WTF Friday: I’m an artist, so stop telling me to make money!



In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions.

Dear Emma, WTF!?

I love the advice you dole out here on Wealthy Single Mommy, but I’m getting frustrated by your admonishments that we should all just figure out a way to make more money. I’m a divorced mom, and an artist, and artists are usually broke. I paint on the weekends, and make ends meet by working as an assistant a small publishing house. I am constantly stressed about money and caring for my two kids, but I feel that having a day job in the arts maintains my integrity as an artist. I resent the idea that I should give up my identity to make more money. I think instead the United States should be like European countries and pay single mothers a decent stipend to support our important work as parents.

–Bitter in Berkley


Dear Bits,

Can you point me to the button that will ignite a Scandinavian-style social-aid program for unmarried mothers? Because I’d love to bodyslam myself against it. Again and again. What’s that you say? No such button exists? OK, then. Write your congressman and let’s get on with it already.

You chose the wrong person to talk to about weighing artistic integrity over money. I’m a writer, for crying out loud. I 100 percent support building a life that is creatively fulfilling. Otherwise, what’s the point? But everything has a time and a place – including your adolescent ideas about who you are and how the world works. Sometimes we need to express ourselves, and sometimes we need to pay the rent in order to live a low-stress life that makes our children feel safe and protected. As adults in the United States, we have the freedom to make that decision.

Two takeaways here:

One, not to get too Oprah-y on you here, but your own ideas are limiting you. You start out your note by saying you are an artist and artists are broke. How could you ever hope to be anything else if at your root, you define yourself as poor? Ask yourself: If you were a wealthy artist, would you have any less integrity? What would your artist friends think? Do you care? Would your kids care?

Two, look at your art school alumni list and see what people are up to. This world is screaming – SCREAMING – for more creative people. Every day as a business journalist I interview entrepreneurs who say their biggest challenge is finding creative, smart people to help their enterprises grow. Now, they’re not looking for sculptors or ceramicists. But who do you think creates the gorgeous curves and brilliant interface of Apple products? Do you think that Wall Street guys slave over the million, minute details of a Pixar movie? How about that hilarious TV ad for the local car dealership? I’ll tell you who makes that stuff: creative, artistic people who are making a good living.

I’m not telling you to stop painting, and I’m not telling you to take on work that you hate. Neither will make you happy. But I urge you to shake things up, rethink who you are and your priorities . And entertain the notion that maybe you really can have it all – all while living stateside.

Have a WTF question? Email it to me at emma at emma-johnson dot NET.

Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

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