These past seven days, I had the unique privilege of temporarily residing with a group of some of the most talented artists I’ve ever known. It was Goddard College’s MFA art residency at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, WA. I love it. But I feel rather judged in the Goddard program because my focus is more on the “MBA” side of my art practice rather than the “MFA” side. For 13 years, I have been focusing on learning how to make a quality product. But at this point in my career, I am most interested in learning how to share with lots of people. And in this program, I am excited about the opportunity to study the “business” side of my art practice as an art practice in itself. I believe business is an art. And because of this, I feel my presence is extremely valuable to this group. Art school does not teach how to make money doing what you love. Film school does not teach how to sell a film. No school teaches how to be a “creative entrepreneur” rather than just an “artist.” Maybe that’s not what you want to do; maybe you just want to make art for fun because you love doing it so much. That’s great, then do that! Personally, I would much rather do what I love ALL DAY LONG, by making it my JOB, and making A LOT OF MONEY while I’m at it. Idealistic? Maybe, but millions of people are doing it. I have a passion for that vague and mysterious space between ART & MONEY, and I feel very strongly about helping both artists and businesses within this space. This is where I know I am most valuable.
So I decided to offer a workshop for artists. A workshop on MONEY….
I could stand on a soap box and enjoy listening to myself orate for hours, but I don’t believe this is the best way for the human brain to learn. So instead of forcing my audience to listen to me stroke myself, I decided to DEMONSTRATE the concept of money through a game. This is a much better way for the brain to learn. I call it: “The Money Game.” Super original, huh?
The game is designed to simulate the economy. Players are given three rocks each (to simulate a currency) and 1 minute to come up with a product or service to sell. It can be as practical or impractical as you want – housing, food, prostitution, cosmetics, space travel, virtual reality glasses, personal growth, an idea, education, etc. The object of the game is to sell as many people on your product/service as possible. To incentivize the players, the player with the most rocks at the end of a 5 minute round gets a crisp $20 bill.
“GO!” I shouted. And everybody started selling! It was really interesting to hear these artists bust out some sales skills. After the game was over, we went around the circle to share our product/service and how many rocks we had gained or lost. The results were fascinating! I couldn’t have lectured on the topic any better.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the game…
Receive by Giving
The winner of the game won by a landslide. His strategy was much different than everybody else’s. First, what he was selling was the opportunity to give. It was a very ethereal product to sell, I have no idea how he came up with the idea. But it proved successful as he made his first sale to a young mother. Our champion screamed and threw his arms up when she said "YES!". They embraced and enjoyed a moment together. I had no idea this game would be so inspiring; money bringing people together! After the game, she revealed that it was something that she really wanted: to give, to help, to be charitable.
I used his story to illustrate the power of GIVING. Being around so many talented entrepreneurs like speaker/author/podcaster Hal Elrod and sales MASTER Jon Berghoff has taught me to focus more on GIVING than selling. And by this strategy, they get the energy back. “I believe in the power of giving,” our champion said (he also happens to be a successful businessman). And to prove his point, he gave his winnings(the $20) to the mother who gave him his first sale. She started crying and they embraced again in front of everybody. It was touching. And guess what she did with that money… She gave it back to me to add to the party fund (I was in charge of buying the alcohol for the big party at the end of the residency). Full circle! Again – I could not have lectured on the subject any better.
Entertainment – Wants vs. Needs
Our champion’s second strategy was to provide some entertainment. With only thirty seconds left in the game, he didn’t try to sell anybody, he simply began singing aloud a joyous song. It was hilarious! And a few people gave him rocks just before the game ended. I hope this demonstrates the POWER OF EMOTIONS in entertainment. So many people were trying to sell tangible NEEDS like food, water, shelter. But people were most MOVED by his song. We are dreamers, we are idealists, we are emotional beings. And as a culture, we seem to care more about our wants than basic needs. To this group specifically, I wanted to stress the point that an entertainer won the game because as artists, our job basically boils down to entertainment. In our culture, entertainers make A LOT of money. In fact, the best entertainers at the top of the game are some of the most well known and wealthiest individuals in the world. “Celebrity” is the modern royalty.
