What Does Creative Freedom Mean to You?

“Every painting is a voyage into a sacred harbour.” 

Giotto di Bondone

Do you want to be a full time artist, writer, musician, poet? Are you resentful of your working career because it pulls you away from your art? Do you dream of leaving your job and being free to spend your time and energy dedicating yourself to your art? Is your passion for you art being compromised by your search for a market? 

Being free to create your art means being financially independent. Not needing to work in a job or sell your work to make a living. In this article you will learn that creative freedom is just around the corner, if you know where to look.

The Dordogne River valley from the Château de Beynac

Giotto di Bondone was a painter who lived near the end of the Medieval period. In 1305 he was engaged by a rich usurer called Enrico degli Scrovegni to paint frescos across the entire interior of a chapel that Scrovegni had built to pave his way to heaven. Feeling ashamed of his occupation and fearful of being cast into Hell, Scrovegni though he could save his soul by honouring God with his money.

Giotto illustrated 37 scenes of holy significance in a solidly three dimensional way—in perspective—making them seem real and bringing to life the stories of the Virgin Mary and Christ. These images were amazing to eyes that had never seen such realism before.

Detail from the fresco showing Scrovegni himself handing his beautiful gift to Mother Mary, as depicted by Giotto in the Arena Chapel, Padua [Source Khan Academy lesson]

What Does Creative Freedom Mean to an Artist?

“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”  

Auguste Rodin 

In his day, Giotto was seen as a tremendously fortunate artist: to have such a patron; to get such an opportunity to paint these masterpieces; to have such talent and skill to master and then advance the art of painting. But was he free?

Certainly Giotto could devote all his time to his art. In this sense he had the temporal freedom to perfect his art. It takes many years to master painting. “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” Michelangelo. 

However, although it is a rare privilege to be paid to be an artist; Giotto had to work long hours in difficult circumstances (suspended from scaffolding meters above the ground in cavernous church buildings, exposed to the elements).

But Giotto was paid handsomely for his work. By 1305, Giotto had a significant income. So he could afford to travel to find opportunities. Hence, his work can be found in churches all over what we now know as Italy, and possibly as far as the Papal seat at Avignon

But while he had the physical freedom to move, it was only to places where he could find work.

But he was not free to choose what he would paint. He, like most professional artists throughout history, made his income from the sale of his paintings. As a result, he depended on finding wealthy customers and sponsors to commission his talent. And he had to accommodate their wishes. 

Until the renaissance era, the Church funded most artistic work, hence our galleries are full of images of the Madonna, Bambino, Christ and the Saints. Alternatively, gallery walls are festooned with portraits of royalty, nobles and wealthy merchants. Endless august characters dipping into their coffers to glorify themselves visually.

Portrait painting is challenging and artistically satisfying as an art form—but surely most artists would have preferred to paint people other than their sponsors? Vincent van Gogh, for example, became obsessed with trying to capture the faces of hard working peasants—despite having everyone he knew including his beloved brother Theo (who ran a gallery) telling him that he was committing professional suicide. No one wanted to purchase these or any of Vincent’s experimental works; so he died in poverty.

As a sponsor, Scrovegni was a little more subtle, but his face still appears opposite the altar and God, the last image you see as you leave his glorious chapel.

In later life, once he owned his own house and other assets, Giotto became more selective in his commissions and was able to take on apprentices. Financial independence gave him the mental freedom to become bolder in his style and symbolism. Consequently he caught the attention and admiration of the new generation of painters following in his footsteps, which ignited the Italian Renaissance.

Statue of Giotto in the Uffizi Galleria, Florence [Source: Wikipedia]

Is There a Fast Track to Creative Freedom?

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” 

Vincent Van Gogh

Fast forward 714 years and we live in an incredible era for aspiring artists. Unlike Giotto di Bondone, Michelangelo or Vincent van Gogh, you do not need to live in poverty or wait until you are old to become a free creative. You do not need a wealthy patron, agent or gallery to promote and sell your work. You do not need to spend decades trying to build your reputation in order to find a buying public. You simply need to save and invest your money.

Being free to create your art means being financially independent. Not needing to work in a job or sell your paintings to make a living. 

You do this by building assets that can give you a modest passive income—to free up your time—allowing your to practice and travel and create art of your choice (shown in the model below). This is the path to creative freedom.

How Long Will it Take to Become a Free Creative?

