Making Art, Making Money, Making Sense

It’s hardly a secret that it’s tough to make a career in the arts financially stable, but Elizabeth Stevens, a professor in the Boston University Arts and Sciences Writing Program, didn’t let that turn her away. Instead, Stevens turned to Jim Henson, famous puppeteer and creator of The Muppets, for answers. Out of Henson’s success story her new book, Make Art Make Money, was born.

“When I was younger, I took it for granted that if you work really hard at your art that you would eventually become financially successful,” Stevens said. “In my MFA program for fiction, none of the teachers coached us about ‘the market’ and I think we all assumed we would be the next David Foster Wallace. But as I got into my thirties, I took stock of my life and realized I needed to figure out the business side of art.”

Around Christmas, as Stevens began to lose hope, she turned back to one of her favorite animated specials–The Muppets. It was in these silly puppets that Stevens found the inspiration for her book.

Make Art Make Money, by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens. Photo by Morgan Lehofer
Make Art Make Money, by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens. Photo by Morgan Lehofer

“At some point, it occurred to me: this might be the solution to my problem. There is a reason that Henson’s work makes me feel so good. It’s because he was an artist who succeeded financially. He is proof that it can be done.”

Make Art Make Money is broken up into ten major sections, or lessons, for aspiring artists. Each provides unique advice on how to succeed financially in an artistic career– a much more difficult idea than it first sounds.

“It seems that it’s a process of trial and error for most people. When you hit on something profitable, keep doing it! Even if it’s not your passion anymore, that revenue stream could fund your masterpiece.”

Stevens encourages her readers not to give up, even when faced with rejection.

“If you read just one chapter of the book, it should be #8: ‘Pitch Pitch Pitch.’ In hindsight, it always feels like great artists just woke up one day and became successful, but this is almost never true. And then the subtitle of the chapter is “Fail, fail, fail.” When you pitch, you’re going to get rejections. But as Rowlf sings in The Great Muppet Caper, ‘You can’t take no for an answer.’ You have to keep pitching.”

Stevens’ book is inspirational, practical, and altogether quite enjoyable. Make Art Make Money offers sensible financial advice that is often overlooked in the name of passion.

“I think the important thing is to never stop making your art. Write before you get paid, because you love it. Paint before you are commissioned, because it feels important — necessary.”

Make Art Make Money is newly available in the BU Bookstore, and is highly recommended to anyone pursuing a career in the arts.

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