Our second place winner actually came in late, so she had no time to prepare. I gave her a few rocks and sent her into the jungle. After the game, she revealed that because she didn’t really know the game, she just asked, “What do you need?” Obviously turned out to be a great strategy. Instead of creating what you think people would want to buy, the best entrepreneurs work backwards. They first ask the questions, “Who has problems that need to be solved? Who has needs that I can fulfill?” Only then does the creation happen; from the outside in, rather than the inside out. Give what the people want rather than what you want to give.
Money is Hereditary
One of the participants of the game needed to get something off her chest. Her step father growing up was a professional con man. Their lives were very volatile, following the ups and downs of his bipolar, alcoholic behavior. One moment they’d be dripping wet with money, rubbing elbows with Whitney Houston in Malibu, the next moment they’d be living in the help’s quarters, 3 to a bed with roaches scurrying over them. So she had a painful association with money because of her childhood – I feel this is very common. How do you feel about money?
We don’t learn about money in school. Money is something we use everyday, it runs our current system, it is essential to our survival. And yet, we choose not to educate our children about it. Why? The reasons are debatable, but it is important to understand that our education system is not designed to produce creative entrepreneurs who can solve problems and change the world. Even our teachers are not taught how to teach; they are taught how to deliver state and federal approved curriculum, some of which is absolutely false (for example, everything we learn about Native Americans). Our education system is designed to teach children how to conform, do what they’re told, and memorize facts/figures in order to produce efficient factory workers to keep the system going [Human Resources; Social Engineering in the 20th Century]. We could go as far as to say that they don’t WANT us to learn about how money works, but that’s another debate. We tell our kids to get a degree so they can get a job, make money, buy a house, buy a car, have kids, go into debt, work for 30-40 years to pay it off, and eventually retire and die. The results are obvious: our economy is literally failing all the time, we are trillions of dollars in debt, our government is bought, our money isn’t backed by anything real, the rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer. Basically, we have no idea what we’re doing when it comes to money. So how do we learn about money? From our parents. Rich people continue to beget rich people, poor people continue to beget poor people. We literally inherit our mental and emotional programming from our parents. Given our current state of affairs, it seems we are in dire need of a better education system. But don’t let this get you down – it is now easier than EVER to educate yourself. You can get a $200,000 college education by reading books, searching the internet, listening to podcasts, interviewing professionals, and actually DOING what it is that you want to study. Experience has always been and will continue to be much more valuable than a degree. The best way to learn how to make a film is to actually MAKE A FILM. So go do it!
Money = Energy
The name of the workshop was “Money = Energy,” and this is the biggest takeaway I wanted to give the participants. In Physics, the “Law of Conservation of Energy” teaches that the amount of energy in any given system remains constant – it cannot be created or destroyed, only transmuted into another form. Therefore, you cannot RECEIVE energy without GIVING, and you cannot give without receiving. By this new logic, it is clear to see why artists traditionally don’t have much relationship to money. Sitting in a studio all day, working on your art practice, creating works of art by yourself for yourself… Entrepreneurs consider this traditional model of creation as masturbatory – there is no value in it for anybody but yourself. This will not make you money. What will make you money is SHARING your art practice with others. And this can be done so many ways – teaching, coaching, art galleries, coffee shops, open mics, the internet, blogging, client work, you could stand on the side of the road with a loud speaker and throw your art in peoples’ faces to see what sticks – there are SO MANY WAYS to share what you love!
Please don’t let this new knowledge sway you from your art practice. You aren’t doing anything wrong. Understand that what you do is VALUABLE. If business is an art, then as artists, we are MOST PREPARED to be creative entrepreneurs. Business requires a great deal of creativity and thinking on your feet. So I would argue that artists are even more prepared to be in business than most MBA graduates. Creativity cannot be taught, and talent cannot be bought. Business is simply another way to challenge yourself, expand your creative ability, and GROW as an artist. What you do is valuable, what you make is valuable, YOU are valuable. And we need artists and creators to make ideas, art, media, hope, inspiration, and entertainment NOW more than ever. So you deserve to be compensated properly.
I will leave you with one of the most powerful quotes on money I’ve come across. It comes from an article on the spiritual implications of crowdfunding…
How do you feel about money? Anything you do that helps you make more money? Leave a comment below.
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