You’ve seen it… over, and over, and over again:
“What are you crazy what do you mean you want to be a writer (or put any artistic endeavor in place of writer) There is no money in the arts!”
“You will die a pauper artists are people who have failed academically.”
“You should get vocational training or go back to school until you crack it academically.”
“You are doomed.”
“You don’t want to be trouble in your old age.”
In fact, that is precisely what every wise person tell you, it all comes down to the fact that art or creativity is for DUMB people.
Or maybe that is my imagination but that is the feeling that I get and it’s not just the general perception held by the public but some people in the creative industry believe the same sentiments.
So much so, that many artists have bought into this prevailing dogma.
So you believe that you have to beg, you have to please donors and you have to adopt some weird persona in order to be considered an artist.
And maybe that’s correct the weird persona will get you noticed, and in the process it will unloosen the purse strings of the donors and you will get feted in western capitals and get to teach as some prestigious university so that you can survive and keep the demon of the hungry artist at bay.
There’s just ONE problem.
Those scraps are all you will ever get. And maybe a couple of columns in the local newspaper where the journalist will mourn the fact that your creativity was never appreciated and that policy makers should do more to stimulate the creativity sector.
No meaningful legacy. No wealth. Nothing Nada.
The question is why is this so? What wrong are we doing?
How Popular Arts Advice Can Become A Self-fulfilling Prophecy
What wrong are we doing?
After all, the creative industry generates billions of dollars globally, annually.
At this point in time, I am going to turn around and be paradoxical, maybe the cold hard truth is that as creative we are DUMB. I tried to find a nice word but there was none.
It is not only about how great your product is, because there are a lot of mediocre creative products in the market that are generating money.
So why do we find ourselves in the same poverty vortex that a multitude of artists have endured since time immemorial?
The answers lies in statistics.
Most artists are statistically illiterate, this does not refer to finance only, (I think it is important that even when you are an artist to get a basic understanding of math and accounting). There is no way you are going to run a commercially viable enterprise if you cannot read a Cash Flow statement.
The business environment is difficult terrain to navigate and having an understanding of numbers is critical to your success.
Talent alone will not, even when you manage to get the recognition you crave there are vultures who will take you to the cleaners if you do not have an appreciation to what the numbers say.
This is why this is not another article that complains about being ignored by policy makers or being undervalued by society.
Why Statistics Is Your Best Friend If You Want To Succeed As a Creative
Your talent is important- no doubt about it.
But once you have used it- to create that world-class product (novel, film, painting etc.) you are playing a different game all together. (At least that is what I have observed)
It becomes about what’s next: your product strategy.
Get that wrong and I promise you will perpetually dancing in the hungry artist matrix till you die.
How can you save yourself from the doom that will likely follow?
One phrase: Statistical Modelling.
Financial Modelling is a tool that most businesses use, I wonder what makes artists arrogantly think that they are immune from the rules that govern the flow of finance.
It is this arrogance that causes us to look dumb!
So, to help you get out from the cave of perpetually hungry artists and to help you transform into a successful creative entrepreneur. Let’s look at the four ways statistical modelling will assist you in your decision making processes.
- Statistics Help Us Know Our Value
It sounds simple.
You would assume that artists know their value right?
But that is not the fact, remember I pointed out that because of the prevailing wisdom artists really do not have an appreciation for their value.
That is why even with a gift to tell stories and package them in different mediums most of them die as paupers never truly having reached their potential.
Another reason for this is the way the global economic system is set up. However, that is an article for another day.
When you have an understanding of what you bring to the table then you are able to price yourself and your products accordingly.
You are not valuing the product as an artist but you are valuing yourself through your talent.
- Statistics Help Us Know the Value of Product
Most artists think that this is the only important statistic that matters in the game of business.
This is partially true.
But just knowing this will lead to undervaluation of what you are worth and also overvaluation of the market size.
There are other statistical numbers that you have to be able to read so that you have a clear idea of how pricing will affect processes in your business.
An artistic product has copyright and you can use this in so many way to generate income it’s astounding but this comes with understanding the numbers game. I will do a follow up article on copyright (I know in many countries in Africa copyright is difficult to policy but that again is the problem of artists themselves).
Most artists treat this as a hobby (that’s why the perception rings true that creative industries are for academic failures). Treat it as a business learn and put systems in place that will assist you price the product just right.
- Statistics Help Us Create Proper Strategies
It’s not possible to function without a strategy. It might work for a limited time but one day it will come back to haunt you because you will be burnt out by running around like a headless chicken.
This is an observation, most artists do not have a business strategy, they are just thinking about how to get the next dollar.
You might say is that not strategy? I would concur but it does not lead to sustainability.
You have to think long term and plan with the fact that fame is seasonal. The opportunity will evaporate because faster, more beautiful, more talented and much more skilled people will come into the picture will overshadow you.
So you better have a strategy that helps you stay in the game long-term even if you are no longer in the front lines.
- Statistics Help Us to Model the Future
We might not be prophets but we do not have to say that the “fault is in our stars.”
You do not have to curse the day of your birth and the fact that you have been blessed with a creative gift.
Numbers or statistics are not contrary to the artists, I believe they are vital and there is something totally debilitating about an education curriculum that does not equip the student with the necessary tools to help them succeed in their chosen field regardless of whether it is in commerce or the creative industry.
When you keep cash flow, profit and loss and balance sheet statements you have a better understanding of your circumstances than most. I know this is a critical decision making tool.
Things do not just happen. Some artists make a lot of money during their days of fame but they choose to stay in that moment and not project into the future and they add to the perception that the creative industry is for dumb people because how can anyone choose it when the end result is dying as a pauper?
Learn To Read the Numbers and Avoid Being A Hungry Artist
The entrepreneurship world is a scary place and statistical illiteracy is an unforgivable sin.
Statistics are not the enemy, they are not contrary to the arts, they are a powerful ally if you want to navigate the potholes of failure and come out triumphant.
You cannot just assume that people will love your product without doing research and understanding the dynamics of your market(s).
So instead of decrying policymakers and donors, maybe it is time to lobby them to run programs that teach about financially literacy and establishing business systems.
Talent alone will not. Skill and talent alone will not. It might not be the complicated mathematics that we were exposed to during our school days BUT I contend that if you truly serious about being successful then…
You still need to do the math!