5 Great Books For Business-Minded Artists
As a fairly entrepreneurial creative I’m always on the look out for great books on improving the business side of my artistic endeavours. After all if you want to be around long enough to get good at what you do, you’ve got to find a way to make it pay it’s own way. Here are 5 books I’ve really enjoyed recently and would highly recommend that involve this theme.
Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
Some books you enjoy slice by slice, others you devour. I devoured Creativity, Inc. The story telling is engaging and the lessons easily absorbed. It’s a good mix of a semi-biographical narrative of the history of Pixar and a series of concrete lessons in managing a creative culture.
“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.” – Ed Catmull
Although this book might appeal to anyone managing and leading people in almost any business context, it is of course especially valuable to creative teams in creative companies. That said as an individual freelancer there was plenty for me to absorb for my working world, especially in regard to working with others in a smooth and productive fashion.
“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” – Ed Catmull
A lot of Catmull’s lessons focus on the people skills needed to create great work, breakdown the power structures that block creativity and ultimately make any organisation better than the sum of it’s parts. Whatever insights you might personally take away from Creativity, Inc. it’s well worth a read as a fascinating inside look at the life of one of Hollywood’s most successful companies. (P.S. – The Pixar Touch is also an excellent read)
NoiseTrade.com has a free download of the first 50 pages, although the meat of the book really kicks in in the following chapters.
Getting To Yes – Roger Fisher and William Ury
I stumbled upon this book in a charity shop recently, and if there is one art that a lot of creative freelancers shy away from it is the art of negotiation.
I tried to include the best of what I know about negotiating higher rates, dealing with difficult clients etc. in my ebook How To Be A Freelance Creative, but Getting To Yes is a classic of the genre (if there is such a thing) and is a brilliant read.
Within the paperback’s 200 pages there is absolutely zero-waffle and delivers a fast and educational experience. In Getting To Yes you can learn how to negotiate to the benefit of all parties, the kind of things to say to help improve what’s on offer and much more.
Negotiation is an integral part of every day life, but often we only have to engage with it fully at career shaping moments, but will you be ready to handle them well? Read Getting To Yes and you’ll be far better equipped!
Jim Henson, The Biography – Brian Jay Jones
I picked up Jim Henson, The Biography partly because I read the sample of the book below – Make Art Make Money – which renewed my interest in Jim Henson and partly because I’m a childhood fan of all things Muppet related. The video above is probably the best joke ever seen on TV!
I really loved reading this book, not only did it constantly engage me, but I felt inspired by Henson’s childlike joy, his endless ambition and his desire to fill the world with good things. From a business perspective he made plenty of shrewd decisions (like never selling his Muppets, even from the very beginning) largely on principle but also because he knew their worth and always ploughed his cash back into his creative business. But he was also generous, particularly towards Sesame Street, whose legacy lives on today as a result.
My only (slight) annoyance with the book was that there was hardly any critique of Henson’s life and character, but then again maybe he really was a saint? At 608 pages it is a thick read but absolutely wonderful from start to finish. Meticulously researched throughout including access to family archives and even Jim’s personal journals. If you’re paying attention there are plenty of great business insights to draw into your own creative career too.
When you finish the book, come back here and watch this video and shed a tear or two.
UPDATE – Check out this excellent and detailed tour of Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop
Make Art Make Money – Elizabeth Hyde Stevens
I came across Make Art Make Money, in the way that you do – somehow on the web, with this Long Reads sample of the first chapter of Elizabeth Hyde Stevens’ kindle series (now available in book form) on the topic of how artists can handle the conundrum of the fight between making art or making money, and whether you can do both.
Hyde suggests that, like Jim Henson, artists can negotiate this battle somewhat with a cyclical dance: making art for it’s own sake > making that art make money > and then making the money make more art.
“The real breakthrough in Henson’s career—the thing that would make him a mogul—was Sesame Street. It debuted in 1969, a good fifteen years into Henson’s television career. Because it taught children across the country, Henson became a household name, and through Sesame Street toys, Henson became a millionaire. In short, merchandising is the “secret” to Henson’s success. However, licensing toys, to Henson, felt like selling out. Before he became a mogul, he had to find a good reason to do so.” – Elizabeth Hyde Stevens
I’ve yet to finish Make Art Make Money and I’ll be sure to update this post when I do. But if you’re an artist struggling to make ends meet, but refusing to sell out, hopefully Hyde and Henson can offer you some valuable lessons on how to dance your way through to success.
Maximise Your Potential & Manage Your Day-to-Day – 99U
Some books are best digested a chapter at a time, giving you space to take it all in and ruminate on it a while. While the 99U’s founder, Scott Belsky’s book Making Ideas Happen (5 Books for Creative’s Everyone Should Read) had much more of a leisurely storytelling arc to it (a little Malcolm Gladwell-esque), these two books from Belsky’s 99U enterprise have the fire-hose of creative advice set to eleven.
Both Maximise Your Potential and Manage Your Day-to-Day are beautifully designed compilations of creative wisdom from a diverse range of authors. Each chapter features summaries with key takeaways, interesting quotes and web links for further investigation.
“Change will lead to insight far more often than insight will lead to change.” – Milton Erickson
The practical and philosophical suggestions for how to improve you creative life and work come so thick and fast that you might well want to pace yourself to reading a chapter a week, or a couple of pages at a time if you really want to get the most out of these two books. Chew seven times before you swallow sort of thing.
Personally I feel like most of the wisdom in these books is really valuable yet I can’t say that much of it has stayed with me after marching through most of the content in a few sittings. I’m glad they’re on my book shelf though, and I’ll be sure to dip in to them time and again in the future.