Thursday’s Work-in-Progress: The Profitable Artist

Tuesday evening, a writer pal and I attended an event that featured representatives from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). The event’s focus: a new book co-published by NYFA: The Profitable Artist: A Handbook for All Artists in the Performing, Literary, and Visual Arts, “the first complete ‘how-to’ guide to being a professional and profitable working artist. This handbook features techniques in the areas of strategic planning, financial management, marketing, fundraising, and legal issues including contract law and intellectual property.”

I’ve gone ahead and ordered the book, so I haven’t read it and can’t yet comment on its content. But I’m already struggling with what it means to be a “profitable artist,” and how the book (or NYFA, for that matter, despite its noble intentions) can help me (or anyone) attain that status.

NYFA’s Executive Director was present on Tuesday evening, and he didn’t seem entirely pleased when I posed these questions during the Q&A. He did helpfully note that the book is intended to provide resources no matter where you currently find yourself–whether you’re an artist with a day job who basically needs to learn all there is to know about the areas the book covers, or you’re a self-supporting artist who could benefit from some extra tools and tips. But as for getting from one level to another–sort of my dream–I was told that “it takes discipline.”

You know, I do have a fair amount of discipline. I suspect that the same is true for plenty of you. Moreover, I’m not exactly at Square One when it comes to certain aspects of the writing business. What I don’t have is a lot of time. What I won’t have, without my day job, is a steady stream of money going into my checking account. What I still don’t have is a sense of exactly how the book may help me, or many other writers I know.

I’m probably not doing myself any favors by posting this: NYFA, and its Executive Director, may well read this post when it pops up on a Google alert. NYFA may not like what I have to say, and I do currently have a(nother) NYFA fellowship application filed. But I think it’s important for us to be realistic as well as optimistic. Meantime, it seems that the soundest way for me to be a steadily “profitable artist” is to keep my day job.

7 thoughts on “Thursday’s Work-in-Progress: The Profitable Artist

  1. Erwin K. Roberts says:


    Sounds like another round of “artiste” vs “illustrator”. Which does nothing but get my blood boiling.

    The book’s kudos seem to be from the folks to whom the creator of “art” applies for grants. (Since we don’t have Dukes, Princes, Earls, and whatnot to be “patrons.”)

    This from a writer who if he ever manages to create “literature” will be one surprised wordsmith. I had more than enough lit forced on me in school to ever want to write the stuff. :^]

  2. We can always count on you to ask the hard questions – one of the many things I admire about you. I started a business to support myself and my writing, but of course that business takes all my time. My hope is that once it’s more stable I’ll have some time to devote to art, but I don’t know that that will be the case. I remain hopeful. Looking forward to your take on the book!

  3. Jenn Crowell says:

    Good for you! It does seem odd that what seems like such a pragmatic book and concept are being cloaked in such vague terms.

    I’d suggest also checking out the workshops and guide by Gigi Rosenberg on grant funding for individual artists. Very down-to-earth and detailed. (She’s based here in Portland, OR but I know she travels to NYC on occasion.)

  4. It is an important topic, isn’t it? Thanks for the comments, everyone.

  5. Armand says:

    The eternal struggle for me too! I’m constantly tinkering with a small list of mantras/ and or acceptances that I keep in my day planner, all of which are reminders to me about what I should or shouldn’t expect in terms of career success, in terms of happiness, in terms of financial success. My most current mantra is “Writing might make me happy, but sure isn’t going to save me.” which leads me back to the interesting question of whether I really need to be saved anyway. I’m glad you brought up the day job too. I really need to fight the urge I have to apologize for having a day job. I have to say that- at the end of the day- being a profitable artists must hinge to some extent on luck and the people who are lucky sometimes won’t be able see that. I think maybe the focus needs to be more on: can I find my spot as an artist (be productive, share in the arts, find my audience) while keeping my day job and helping my family and making little or no money. Thanks for prompting me in this interesting topic.

  6. Dear Erika,

    I was not at all upended in any way when you posed your question. It is a fair one that should be asked as the title of the book lends itself to the scrutiny of the book. I would suspect that like you, most people in the room, are not starting from ground zero when it comes to reflecting on how to move forward with their career. The book ask the reader that during those times of reflecting one incorporates tool of the entrepreneur to help structure the reflections. NYFA believes that without putting your thoughts on to paper in informed concrete ways, it will be very hard to know what the next step is, how to break down the goals of that next step into smaller doable actionable items, and to further look back on your goals and assess them weeks, months or years later without them first being written down. We believe this process provides clarity to the reader and that this clarity is a crucial tool of understanding for oneself how to make money in one’s career. Thank you for ordering the book. If you are amenable, I would like for you to reach out to me, after you have read the book, so that we can get together and get your feedback. This would be a valuable exercise for NYFA and hopefully you and your readers. Perhaps together, we can make the book more accessible to the person who has not read it so that he or she can see whether the book is for them or not. Please reach out to me directly at my office as I may miss noting an inquiry to get together on your blog.

    As for the Fellowship that you applied for, I wish you nothing but good luck. As a point of information for all of your readers, the submissions to the Fellowships are judged by your peers from a panel of artists who work in the same discipline in which one has applied. Neither the NYFA staff, myself nor the NYFA Board has any influence or decision in who is selected. We have been providing the Fellowships and using this methodology for the past 25 years and hope that the process we undertake speaks for itself with respect to its integrity.

    Lastly, I agree with Ms. Crowell regarding Gigi’s book on grant writing and in fact I wrote a blurb for her book on the back cover. It is very down to earth and detailed. So is The Profitable Artist. There is nothing vague about it. Again, I would suggest that people actually read the book before having opinions about it.

    With due respect, Michael Royce, Executive Director, NYFA.

  7. Erika Dreifus says:

    Well said, Armand, and thank you, Mr. Royce, for your comment as well. I would be happy to chat with you after I have read the book, and of course, I would send any communication intended specifically for you directly to your office.

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