Making money for creative work doesn't make you a sellout.
When I was a teenager, my friends and I would go to indie rock shows where 50 people max would watch a band play. After the show ended, we’d get to meet the band. This gave me a sense of ownership over that kind of music, to the point I’d use words like “sellout” when a band I liked found bigger success or when other people started listening to them.
Looking back, of course, this was a childish and arrogant way to think. More people discovering great art is only a positive thing.
As an adult and having been a working designer for over a decade, I still see that same attitude directed towards other creative professionals, not only musicians.
Many people think that creative professionals such as designers, copywriters, and illustrators are sellouts. We failed to earn a living with genuine art such as painting or poetry, so we gave up, sold out to the man, and started writing and designing marketing materials and ads instead.
Designers and other creative professionals are not sellouts. Sure, some of us have other creative ambitions. But using our creative expertise for business purposes and to earn a living does not make us inferior to “real” artists (whatever “real” art is).
One could argue that designers have won out over artists by finding a way to navigate cultural pressures that devalue art and creativity. We have found a way to earn a living and still make delightful creative work.
I often wonder if the people I work with think I’d rather be wielding a paintbrush than pixels. If they think I am a sellout who makes logos and websites instead of landscapes and still lifes.
But I never wanted to be a painter. I began a design career because I wanted to make websites.
And, for so many designers, this is what we wanted to do all along. It was never about finding a way to make our art and get paid for it.
We became designers to make design.
Oddly, that is not good enough for some. Our culture too often refuses to respect creative work unless it is completely altruistic.
But creative work is the same as any other kind of work. Money does not tarnish creative professions any more than it tarnishes other professions. Design is not compromised art, but something separate.
Designers, writers, and other creatives have bills to pay too. And using our creativity to pay them does not make us lesser-than. It makes us the same as everyone else.
Design's Iron Fist is a collection of essays with advice for both design learners and professional designers. It's been featured as one of the best free design books by the Creative Bloq and the AIGA.
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