What it Means to De-Risk Your Artistic Work

Herbert Lui
4 min readJun 29, 2022
Photo: Loic Leray/ Unsplash

There’s a narrative that artists and industries took more creative risks in the past; one possible reason for that was the businesses and industry just was able to cross-subsidize different work. If they made a commercial success, that would fund the critical one. Author and critic William Deresiewicz writes:

In the past, one of the principal ways that the culture industry supported more subtle or thoughtful or artistically ambitious work was through cross-subsidization. The entertainment paid for the art: the thriller supported the poetry, the pop star supported the girl-with-guitar, the blockbuster floated the art-house division. Magazines and newspapers were themselves a form of cross-subsidization, with the fashion features or the sports reporting making possible the fiction or the deep investigative piece. So were albums: the “single” up front, for the radio play; the “deep cuts” for the art and soul. But now it’s every tub on its own bottom. Everything has been unbundled; every song, every story, every unit must pay for itself. No more deep cuts.

Even if it were true in the past (I don’t have a strong opinion on this — I think there’s a lot of great artists creating and releasing independently right now), that’s no longer the case. Many publishers, record labels, production houses, and handlers want to work with de-risked projects; smaller advance payments (sometimes with no better royalty terms), with larger advances going only to artists with established audiences or a proven work.

If you’re a creator or artist, the implication here is you’ll also need to de-risk your own position and work, because it’s not likely the industry will do it for you. For some people, that means getting a full-time job and working on their creative work in their spare time. Even just a light pressure to monetize can take the fun out of a creative endeavor.

Another implication: scope it down! You also no longer need to work with an intermediary to publish the simplest version of your work. Execute at the smallest scale possible, with the cheapest tools possible, and in the shortest amount of time as possible, to complete the first version of an idea.

Make something you can show people and get them to believe in the project. (Kevin Kelly: “Start by buying the…

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Herbert Lui

Covering the psychology of creative work for content creators, professionals, hobbyists, and independents. Author of Creative Doing: https://www.holloway.com/cd