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” 

Henry David Thoreau

Down through the ages and here am I sitting on the wall of the Château de Beynac looking down on the Dordogne River valley. The sun is setting and I know I will paint this scene one day in my studio back home. I am on annual leave in Europe with my family and I am finally admitting to myself that I want to be free to devote the rest of my life to painting. I do not want to go back to my job, or any other job. I want to be a painter! I have always wanted to be an artist. But how can I make this happen? How can anyone make this happen? How long will it take? And most importantly, how will I make the money I need in the first place?

So began my journey towards self-sufficiency.

If you are an ordinary person like me (not rich) there seems to be four choices:

  • Make your income from your art. (Giotto took 40 years before he was free. But you will be doing what you love doing, right? Maybe!).
  • Make an income from something else and practice art on the side. (Hopefully you will not be too tired, stressed or emotionally exhausted when you reach for your brush, if you actually find the time to paint at all).
  • Wait till you retire from work to paint. (That’s what most people do, but it takes about 60 years).
  • Make an income for the specific purpose of building an investment portfolio, to fund an early retirement into a painting lifestyle. (Known as Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE)—this approach will take 5 years or less).

So I asked myself, what’s it going to be: 5 years, 40 years, 60 years or never? 

Easy decision! Sitting on that wall I knew I could do it! And I became determined to be free within 5 years!

How Much Will I Need to be Free?

In a nutshell, you must live within your means. Whereby your monthly income exceeds your monthly expenses to the extent that you are able to set up a passive income to fund your continuing monthly expenses within five years.

For example: If your annual expenses are $12,000: $10,000 x 25 = $300,000 in your portfolio. 

In this case, you would have to be earning $72,000 net per annum from a job to pay for your lifestyle and also save $300,000 within a five year period.

Could you live on $12,000 per year if you did not have to pay for rent or a mortgage? 

According to the author of Enrichmentality (a fabulous resource dedicated to helping creative people to learn the language of money and fast track their path to financial independence) there are three variables you can play with: your income, your expenses, and the time frame. “If you want to retire faster, you will need to improve your performance on at least one —or ideally both—of the other variables.”

Obviously you will need a roof over your head, but if you do not have to be in a big city to find work; your home could be anywhere in the world. There is a rapidly growing demographic of free creatives who house-sit; buy land and build tiny houses; rent at incredibly low rates in rural regions; travel and live in more affordable places elsewhere in the world. In some towns houses cost around a dollar; or they will even pay you to live there.

If you feel that you could not live comfortably on $12,000 per year, then consider this: at $12,000 per annum you have still made yourself free. Most people can actually live on $12,000 per annum at a pinch. Knowing this is a great consolation. Knowing you have your actual existence covered. That you can now afford to live without working is the whole point. After that, you are free to do what you want to do. So then, if you work in a job to “top up” your quality of life—it is by choice, not through necessity. This is the key to financial freedom—get the basics covered so you can take the pressure off earning for the rest of your life.

Any money you earn after the $12,000 freedom threshold, if put directly into your investment portfolio, increases your quality of life, forever. So if you do choose to work for money, it’s wise to save rather than spend that too. [See our article introducing Financial Independence].

Whatever your strategy, your end goal will be more quickly achieved if you:

  • Embrace frugal and sustainable living
  • Have modest house expectations, and
  • A willingness to learn the language of money and act upon your knowledge. The sooner the better.

How Will I Know When I Am Free?

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” 

Vincent Van Gogh 

It’s funny but the moment you realize that you will soon be free from the workforce, it becomes easier to tolerate your job. Suddenly, when every dollar you save and invest puts you an hour closer to resigning and being free forever, it becomes easier to resist the temptation to spend. Magically every minute you spend at work has a greater purpose. You are no longer a drone. You are on a higher path.

This is how it feels to me now. It’s a dream actually coming true. In this sense I am already free. I am imagining being free: and as an artist I place great faith in my imagination.

Finally, you may wonder that by going down this path are you becoming one of the Scrovegni’s of the world? Of course not! A ususer is only interested in money for money’s sake. You, on the other hand, want to be free to create artworks that will enrich the world.

Your investments will give you time to make this contribution.

With this in mind, you must ask yourself, how long will I wait before I make myself free to own, honour and develop my talent? To invest my life in my art rather than wait for others to invest in my art?

The good news is: no matter where you are in life, you can start now and it will take no more than 5 years, probably less, if you are smart.

Then one day you will wake up and know you are there. Yesterday was your last day at a job. Today your voyage towards self-sufficiency is over and you have arrived at your sacred harbour.

Remember, wherever you are on this journey, you are already a free creative.

Leave a Reply