5 books on the Business of being an Artist

Who or what is an Artist? A sticky question. But, in my opinion an artist is anyone who thinks differently, possibly deeply, and is compelled to communicate. The main difference between an amateur artist and a professional, is that one is being paid. But being paid is not what makes you an artist. Ultimately, you are an artist if you think you are. Who am I to tell you otherwise?

Books on Business of Being an Artist

These are my top five books on the Business of being an Artist.
Some of these books offer practical advice, while others illuminate the mindset of the artist, both equally important. Some of these books might have saved me heartache if I’d read them when I was young.  They reassure that there is no right or wrong way to go about being an artist. And failure is part of the game. I hope these inspire you as much as they did me, all titles are links:

Steal like an Artist – Austin Kleon
Or as I like to call it ‘the Artist’s handbook’.  Like next on the list, I wish I’d this when I was a student plagued by the weight of ‘originality’ and self-doubt. Don’t be fooled by the black and white hipster design of this book, it’s full of inspirational gems. Nuggets of helpful advice abound like; ‘Don’t Throw Any of Yourself Away- what unifies all of your work is the fact that you made it.’ And ‘Keep a praise file’, for those moments when you need the encouragement, or ‘Be Boring, it’s the only way to get work done’. Created as an expansion on Kleon’s speech to students, this is ‘Always wear Sunscreen’ for the aspiring artist of today. Everything is a remix, and there is nothing new under the sun.

Think like an Artist… Will Gompertz
This book might have convinced me that an artist was something worth being when I was considering my future. It’s insights ring true against my experiences as a self-employed creative. Wonderful examples like mini-case studies of artists’ careers (from antiquity, to modernism, to pop culture) illustrate the ten chapter premises that make up the book like; Artists Are Brave, Artists Are Sceptics, and Artists Don’t Fail. And perhaps the chapter I found most enlightening, Artists Are Enterprising, which does much to dispel the myth of the ‘poor starving artist’, drawing on Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh and Theaster Gates as examples. This one bears re-reading often.

A Year with Swollen Appendices  – Brian Eno
Now I did read THIS as a student despite it being more appropriate for one who already grasps the wider implications of what Art is, LOL. It’s influence resonated in ways I never imagined (for example it gave me flash fiction before I ever knew it was a thing). The book is Eno’s diary for the year 1995. (An excellent year in music, which sees him working with Bowie on Outside, and with U2 on Passengers). It’s full of musings from the originator of the ‘oblique strategies’, inner dialogues on everything from big bums, politics and fashion, to creative problem solving. It’s also incredibly human, personal and funny.  This book is the reason why I love Brian Eno so. (Which is quite a claim if you know how I feel about Apollo Soundtracks).

The art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
Maybe you were already a fan of Amanda’s band The Dresden Dolls, but chances are you first heard of Ms Palmer due to her audacious (in a good way) use crowd funding to produce new works, and her infamous kickstarter album.  The Art of Asking is a companion to her TED Talk and can be read as part memoir/part career case study. Amanda’s success as an artist is in huge part down to her fan engagement, embracing social media and harnessing the joy and randomness of the internet. This book is also, in no small part, about love and trust. Proving that give-and-take is so much more than commerce, it is core to human existence. And there ain’t no shame in that. So when you are offered, Take the f*cking flower.  (I cried a hellovalot reading this one).

Screw Work Let’s Play – John Williams
This book is perhaps less cerebral and more self-helpy and entrepreneurial than the others, but it offers valuable advice for those striving for a creative outlet and alternative work practices. There are many exercises to get you thinking about what you really want, and what makes you tick. As well as practical steps like list-making, and build-able goals, to get you moving when you don’t even know how to start pursuing your interests. Published in 2010, some of the internet stuff is a little dated (‘should I be using tumblog /twitter?’ etc) but the general info on growing an online presence and engaging with supporters holds true and definitely feeds into what you’ll see more of in Palmer’s book (above).


In summary, I grew up with an air of mystery surrounding Art and how Artists make a living, but thankfully these days there is more discussion around the financial end of things. I believe Art, in whatever form, deserves financial remuneration as much as the next skilled job.  It’s time we demystified the process and entered into more open conversations about the work involved. Books like these can only help the discussion.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what made of them. Feel free to share your opinions and queries in the comments …




  1. anonymous · · Reply

    Are you familiar with the Lost Soul Companion project? I’ve found the website quite bolstering reading when I’ve been feeling down and unsure, I keep meaning to buy the books and read all of it. The author talks about thinking about other ways to survive as an artist, dealing with mental health and wellbeing and feelings of being an outsider. If you’re inetersted in checking it out, it’s here: http://www.lostsoulcompanion.com/


  2. I hadn’t considered the thinking aspect of being an artist. I literally had to stop and take a moment to let my brain slowly implode after reading your second sentence. Of course! It’s not just about putting pen to paper, saw to wood, chisel to stone – it’s also about how you think. I know that and I’m sure I would automatically rattle off something about creative thinking if anyone asked me what made a good artist, but at the same time, I think that I completely forgot that. Or, at least, I forgot that it applied to me. And, let me tell you, my brain is a constantly rolling movie of ideas, what-ifs, and images.

    I’ve read and loved Kleon’s book, but not in a while, so I think I might re-read it. I haven’t read the others, but I will as they sound like books that I really needed to read when I was much younger.

    Also, I love Passengers! The songs do something to my soul.


  3. […] life with art and creativity, my friend Bridgeen has a great post with a few book recommendations, 5 books on the Business of being an Artist. I’ve only read one of them (Steal Like An Artist), but I’m going to track down the […]


  4. […] and have thick skin, you need to know what you’re all about, and have good boundaries. Like the books say you gotta be brave, you gotta be enterprising and perhaps most of all, you’ve got to have […]


  5. […] first came out, I was mildly interested, but not sold on the description. Bridgeen recommended it in a recent post, and I’m really glad I decided to read this. It’s raw, beautiful, and fascinating. The […]


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