Make art a business

The Gazette recently reported on an artist who has transformed his talent into a thriving business, and I’d like to highlight a few lessons from that article.

The business is Underground Studios, and the artist is Scott Takes, who does designs for local and nationwide businesses.

He started out doodling in high school, and that turned into his great skill and passion. His professional work for a long time revolved around painting motorcycles, but has now expanded into broader businesses.

Scott is a great example of what can happen in our communities if we learn how to encourage artists in the right way.

The problem with art these days is that the model for becoming a successful artist is outdated and wrong. There hasn’t been a Pablo Picasso since Picasso. Museum art is a rigged business where a few artists are raised up in order to raise the value of their pieces irrespective of the talent or the voice of the artist. At the same time, potential artists are encouraged to spend many thousands of dollars going to expensive universities to get degrees that have no chance of leading to real careers in art.

That means many of might be great artists in their own way end up in debt and doing something completely unrelated to art. The number of waitresses, delivery drivers, and bar tenders I’ve met with a background in art is stunning.

Scott shows a better way forward, though. He didn’t get a degree in art at a fancy college. He immediately found an avenue for his art that was lucrative, and he’s expanded it over time into his own business.

This should be our model for young artists. We need to change the image of what it means to be an artist in our society. We should stop telling young artists that they haven’t made it unless they have the fancy New York apartment with paint splattered on the walls and are having a showing at a major museum. Instead, we should be telling them that they’ve made it when they are like Scott, successfully making their art on a professional level.

This would be a double benefit to our society since we’d get more and better art for our communities and we’d get more satisfied and better off fellow citizens and taxpayers.

The trick is to mix two cultures that have long been seen at odds with each other (though for no real reason): businesspeople and artists. We need to begin to teach our artists to think like businesspeople. Teach them all the ways to start a business, incorporate a business, merge a business. In short, teach them the legal side of business.

We can even begin to reimagine Picasso, not as the aloof artist with the fancy apartment covered in paint but as a successful businessman who built a brand and earned well-deserved rewards for it.

Creating art that has meaning and making a living at it are not mutually exclusive. Telling young artists to go into debt and then giving them few avenues to get their work out there doesn’t just punish them, it punishes all of us. After all, we’re the ones who never get to see it.

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