Why Is Being An Artist So Expensive?

About a week and half ago my friend Jessica Martin posted on Facebook “Why is being an actor so expensive?” to which I say:

Excellent question!!


I should say that I am not an actor, I am a stage manager and her question can be rephrased as “Why is being an artist so expensive?” All of my sweet artist friends can name a few dozen purchases they have to make to do their job: head shots, various media for creating visual art, supplies for cooking or baking, toe shoes, etc. Stage managers all have a pencil they prefer and I have yet to tape out a floor in a theatre that doesn’t involve the use of someone’s personal tape measure.

We also have the expenses that aren’t necessarily unique but are vital to us: computers, transportation to and from auditions or interviews, eating out, coffee, drinks for networking, whatever we need for stress relief. It is all so vital to us creating our art.

And as an artist I find it hideous when someone asks me (a fellow artist no less) why I need a particular pencil. Because a pencil is to a stage manager what toe shoes are to a ballet dancer. I use it everyday, all day. Rarely is it not in my hand and I will have one that fits me and my needs best. And I need several, just like you need multiple copies of a headshot or several paintbrushes, because one day I want this one for this purpose, or another for this day and this purpose or because I run out of lead.

And while this can continue into a lovely diatribe, I have just two points to make.

First, we need all this stuff and it becomes so expensive because as an artist you are stocking your own personal, walking small business. You are your job wherever you go and your job is mobile. A small sect of artists have permanent studios but singers, dancers, actors all travel for their work and you need to bring all the supplies and stock yourself in case what you need isn’t there when you show up. Yes, we have unions that protect that to some extent so you don’t have to bring along a port-a-potty or a gallon of water, but you can hardly expect them to pay for make-up (unless it’s a specialty kind), shoes, your laptop, and my pencils. I know every theatre I go to will have pencils, but they won’t be MY pencils. The ones that help me feel empowered and prepared.

And while all these expenses pile up, remember my second point:

Most of this is tax-deductible.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you keep receipts and itemize your deductions when you do your taxes. Yes, it takes longer and yes you may do it all only to find out the standard deduction was worth more, but keep track of all of it just in case it isn’t. And you should keep track of it anyway to make sure you aren’t spending too much from year to year. Unless you suddenly go from being a local, unrepresented artist to a world-traveling artist with an agent and an entourage, your expenses should not increase more than the cost of living from year to year.

So yes, being an artist is damn expensive, and yes, sometimes it feels like we spend all this money for nothing as arts funding gets slashed and we have to drag our friends to sit through our 90-minute one act and entice them with comps and cocktails, but we all know that it is. Because once in a while we hear about how something we did changed a life, saved a life, changed an outlook and that is (to steal a common advertisement) priceless.

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