The Era Of Creative Work Is Just In The Beginning

It iPhoto by kychan on Unsplash

It is slowly becoming a feasible option to make a living from creative work.

According to a UN study, the ‘creative economy’ — that is the part of the economy, which trades in any kind of goods and services that are of creative nature — was a $547 billion industry in 2012.

The study concludes that the creative industry has been growing by an average of 8.6 percent per year between 2003 to 2012 and continues to do so, “despite the economic deceleration of the world economy”.

In the few years since then, a lot has changed.

Companies like Patreon, which allow creators to monetize their work on a membership basis, have been launched. Services like Amazon CreateSpaceare becoming more and more of a viable alternative to traditional publishers.

Youtube now provides a full-time income for thousands of video producers worldwide. Anybody can now sell their music anytime, using services like Spotify, iTunes, Google Play or Amazon.

Painters can auction their artworks through a large variety of online services. Any kind of creator can sell merchandise to their fans through services like Teespring or Redbubble.

In short, new ways of monetizing our work keep popping up every single day.

And, more importantly, competition among such service providers, becomes more and more fierce, every single day.

This is good news for us. The more service providers are competing for creators to use their services, the more beneficial the conditions for creatives, are going to become.

But let’s go a little bit back in time…

As Jack Conte, CEO of Patreon, has said in his TED Talk:

“The whole machine in 2013 that took art online and outputted money, was totally non-functional. It didn’t matter if you were a newspaper, or an institution, or an independent creator. A web comic with 20,000 monthly readers, would get paid a couple of hundred bucks in ad revenue”.

His argument was that until a few years ago, most companies were focused on providing the infrastructure to store different kinds of arts, and distribute it in various different ways.

These were companies like shipping businesses, marketing firms, record labels, book publishers and so on and so forth.

But then, platforms started to develop, which made it possible for creators to directly share their work with their fans. No longer was it necessary for any kinds of creators to make use of a middleman, who would take care of marketing and distribution.

Within a few years, this whole distribution infrastructure that existed for a long time, was completely bypassed.

Since then, there simply was not enough time for a new system to develop, which provides a reliable way of monetizing creative work.

While new service providers are slowly showing up in every single industry, they simply didn’t have enough time to evolve to the point, where they can provide for a decent living for masses of creative people.

Right now, only the top few percent of creatives on these platforms, are truly earning a decent living.

Soon, a large percentage of these creatives, will.

When doing creative work becomes a ‘normal’ career choice….

Today, most people are still shocked, when their children announce to them, that they want to be an artist. The fear of their children ending up poor, is simply too strong.

Being an artist, regardless of what kind of art it is, is simply not considered to be a stable and secure career choice.

Jack Conte believes, that our generation will be the first to witness a change in this situation.

And I want to believe it with him.

I don’t know if it is going to be Patreon, which is going to make the change. But I believe that the competition among all those service providers, will get the infrastructure to the point, where most artists (if they are really hardworking and keep pushing forward) can live off their work.

With that, I don’t mean becoming rich.

I think that if becoming rich is one’s goal, then becoming an artist is the wrong career choice, in the first place. All I am talking about is being able to make a living, to the point, where we don’t have to worry much about money.

The ability to make a living, by doing the thing we love the most.

Our responsibility

Having said that, I also believe that all of us, who want to turn our passion into a career, have a responsibility.

We can not just rely on other parties to make it possible for us, to make a living off our art.

That would make us dependent.

That would make us depend on being children of the right circumstances.

Once we are in that mentality, we have already lost. It is only when we recognize that it is us, who have to take control over our own destinies, that we have a chance of ever getting anywhere.

As Benjamin Disraeli famously said:

Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is in our own power.

I think that you and me have as much responsibility to contribute to the infrastructure of making it possible to make a living from our art, as anybody else does.

That doesn’t mean that you need to become the CEO of one of these service companies.

All it means is that you need to step up in a way that is within your possibilities, and that make sense for you as a an individual.

Let me give you a very simple example.

Casey Neistat is one of the world’s most successful vloggers. Until recently, he has mostly been busy building his own vlog, while at the same time also running a media company.

Now, he has decided to start a new project called ‘368’. He has basically rented a massively huge office space in New York. There, he wants to build the necessary infrastructure, to bring on many smaller Youtubers, who can use the space to create their art.

So, he is building video production studios. Music production studios. And everything else that a creative space needs — sports facilities, relaxation areas, quiet work spaces and so on and so forth.

He wants to make it possible for these smaller video creators, to focus full-time on the process of creation, without being worried about money.

Now, he is inviting different people from different aspects of life to join him on this journey. Jack Conte, for example, has famously pitched Casey via a viral video, and basically offered for Patreon to somehow sponsor these smaller creators, in one way or another.

At the same time, Casey has now somehow convinced one of the founders of Reddit, to provide the necessary technical support to turn that project into reality.

Casey Neistat with Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian

Of course, these are all big names.

Most of us simply don’t have the resources to do something similar. But still, we all can do something, that is within the realm of our own power.

We all can step up and take responsibility for helping the community of creators. We all can take little steps, which will make it a tiny bit easier for artists to make a living off their art.

The question is: what little steps can YOU take, in order to help the community?

I’m not talking about something large here. I’m not asking you to invest a lot of your time and resources into something, in a way that will seriously disturb the work on your craft.

Especially, if you are still struggling to make a living yourself.

All I am saying is that if you want the infrastructure for creators to move forward, then you can not simply rely on other people, to do all the work for you.

You yourself have as much responsibility in this matter, as everybody else does. In the end, it is a task that we all need to tackle together. We, as creators, are responsible for turning our profession, into a real career choice.

We shouldn’t be dependent on anybody else.

As creators, we should also be the creators of our own fate.

After all, this is what we do best, isn’t it? Using creativity to solve difficult problems.


First of all, let me say this: no matter what kind of art you are passionate about, you will make a living off your art one day (if that’s what you want).

We are part of the first generation, which is in the privileged position, that every single artist can reach people directly through a gazillion of different means, and therefore build their very own tribe.

But this is the mindset of dependency.

In the end, only you yourself can create your own destiny.

Michelangelo lived in the 15th century. At the time, artists were among the lowest classes of all. They were mostly looked down upon. Basically, they were used as tools by rich patrons, to show off how much ‘good taste’ they had for things of beauty.

What many people don’t know is that Michelangelo came from an aristocratic family, that had lost pretty much everything.

Michelangelo decided that he would restore the family honor. But since he couldn’t do that by re-entering the political arena, he did it by turning the whole artistic profession around.

He decided that he would not be treated as a ‘pet’ by powerful men. He even resisted the calls of the most powerful man of the time — the pope himself.

That was something unheard of at the time.

In the end, he had achieved much more than he ever set out to do. He became one of the most respected (and richest) men of his time. He became the creator of his own destiny, through sheer willpower and determination.

He was a man of action.

A man who would fight for his goals every single day.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…” — Theodore Roosevelt

Let’s all take responsibility for our own destiny.

And together create a future, in which being a creative, is a desirable career option, for anybody who wants to pursue it.

Call to action:

Jordan Gross and me have just recently started to create a community called struggling forward. We are a community for creators, who are helping each other through the process of going through the struggle, on the way towards our dreams.

Feel free to send an e-mail to, in case you’re interested to participate in the community.

This article originally appeared in Art + Marketing.

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