center of our lives as artists, it wants to serve what’s at the center of our lives. And it shows up in endless forms, dollars and cents being just one.
To understand why we’re so hung up about money, we have to look at our stories. Across time and all our cultures, we’ve concocted delicious stories around the idea of the poor artist. The poor, hungry, cold, solitary and yet somehow magnificently prolific artist is in our history books, folklore and romance. Poverty, we’ve told ourselves, produces the greatest inspiration – far better paintings, books, poems, plays, films, dances, and songs. The glory of the starving artist is a myth. If you’re starving, you’re not producing. Your mind is on survival, not the sharing of your gifts.
Another story we have is that money is corrupting and ruinous to art. We believe that the artist who becomes successful and amasses wealth will inevitably lose it – her bearings, taste, abilities, integrity, family, health, her very life. And it’s happened often enough that an artist dies and dies young, but not actually because of anything money did or didn’t do. That money is a demon is a myth.
So we actually give mixed messages to money – from “I don’t want you near me” to “I can’t live without you.” We demonize it at the same time as we glorify it. We chase after it with our fretting and anxious thoughts of fear and lack, and wonder why it runs away. Or we put up the blinders and wonder why it never reaches us. Suddenly having not enough money or too much money is the focus, is our daily bread. Now money is at the center of life, and creativity is huddled over in the corner, shivering and starving. That’s the distressing rumble we feel in our tummies when we fret about money. We think we’re hungry for money but we’re really hungry for our creativity. We long for integrity.
So we have to take a broader view of money. We have to approach it with the understanding that it’s a tool, a vehicle. We have to respect it like we do any other current: a rushing river, the voltage in our walls. Money as currency and current looks like this: a studio in which to create, a patron, a voyage, a meal, a good review (a bad one too), a contract, a contact, a colleague, a student, a mentor, a bill of good health, a stroke of good fortune, whatever makes you smile. Apply this filter to your day as an artist and then ask: Am I wealthy? Am I thriving?
Abundance is our birthright. We were all born as artists, as creators, even though a good many of us have forgotten it. Create and you will never be poor; destroy and you will never be rich. Harbor thoughts of scarcity and poverty, and money will find another place to flow. It’s the way of nature. Open the portals, welcome all visitors, and watch as the money tree grows. And the wheels of life go round and round…