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Make Art Make Money attempts to solve to the problem of money for creative people. It’s a new way of looking at business, through the eyes of a trusted childhood hero. Jim Henson wasn't your typical businessman. You don't have to be either.
— Elizabeth Hyde Stevens
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Elizabeth Hyde Stevens spent three years searching for the answer to starving-artist syndrome—by looking to her childhood hero: Jim Henson. Along the way, she created a research course at Boston University called “Muppets, Mickey, and Money,” and published her research online at The Awl, The Millions, Electric Literature, and Rolling Stone. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Brooklyn College MFA program and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. Everything she knows about business she learned from watching Sesame Street.
Three years ago, Elizabeth Hyde Stevens started searching for an answer to the age-old problem of the starving artist by looking to her hero, Jim Henson. Along the way, she created a research course at Boston University called “Muppets, Mickey, and Money,” and her writings about Henson have appeared online at The Awl, The Millions, Electric Literature, and Rolling Stone. In 2011, her essay “Weekend at Kermie’s” was viewed over 160,000 times. Called “a long, brilliant thinkpiece" on Twitter, the essay was praised by Internet curators Brain Pickings, Mother Jones, Longreads, Longform, Wired, IMDB, IFC, Reader’s Digest, and Kurt Loder.
A lifelong fan of the Muppets, Stevens grew up as an artist, loving to make crafts with her Gram, read stories with her mom, and play with her dad’s office supplies. She attended public school in North Andover, Massachusetts, and went on to study new media and art semiotics at Brown University and creative writing at the Brooklyn College MFA program. She is a member of the Brooklyn writers’ collective The Kilgore Trout Home for Wayward Writers and teaches fiction workshops at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Her writing has earned the Himan Brown Award and the Somerville Arts Council Fellowship for Literature.
Everything she knows about business she learned from watching Sesame Street.
- The Onion AV Club: “Great job, Internet! Read this”
- Longreads: “part how-to, part Jim Henson history”
- Brain Pickings: “Stevens captures his legacy beautifully”
- Boston Globe: “a fun mantra to imagine on the lips of an unknown artist”
- Nerd Lunch: “the book spoke volumes to me”
- The Awl: “a very exciting new Kindle Serial”
- "As a writer, her suggestions really resonated. Any working artist could benefit from this book" —Jilly Gagnon, humorist and YA writer
- "Elizabeth Stevens, through her deep expertise on all things Muppets, offers up a fascinating study of the art, business and magic of Jim Henson—with lessons for anyone who wants a more creative work life." —Mark Armstrong, founder of Longreads
- "Stevens captures [Jim Henson's] legacy — 'clearly one of benevolence, art, and giving' — beautifully, suggesting it's a model for creative entrepreneurship in just about any medium or domain of art. Though certainly full of practical insights, Make Art Make Money is above all a reminder — a manifesto, were the word not so tragically worn by now — that you don’t need to survive on lettuce soup in order for your art to be authentic." —Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
- "There are plenty of books out there about how to make money from your art. This is a book about how to make money SERVE your art." —Jeremy Meyers, DeeperContext.com
- "When someone asks me who would I have dinner with if I could choose any person, dead or alive, my answer is always Jim Henson. Unfortunately, that's never going to happen. This book feels like it is the next best thing. Liz Stevens has done a remarkable job at deconstructing the life and work of Henson in a way that thoroughly explains what made him a successful artist. Just like a meal spent with Henson would be life-changing, this book opens up the reader to ways of acting and thinking, as modeled by Henson, that will surely aid in the growth of one's artistic goals. Stevens impressively points out threads that appear all the way through Henson's entire body of work illustrating the struggle that exists between art and business...and more importantly, how the two can live in harmony." —CT, Nerd Lunch
- “it's refreshing to know that Henson didn't compromise what he wanted for his art. He's a great role model for artists in our modern world.” - A Painting Mom
- “Required reading… If you've ever struggled with how to focus and build on your creative passions in a challenging, market-driven world, you have no excuse not to read this book!” - Jeffrey A. Lewonczyk
- “well-researched and is well-written” Cathy Matherne
- “a glimpse into his work, career, and strategy that inspires me as an artist” Charles Mccoin
- “I can't wait to read the next episode of this intriguing series” Cristina Kennedy
- “a reflective business advisor for artists” JoAnn Castano
- “Via Henson, history becomes fun (and fuzzy); business becomes less intimidating and more creative” Wythe Marschall
Q: How did you decide to write this book?
A: I feel like my whole life was building toward this book—I just didn’t know it. As a literary writer, I put a lot of years into perfecting my craft, only to find that I couldn’t make a living at it. So, around the time I turned 30, I started to realize I needed to figure out this money thing that artists notoriously lack. Christmas was coming up, and around that time I found myself really needing the Muppets—those great old Christmas specials like A Muppet Family Christmas where everyone from Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and The Muppet Show would all come together and sing carols around the fire. They’re great films that just make you feel good about life.
