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The Artist Vicious Circle

  • Do you wonder why it’s so hard to make ends meet as an independent artist?
  • Do you feel like facing several challenges simultaneously?
  • Do you want to know what action causes what effect in your artist business life?
  • Do you miss the big picture?

If so, this here is for you. I developed the Artist Vicious Circle to help you finally understand your situation. It provides you with insights into your current struggles and gives you a better understanding of what action will have what effect in the future. The Artist Vicious Circle gives artists the big picture on a simple one-pager!

The basic structure

First, let me start with a few short explanations concerning causal loop diagrams. This term might sound fancy but it is rather easy to understand. So do read on through the next passages.

A causal loop diagram consists of two basic types of cause-and-effect-relationships. These relationships are shown as a link going from CAUSE towards EFFECT.

There are only two types: S-links and O-links. If a decrease in the Cause drives a decrease in the Effect, then the link is an S (S for ‚same‘). If a decrease in the Cause drives an increase in the Effect, then the link is an O (O for ‚opposite‘). The S or the O is positioned next to the respective arrow as you can see in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Basic link types in Causal Loop Diagrams

The Artist Vicious Circle

The basic Artist Vicious Circle consists of 5 elements:

1. Ability to sell art

Your capability of selling your output. To do so there needs to be supply (your products) and demand (from customers).

2. Money

If you sell you usually earn money. (Here we do not yet go deeper and distinguish between revenue and profit.)

3. Necessity of non-art jobs

If you don’t make a full living from your art then you have to find additional jobs to pay your bills. These types of jobs usually don’t make you happy.

4. Time and energy left for art

The more resources you spend on other activities the less is left for art.

5. Production of art

Your craft, songs, videos, paintings, live performances, shows etc. depending on what type of creative person you are.

The Artist Vicious Circle looks as follows (Figure 2):

Figure 2 – The Artist Vicious Circle

You can choose any element of the Artist Vicious Circle to start with. But let me guide you through by starting at the top element (‚ability to sell art‘):

  • If your ‚ability to sell art‘ is low or even decreasing you will see less ‚money‘ in your pocket.
  • If there is not enough ‚money‘ in your pocket to pay your rent, you experience an increasing ‚necessity of non-art jobs‘. This means you will have other jobs such as part-time jobs or you even need to get back to a full-time employment.
  • The more the ‚necessity of non-art jobs‘ increases the more your ‚time and energy left for art‘ goes down.
  • If ‚time and energy left for art‘ is small, your ‚production of art‘ will be small, too.
  • And finally, if your ‚production of art‘ is low, decreasing or even stopping temporarily, then your ‚ability to sell art‘ will suffer even more. This last link closes the circle.

If you go around the circle again and again, you realize that it acts as a vicious circle. Each spin might put more pressure on you to survive as an artist.

No beginning and no end

The circle (Figure 2) has no beginning and no end, since all the elements are connected to all the other parts. As mentioned above, you could start with any other element and you get the same effect. Let’s test this by starting with a different element:

  • If you e.g. undergo a difficult personal phase in your life, your ‚time and energy left for art‘ might decrease.
  • This has a negative effect on your ‚production of art’. And as a consequence your ‚ability to sell art‘ will suffer too, no matter if you are a good marketer or not.
  • This results in less ‚money‘ and finally might force you into ‚non-art jobs‘ and so forth.

Bad or good news for artists?

I hope so far you are able to relate to the Artist Vicious Circle. It helps you to understand some of the important interdependencies of your artist business life. Be that as it may, it sounds like bad news for those that are stuck in it!?

If you however take a closer look, you will recognize that the circle can also behave as a positive one, a so called virtuous circle. In fact, the circle and its elements stay exactly the same. It all depends on how the circle is triggered!

Positive triggers

Let us take a look at the circle (Figure 2) again, but this time with a positive trigger in mind. Let’s say you are able to improve your ‘ability to sell art’ because you e.g. improved your marketing skills or your fanbase has grown:

  • The larger your ‚ability to sell art‘, the more money you generate.
  • Automatically the ‚necessity of non-art related jobs‘ decreases. This is caused through the O(pposite) connection between ‚money‘ and ‚necessity of non-art related jobs’.
  • As a consequence ‚time and energy left for art‘ increases.
  • This usually has a positive effect on your ‚production of art‘.
  • If you have more high quality products to sell and shows to give it is very likely that you sell more. Your ‚ability to sell art‘ increases even more. The loop is closed and starts off again better than before.

This way the circle is a virtuous one. It reinforces its positive outcome with every loop. Test it out in your mind and go around the circle with a different starting point. Let’s say e.g. that you are able to increase your ‚time and energy left for art‘. You will see that this has a positive effect for the whole system, too.

The Artist Business Loop – and more to come

As you realize, the same system behaves either benignly or malevolently depending on external stimuli. Therefore I prefer a more neutral term for it. Let’s call it the Artist Business Loop (Figure 3). It looks exactly like the Artist Vicious Circle in Figure 2.

Figure 3- The Artist Business Loop v1.0

I stop here for now. In one of my next blog posts I will elaborate on that and I will show you an advanced version of the Artist Business Loop. My goal is to provide you with great advice on how to turn your artist life and business into success. The Artist Business Loop will put you in the strongest possible position to take decisions with a real impact.

If you haven’t yet signed up to my newsletter you should do this right now here. This way you are the first to be informed of new posts on this topic.

Annotations and underlying assumptions of the Artist Business Loop

  • The presented concept is a deliberate simplification of the complex world. The focus is simplicity and understandability. Nevertheless the depicted relationships of cause and effect should reflect reality. The concept can be extended at will. The maximum extension would image the real world in which everything is interconnected, too.  This however would not fit on a one-pager 🙂
  • As you might have noticed, the connections are not necessarily direct from one element to another. There may be intermediate steps. In order to keep it simple I decided to reduce the basic circle to 5 elements only.
  • Furthermore, there may be time delays between various elements. That means, if you e.g. reduce or increase your ‚production of art‘ there will be a time lag until you notice consequences in other areas.
  • Last but not least, the described circle primarily targets creative people that do not yet work fully (100%) as an artist. Nevertheless it is also applicable if you do. In that case the ‘time and energy left for art’ is not affected by non-art related jobs. I am sure that you can think of numerous other causes that influence your ‘time and energy left for art’.
  • If you want to read more about systems thinking and causal loop diagrams in general I highly recommend the following book:

What do you think?

Now I would like to hand over to you and I am excited to receive your feedback and input. What are your ideas and thoughts about the Artist Business Loop? What could be positive external stimuli or levers to trigger the loop? What could increase your ‚time and energy left for art‘? What could increase your ‚ability to sell art‘? What could improve your ‚production of art‘? What are your ideas for an advanced version of the Artist Business Loop?