I think a lot of us have unconsciously adopted the idea that we’re ‘bad’ with money. The old stereotype that artists are disasters of finance starts seeping into our subconscious as early as the first time we hear of the tragic end to Egon Schiele, or figured out what was going on in Puccini’s La bohème. Without realizing it, many of us have adopted the identity that we’re just bad with our money, and have quietly suffered thinking there was little we could do about it.
I’d like to take this moment to fundamentally disagree this.
I happen to think artist are some of most resourceful, and ingenious money managers out there. Why? Not only can we do so much with such limited means; routinely find ways to make something out of nothing; act as primary financing for our ambitious projects by subsidizing them through second jobs and side gigs, all while riding the rollercoaster of a fluctuating income — but we also have what has recently been characterized as the most important factor in predicting success: a heaping helping of grit.
Grit is a hard to define personality trait, but is so powerful that it can jettisoned a person of average intelligence, average means, and below average advantage far beyond the ‘geniuses’, the ‘gifted’, the ‘privileged’ of the world. Those of us with grit find success not because of our high IQs, or our dashing good looks, but because of a dogged perseverance to keep trying — to persist, persist, persist — until we get to where we want to go.
Anyone who has made their way in the art world for a few years knows that it’s tough, unpredictable, and merely surviving requires an iron-clad stick-to-itiveness. And those of us who continue to raise our freak flag every day, year after year, have got to have clearly defined goals in place to keep going. More than almost any other industry, it’s hard to know what effort, project, performance, or exhibition is going to be the thing that moves us forward, so we have to keep our eye on the prize, and continually reassure ourselves that all of our efforts will eventually get us to where we want to go. We don’t stop trying, because our passion, our purpose, and our identity are all wrapped up in the same thing — making art. And succeed in such an important mission, in my view, grit is our most important tool.
Celebrated educator and psychologist Angela Duckworth, spent years conducting a multitude of studies focused on people across the spectrum of age, economics, and industry, in order to identify a single ‘significant predictor of success’. This predictor was the same whether she asked which sales rep would make the most money in the year to come, or which kid would advance farthest in a spelling bee. The factors she measured, included social intelligence, good looks, physical health, and IQ — but none of these things could predict success. Only grit, which she defines as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.
It’s my opinion that we in the arts community are steeped in a culture of grit. In fact, the thing that we love so much about the starving artists of the past is indeed their grit. The disconnect, when it comes to money, is that many of us don’t realize that our financial health as a meaningful component in the longevity of our art careers. We focus so much on making, and on honing our creative skills, that the financial part of the equation is easily ignored. However, I believe that once we get it — once it becomes clear that our financial health is essential to sustain our creative ambition, then we’ll have the grit to focus on doing what needs to be done.
It takes a lot of determination to nurture one dollar into two dollars, into three dollars, and so on, in order to create a stable financial platform on which to build a creative practice. But our advantage in this is our grit, and that powerful cocktail of passion and perseverance is what I believe makes us poised for financial success. The starving artists has had it’s time, and now I hope we’re all embracing the model of the thriving artist, and use our vast reserve of grit to succeed creatively and financially.