I realized that the thing I loved about the Muppets was Jim Henson’s entrepreneurial spirit - that feeling that an artist can do anything he wants. Jim Henson was an artist, a painter, illustrator set-designer, puppeteer, director, and a musician. But unlike all the struggling artists I knew in Brooklyn, he ran a million-dollar business. I had to know: How did he do it?
Q: Who is this book for?
A: I wrote this book with a clear reader in mind: myself. I needed to educate myself in business, in order to get the book published in the first place! But more than that, I wrote it for my friends: the talented writers, painters, illustrators, comedians and musicians. It seemed like everyone I knew was coming up against the same problem I was. After your 20s, you can’t afford to be a starving artist. So what do you do? Do you quit? Or do you find some way to fund your art—that’s what I wanted to do. Jim Henson had a healthy attitude to money: it was something to fuel his art, but it never dictated what he was going to make. Every artist can learn from Jim Henson’s business philosophy.
Q: Why is this book relevant?
A: Jim Henson is only now starting to receive serious “adult” attention for his career. The first biography of Henson appeared this fall, and since then, adults have started to realize what a profound effect this man had on their worldviews. Generation Henson was raised to be creative, compassionate, quirky, and innovative. It is no wonder the creative class has grown so much in recent years. This book presents an alternative to the Steve Jobs approach to innovation—Jim Henson also thought “different” but he wasn’t hardheaded. He was actually a really nice guy, beloved by friends and family. For those who want a more fulfilling career doing what they love, Jim Henson makes a pretty great career hero.
Q. Should I read this book or the new Jim Henson biography?
A: That’s up to you! You can learn a lot about Henson from both books, and both have contributed to a great revival in Henson’s importance. But be aware that the books are quite different. My book is not chronological; it is idea-driven and seeks to ask and answer difficult questions about money. Along the way, you will learn a lot about who Henson was and how he thought, but I don’t go into Henson’s childhood, romances, or death in detail the way the biography does. My Henson book is the first to focus on money, something of vital importance to artists, innovators, and anyone who uses creativity in their work.
A biography’s virtue is in its completeness, whereas my book’s virtue is in its lens, the artist’s problem of money.
Q: Why is the serial only $1.99 for all ten chapters?
A: It won’t be for much longer. When the full eBook launches on November 19, it will be full-priced, but for now, while it’s being serialized, it is priced at the standard Amazon Kindle Serials price: $1.99 for all ten episodes, with a new one delivered to your device each week. Serials are priced this way because you are basically buying one chapter of a story - or in the case, nonfiction - and if the content is addictive, you can keep reading at no additional cost. It’s a pretty neat system Amazon set up for authors who want to grow a readership.
Q: Is this an authorized book about Henson?
A: No. This book was written independently of any of the companies involved. All the ideas and analyses are mine and I was not censored in any way. I spoke on the phone with a few of Henson’s collaborators, but for the most part, my research involves published articles, books, interviews, and records. I believe this has helped me to think clearly, critically, and independently about Henson’s business.
Q: What is your business background?
A: I don’t have one! I’m an artist (a writer) and an academic (writing teacher). While this means I don’t have command of business terms much beyond “scalability” “R&D” and “overhead,” it also means that my judgment has not been clouded by an MBA or business-as-usual corporate culture. I’m looking for a way an artist can make a living by making great art. I’m not trying to climb the corporate ladder, but I’ve learned just enough business to understand Henson’s approach. Henson was a smart businessman, but he didn’t have an MBA. To him, business was a handshake: getting on the same page with collaborators.
Q: What do you do in your “Muppets, Mickey, and Money” class?
A: I try to give students the same thrill that I feel when I research. It’s a detective story, and you’re looking for clues. In the class, students start out practicing description by writing about their favorite childhood toy in loving detail. From there, we look at the economic model that produced the toy, and the motives of the artists behind it. Then we read about the early start-up years of Walt Disney Studios and Henson Associates—in Walt’s garage and Henson’s basement—and compare their management styles. The final half of the course is spent on independent research projects touching on art and money. In addition we watch the original Snow White, The Muppet Movie, and Toy Story 3 and compare them to the actual narratives of the businesses who created them.
Q: What do you want to do now?
A: Writing this book has been the biggest thrill of my life! My next goal is to spread my message of Jim Henson’s compassionate business model to artists, techies, marketers, and all the creative people Henson inspired. In the distant future, my dream project is to produce a masterpiece video game using what I’ve learned.
- Why are you so interested in Jim Henson and not someone more grown up like Steve Jobs?
- What do the Henson, Disney, and Pixar companies have in common?
- Who is your favorite Muppet?
- Are you excited about the new Muppet movie featuring Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey?
- Who was your favorite person to talk to in your research process?
- Do you really think Henson’s success can be recreated today?
