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Why I’m afraid to ask for money

Because Socrates never asked for a cent…

It’s a conundrum that raises its head for every creative artist out there – pen, paint or piano – when or indeed if I should ask for value of my services (or work or art). When am I good enough? When is my work good enough? Essentially those questions are the same thing for the artist.

Ergo, we hit upon the nail, as it were. If people don’t wish to pay you, you’re essentially worthless, by definition, but it’s worse than that. The people are rejecting YOU. This is why I said previously the above questions are basically identical – a rejection of your art is a rejection of you – which in part is why it’s so terrifying to the artist. In some sense, an artist would rather starve than be poorly evaluated.

No one likes to be rejected, particularly that of an artist. It’s a bit like that idiom about a falling tree in the woods and nobody hearing it; if a piece of art is created and nobody sees it, is it really art?

“Socrates is one of the greatest people to have lived, what the hell have I done?”

My long-since-dead mentor weighs on my mind more than most, the man who taught for your benefit rather than his – unlike the Sophists at the time who taught for their own benefit, and hence expected payment (unlike Socrates). My creative work is different from most others in that it comes in the form of thinking, ideas and discussion (or dialogues to stick with the Socratic theme). You can’t hang what I’ve got on a wall nor play it for a group of friends at a social gathering – it makes it more difficult to attribute a monetary value.

Now, Socrates ended up dying at the hands of the Athenian democracy, accused of corrupting the youth of Athens – maybe I’m corrupting you – but instead of hemlock, the people have given me the slow tightening noose of asphyxiated isolation. Oh don’t be so dramatic, Martyn – I told you I was an artist!

The old adage, “If you don’t value yourself or your work, why would anyone else?”, rings in my ear on occasion because it’s true to an extent. Now, I know what I do is valuable, but who really determines your value? My own judgement is an approximation at best, but ultimately it will be determined by others.

So, do I deserve to be paid? One thing I’ve always thought is that I had to generate a (large) following before asking for any kind of remuneration. After all, if people don’t look at your work for free, they won’t look at it for a price, no? Thanks to technological advancements, supply and demand, the market is flooded with similar things to what I do – although, like a true artist, I maintain I’m different and worth reading. However, this drives the price dramatically down, in my case to practically zero, maybe even below zero as people are not willing to part with either their time or money.

“The most valuable thing I ask of you is your time.”

I always thought people, especially family and friends, would value/respect me or be generous and offer, but I guess you don’t get what you don’t ask for. I thought people would understanding the importance of what I’m creating here, but it seems many never will. I don’t want people to pity me – I’m not after your pity payments, like that poor homeless man on the street shaking his hat for a few spare coins.

There have been numerous artist-supporting websites/payment operators that have sprung up over the years, all with varying setups and fee structures. It still has the fundamental problem – you have to have a sizeable audience for viability (most users make next to nothing). A number of users also complain about it not being helpful to find/promote similar artists to support, and I’ve always been sceptical of how much percentage of your earnings they take just to “facilitate payments”, amongst other things. Everyone wants a piece of the pie – that’s why you can’t spell piece without pie.

So, perhaps they’re not so good at building an audience, and more about utilising/leveraging an existing one, which alludes to a previous point about having to generate a following for nothing before getting something.

In addition, there becomes expectations of a paying audience that weren’t there previously – people usually want more or something special/unique for them as marker for their financial support. In this regard, I’ve had concerns that I could be setting myself up for failure – the old overpromise and underdeliver that no one wants to achieve. I can only do so much by myself, and I was worried about stretching myself too thin across multiple avenues, thus burning out or having my supporters say that I wasn’t delivering the high quality which I pride myself on.

I’m working on different ways to market myself better and render myself more responsive to the demands of modern people while maintaining the high quality of output. I don’t want to put my writing behind a paywall, to me, that defeats the very essence of what I set out to do when I started this venture. I wanted to make knowledge and wisdom readily available and accessible to everyone – you just need to be intrigued and willing. If we were to cumulatively assess this, I’ve committed mountains of my own time and money into this noble effort, and I hope I haven’t been mistaken. I don’t know, maybe I’m the fool and the joke is on me.

It is said, “Man does not live by bread alone”, but I can’t even afford the bread.

Perhaps I just need to courageously confront the artist’s fear of rejection – and this endeavour coming to an end.

I don’t want it to end, but maybe I’m just not doing it quite right.

I’m not demanding to be paid, but maybe in the goodness of your hearts you could find some empathy and value for who am I and what I’m trying to do here.

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