Art & Money

Upload from November 15, 2011

In 1963 a British zoologist and artist named Desmond Morris published a study called The Biology of Art, looking at chimpanzees who learned to paint (that sweet painting above was done by one of the chimps!), and how the creation of art could be affected by rewards.


The chimps really enjoyed painting. Then the researchers started to reward the chimps with peanuts for the paintings. Soon the chimps were doing the absolute bare minimum to get the peanut. All the joy for the process was gone, and they became focused solely on the reward.

Often the photography industry seems a bit obsessed with making money. There is SO much discussion about going pro and how much to charge, along with much adoration of the photographers who command the big bucks for their work.

But perhaps we should spend a bit more time thinking about what we might be losing by charging for our work. 

We’ve personally been full time professional photographers for 4 years now. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s pretty rad that I make my living by creating art.

And yet, I find myself thinking about my motivations when I shoot for clients. Why am I pressing the shutter? Because it’s a moment worth remembering? Or one that will make money? Does it have to be just one or the other? Is there a midway point that can be discovered? Or will money as a reward always change the nature of art?

I don’t have any answers to these questions today. I don’t know if I ever will! But I think it’s a topic that’s really worth meditating on, and discussing! We’ll surely be revisiting it more on the blog as we think, study, and research.

But today I’d love to hear from you! Is the relationship between money and art something you’ve ruminated on? Do you think they can co-exist peacefully? Does charging for art change the very nature of the creative process? Does it even matter?

Hit up the comments now and let me know what you think!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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8 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Really interesting topic to post on. Being an emerging professional I feel like I ponder money and creativity daily. I feel like photography as a hobby is an amazing outlet for creativity. Being a professional taking money, forces me to be creative everyday and really pushes my creativity envelope. Having photography as a hobby makes it easy to set aside, I love that money side of it allows me, and pushes me to be creative everyday! That said I think all creative professional should remember the chimps every once in while to keep themselves in check.

  2. oh how i struggle with this too. i do think you can make art for money, but there's a fine line. i have taken a stance in my work that i do things my way, and other than entertaining my client's ideas, ask them to trust me to do my work in my style. i make it very clear that what they are paying me for is to photograph them the way i see and feel them. but omg, i do think pricing oneself is sooooo hard & i see some obscene self-inflated pricing going on in this industry. ugh. this is some good food for thought! may pop in later with more.

  3. I don't want to live from, something that I love to do. Because I don't want to think that "I have to" do it to live. I might be "forced" to do better pictures, but I might also feel scared of loosing my pleasure.
    I think that is one problem in art. It is fine to buy a work from someone, but it has to be worth the work done. I don't think that a difference of skill can be a result of millions $.
    I just saw this last week . This is the most expensive picture. There's nothing amazing on this picture in my opinion.
    But still, how can you determine that something is better than another in art.
    (Sorry I might got lost in my explanation ! :D )

  4. Very thought provoking topic, I've been pondering it all day. Here's my thoughts…
    Money be both limiting and liberating. It can open up whole new avenues to explore your creativity, opportunities that wouldn't otherwise be available. That can push your creativity further along. At the same time, it can be limiting, because suddenly your art has to make someone else happy and there has to be a market for it. If your style of art is something very unique or 'off the wall', you'll have a hard time finding someone to pay you for it, and therefore may have less opportunity to pursue your art, cause hey, ya gotta eat too! So once you throw money into the creative equation, the whole thing is necessarily changed, for better or worse.
    You definitely have to be careful about how much you're letting money drive your art. If it pushes you to make 'better' art, whatever 'better' happens to be, then great, by all means push forward. The world will be a better place, and you'll housed and fed, and everyone will be happy. But, if it gets to the point where you will only do your art for money, not for less than $xxxx, or you start to dread making your art and only give it half your heart, it's time to start reviewing your drives. Are you making art for the sake of making art, or are you only doing as much as you have to to get paid? That's where the creative process starts to break down. At that point, you have to step aside and examine what is really driving you, the pursuit of money or the pursuit of your creativity.

  5. *@Andrew:* That's a really good point, that doing this for money forces you to push yourself creatively. I imagine just doing it as a hobby would be easy to let things slide, when there isn't as much riding on your work. But yes, we do need to keep the relationship between money and creativity in our minds at all times! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    *@Jen:* I really like your point about trust. I think that's definitely a key to walking that fine line! Pricing is such a complex idea, it's always hard to get a hold on what is _fair market value_. Thanks for chiming in!

    *@Pioum:* I saw that story too, thanks for sharing it here! It's definitely relevant. I really get what you mean about being afraid of feeling like you _have_ to shoot to live. It's something that I worry about a lot. The convergence of art and money is such a tricky topic!! I really appreciate your insight!

    *@Kate:* That's a really great point about money being able to open up avenues. I totally agree. It can be a tool, when used properly! But it can be a burden as well. I like what you said, that it changes things for better or worse. Nothing we can do about that, I suppose it's just up to us to make it good or bad! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, I really enjoyed hearing them!!

  6. Well, now—this happens to be something I have been thinking a lot about lately. Launching a new business means you are constantly thinking about money. There's a realm you want to inhabit, but you have to spend time thinking heavily about getting there, and that means money, money, money. Oy.

    To keep myself in check, I think I have resulted in focusing on regularly asking myself WHY I am doing this: why I love to do it, why I need to do it. Personally, I need to be able to reflect on my purpose in order to make sure money doesn't become it. So, yes, I agree with you. Making your motivations your primary focus is key, I think. I believe a LOT of people don't necessarily think through their motivations before pursuing something like this, hence the reason they may get caught up with the wrong outlook.

    Things that are important to me: never letting my work get in the way of the reasons I love my work: Adventure, storytelling, understanding, seeing in new ways, connecting to other people in a deep and rather intimate way. But I am still thinking through all this! I feel like I would have more to add to this discussion everyday. (yikes).

  7. As has been said before, this is a fascinating and complicated subject. Here are a few of my thoughts:

    1) One odd thing about getting paid for photography is how much time and energy I have to pour into things that are *not* photography (accounting/marketing/networking/customer service/ dealing with bureaucracy). Don't even get me started on post-processing.

    2)We've found people generally hire us for the images we shoot for fun, but then buy the images we shoot to be safe. In that way, we're financially motivated to do a little bit of both.

    3)I think I was a lot more creative with my shooting when there was less pressure on me to get it right. Of course, there were also some great "happy accidents" when I didn't know my art as well as I do today.

  8. *@Jasmine:* Thank you so much for sharing that. This is something I need to do more and more of, thinking through my motivations. I find myself doing it a lot when in states of transition. Trying to figure out where to go! It's never a finished process is it? I love what you said, not letting work get in the way of reasons you love your work. I'll be keeping that in my mind!!

    *@J.P.* Fantastic points. It really is odd, isn't it, how much time you spend _not shooting_ in order to make money by shooting. Seems very counterproductive in a sense… And I agree, people buy the safe shots, but want the fun shots. It's so hard to balance that!

    And indeed, when there is pressure to get it right it's hard to really let go and be ok with making the mistakes that are necessary for really creative work. Another thing to try and overcome.

    Really excellent thoughts, thanks so much for sharing!

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