There are really only two types of jobs as an artist. The free artist and the freelance artist. That is to say, the artist working in his purest form and the artist at work for hire.
These are two distinctly separate roles to be fully understood in order to make a decision as to what role you wish to take in the world and how to conduct yourself within each role.
I have worked on both sides of this line. I have worked as an artist free to do as I pleased. My art was my art. It was an expression of myself, my understandings and my world, fully and completely. In this instance of being a free artist, you are creating your art on your own terms. You do not have any exterior input influencing your decisions. This is what many of us strive for.
I have also worked as an artist-for-hire. This is also known as a commissioned artist. Someone else has hired you to produce a piece of art — a movie score, a portrait, a website design. You are not the only one with a hand in the shaping of this final artwork. More often, this is what you will be doing in order to make money with your art. This is not free art that you are allowed to simply create as you will. This is a very important distinction to understand. You will, in this case, have another viewpoint that will likely be impinging on what you are creating. This is a job.
I have heard it said that some artists have difficulty with this. When they get with a client, the person who is paying them for their talent, skill and execution of the art, the clients may have suggestions or requests as to what they expect to see created. They have hired you for a specific purpose. It is your job to find out what they want and to deliver it. That does not seem to be such an odd thing to ask. However, I have heard of artists telling their clients straight out, “I am the artist. Let me do what I do.”
Understand that their is a time and place for both the free artist and the freelance artist mentalities. We all would love nothing more than to simply create our art exactly as we like without having to listen to our clients because, “we are the artist and we know better, so there.” Unfortunately, they world doesn’t always work that way. If you want to make money with your art, if you want to quit your coffee shop job and go full time, you may have to pick up a couple of freelance jobs here and there. You may have to build the majority of your career on working for someone else. Therefore, you need to understand the importance of working with clients, of finding out what is needed and wanted in what you are creating and delivering just that. That is how you get re-hired. That is how you get referred to others. That is how you build a career.
Develop a professional mentality. In work-for-hire projects, you must do your very best always, but, at times, you must also separate yourself from the art. Know that this is a collaboration not a solo run. Deliver what is expected. Deliver better than expected. But stick within the parameters of what the client is asking and don’t whine about it along the way. Yes, freelance work is work inside a box. But you chose that box. You climbed in happily when you said yes to the project. That is a professional. Be proud to be one.
Adopt the One for Them, One for Me mentality. This is a policy that many critically and commercially successful artists have adopted. Many directors and actors take on commercials and studio blockbusters in order to keep the bills paid during the lean times when they are doing their low-budget independent passion projects. Ang Lee’s Hulk vs. Brokeback Mountain, Kidman’s Stepford Wives against The Hours, Nolan’s Batman franchise and Insomnia.
If you can develop the kind of professionalism to detach your ego and your heartstrings from the work-for-hire process enough to allow yourself to let another’s input enter in, but not so much as to allow for your work to become an apathetic or ugly product, if you can produce a good piece of work that is something you are proud of and that makes your client happy both in the process and the finished work, you will have a good shot at building a sound career.
Work-for-hire is the bread and butter. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If it is not exactly what you had envision, just note that it was a collaborative work. Chalk it up to that and move on. Do that passion project. Keep yourself happy and invigorated and creative. Just not at the expense of your own career. You need both. Choosing one over the other is like choosing between your heart and your head. You can’t live without either. Take care of both and you will live long and fruitfully.
Stay hungry. Stay Well-Fed.
The Well-Fed Artist – featured in the 9 o’clock hour on Radio Soapbox every Monday night. Listen live or listen to the archives.
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