Just the facts: Art Inc.

Cover image for ART INC by Lisa Congdon
Cover image of Art Inc by Lisa Congdon

This is my review of Art, Inc: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist by Lisa Congdon and edited by Meg Mateo Ilasco

I finally got around to reading Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon, a really well-recommended book about the business of being an artist. Art, Inc. is part of a series of books about being a creative person in business, all written by Meg Mateo Ilasco, who edited Congdon’s Art, Inc. Other books Ms. Ilasco has writen include Craft, Inc., Blog, Inc. and Creative, Inc. All the books ask one basic question. How do you take a your creativity and art, and make it into a business that supports you and keeps you fulfilled?

Art Is a Real Career

As Congdon notes in the book, the general perception of creative careers is that they are not “really” careers, in the sense of making money. Instead, creative people are often idealized as tortured, starving artists rather than happy, healthy, self-employed people. If you DO make money as an artist or crafter, chances are some people think you’ve sold out. When money is involved, the incorrect assumption is that you’re producing art for the sake of money aone.

Unless you are creating art and selling it in ways that resonate with your values and core aesthetic, you will likely be miserable as an artist. – Lisa Congdon, Introduction

Well, Lisa Congdon is here to say no – all that is an old wives tale. She gives lots of examples of successful, paying-themselves-a-salary working artists. She couples this with a lot of basic information regarding how to set up and run a business. Congdon encourages her readers to stop thinking about creative business in the same old negative way. Instead, have confidence in your art and use it to become self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

Why read Art Inc?

I think the book is worth reading if you’re considering being a working artist, which to Congdon (and me) means committing to running a real business. However, running a business and making money can be complex and confusing. If you’re concerned that you can’t make money from your art, this is a great book that inspires confidence. Yes, you CAN be a working artist if you also put effort into being a business person.

Success. What is great about this word is that you get to define it on your own terms. – Lisa Congdon

I also like it for its step-by-step information regarding how people really do start art careers (hint: there’s more than one path). I’m not a working artist, so it was enlightening for me to see information on art-centered business topics. Some of these sections include creating sources of income, negotiating contracts, being represented by galleries and agents. These are all somewhat tangential to the business of bookkeeping, but central to the business of art. I was most interested in what Congdon said about the financial and legal aspects, but she covered marketing and other business needs as well.

What does it say about finance?

Finance winds its way through the book in different ways, referencing costs, pricing, and keeping up with income and expenses.

She has a section about the basics of creating a business which includes finance. She advises her readers to keep up with their finances (tracking income and expenses) right from the start. It’s very basic, and probably not what I would write, but it makes sense if you aren’t a bookkeeper. Does she recommend outsourcing bookkeeping? Yes – in fact, outsourcing tasks that don’t come naturally.

Be realistic about your natural strengths and weaknesses; if tracking your income is nothing but stressful, then it’s probably a good idea to outsource that while you direct your energy toward the aspects of managing your business that come more naturally to you.” – Lisa Congdon, Chapter 2

A great deal of text is dedicated to pricing of different sorts, based on different income streams. I think these sections are very valuable, as pricing is one of the more difficult aspects of running a business. She throws in the complication of pricing with an agent as well.

Great Stuff

If you’re an artist looking for a place to start, or have already started and are trying to break into a new income stream, this is a great place to begin. It doesn’t have some of the in-depth information that you’ll need as you dive into these areas more (I found the finance section ultra-simple), but it’s like the Wikipedia article that points you to all the other stuff you have to look up. Which is why it’s great that it has a resources section for more information!

A great addition to my shelf of business books for creative people.

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