Should a Photography Education Include How to Sell Your Work?

Should a photography education include how to sell your work ?


The fine line between art and commerce is blurry or sharp, depending on whom you speak with. Historically, it is a proverb that the artist must be rid of commercial and financial concerns, and that the aesthetic of their work should be all that matters. To taint
one’s work – be it in photography, filmmaking, performing arts or music – with questions about pleasing markets and buyers is considered crass.

Except, that line has always been there and crossed many, many times. The Medicis singularly sponsored Brunelleschi, Donatello, Fra Angelico, Michaelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. The great commissions in corporate and public art since the 20th
century only get to be noticed because they have financial backing (before the work was completed).

Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde and Mozart all died penniless, but perhaps some wherewithal might have afforded them better healthcare and longer careers.

Of course, with the expense of equipment in photography, serious poverty is an almost certain barrier to working in the field. Some may endeavor as photographers’ assistants, but that can make for a slow career path.

Many photography schools now teach the importance and methods for becoming commercially successful. Unabashedly, the New York Film Academy Photography School claims on its website, “You will leave NYFA not just with a portfolio of spectacular images, technical expertise, sophisticated aesthetic sensibilities, and a firm idea of what kind of photographer you want to be. You’ll also know how to make a living.” The school incorporates licensing agreements, detailed budgets, contracts, pitches and deliverables into class assignments. “Professional photographers are entrepreneurs who run their own business.” The website similarly notes that “if you’re really going to succeed you’re going to need to beceome a great
business person.”


Sadly, the person often referred to as the father of  photojournalism  , Matthew Brady, died in poverty decades after his own work brought the grim realities of the American Civil War to the American public. He invested his own money, believed to be around $100,000 (a sizeable amount for its time), in shooting the grotesque horror of the conflict. Much of his work is with us today, but he only recouped $2,840 of that money when Congress bought his collection.

It is one thing to be celebrated for your art many decades after it is completed. But it’s
extremely unfortunate when you do not see some benefit from your work during your
own lifetime.