- What about artists who don’t want to be rich and just want to make good work?
- Did Henson have a business guy to help him?
- How have you used Henson’s money philosophy in your own career?
- What is the one thing that Henson did that set him apart from starving artists?
- How Jim Henson balanced art and commerce. Great lessons for anyone who uses creativity in their work. #longreads amzn.to/19RQ52p
- Learn business lessons from Jim Henson #MakeArtMakeMoney by @ElizHydeStevens #greatread amzn.to/19RQ52p
- Every creative person should probably read this book about Jim Henson, art, and money. #art #books #muppets amzn.to/19RQ52p
- #Writers #editors #marketers, consider: MAKE ART MAKE MONEY, a Kindle Serial exploring Jim Henson's Entrepreneurship. amzn.to/15GzWKQ
- Worth reading: What did Jim Henson know about business? A book about making money while remaining a Muppet. amzn.to/19RQ52p #Muppets
- What Muppeteer Jim Henson teaches us about bridging creative integrity and commercial success via @BrainPicker buff.ly/19eSsxJ
- How Jim Henson Turned His Art into a Business via @Longreads bit.ly/15T7UBb #innovation #art
- Manage like a muppet: Lessons from Jim Henson to feed your creative career. #money #muppets amzn.to/15GzWKQ
- Join the revolution. MAKE ART MAKE MONEY: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career (Kindle Serial) #art amzn.to/15GzWKQ
Phrases you can use:
- This is the first book to tackle the money side of Henson’s career.
- How Jim Henson turned his art into a business
- What did Jim Henson know about business?
- Jim Henson’s balancing act between art and commerce
- a new kind of business book for anyone who uses creativity in their work
- "You operate with as much honesty and integrity as you can afford." - Jim Henson
- There are three steps to Henson’s approach: 1. Make art. 2. Make art make money. 3. Make money make art
- Jim Henson created a business that was worth 150 million dollars at the time of his death, and yet his puppetry, design, and performances embody the artist’s philosophy of quality above profit. How did he do it?
- Artists can prosper as entrepreneurs; Henson can show us how
- Henson makes the perfect hero for anyone who uses creativity in their work and wants to be compensated better for their time and effort
- Make Art Make Money shows us how Henson actually achieved the impossible dream of the artist – that “rainbow connection” between art and money
- As an artist in a capitalist world, Jim Henson had to use clever business methods like copyright licensing, international co-productions, and re-syndication. To fund his ambitious projects, he had to make peace with the marketplace, but he also needed to protect his art from money’s corruption with the help of agents, angel funders, and fiercely loyal collaborators
In our culture, artistic genius and poverty seem inevitably linked, but does it have to be that way? Jim Henson didn’t think so.
An iconic creator and savvy businessman, Henson is a model for artists everywhere: without sacrificing his creative vision, Henson built an empire of lovable Muppets that continues to educate and inspire—and a business that was worth $150 million at the time of his death. How did he ever pull it off? And how can other creators follow in his path?
In Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career, journalist and educator Elizabeth Hyde Stevens presents ten principles of Henson’s art and business practices that will inspire artists everywhere. Part manifesto, part history, part cultural criticism, part self-help, Make Art Make Money is a new kind of business book for creative professionals: a guide for creating and succeeding thanks to lessons from the Muppet Master himself.
- Making peace with the market & merchandising: “Find a Good Reason to Sell Out” How Henson changed his mind about “selling out” to win “artistic freedom”
- Serving your craft: “How Many Hours Have You Practiced?” Jim Henson’s workaholism, ambition, and ten thousand hours
- Collaboration: “Give Someone Else a Break” How to find the right collaborators and how to keep them together
- Have a second career: “Hijack the Ad” How Jim Henson muppetized his day job - television commercials - how he used them to fund his experimentation, and when he decided to quit
- Transcending groups: “Invite the Outside In” How to achieve universal appeal by looking beyond the group we’re in
- Using technology: “Always Innovate” How to use new technology the Henson way
- Finding your angels: “Bring Together a Triad” Lessons in getting art, tech, and business to work together from Henson, Disney, and Pixar
- Selling yourself: “Pitch, Pitch, Pitch” How Henson learned to constantly pitch his work and fail
- Managing artists: “Nurture Talent and Get out of its Way” How Henson led, using a center-out business structure, similar to Walt Disney and Lorne Michaels, with key differences
- On copyright and stock: “Own Everything” Why Henson changed his “own everything” philosophy in the last year of his life and what happened
“Lewis Hyde said, 'There are three primary ways in which modern artists have resolved the problem of their livelihood: they have taken second jobs, they have found patrons to support them, or they have managed to place the work itself on the market and pay the rent with fees and royalties.’ At various points in Jim Henson’s career—as we will see—the artist used each of these methods, but more than any, he used the market. The art of the Muppets is arguably “commercial,” though it is also much more.
Of the three routes, Hyde says, the first two (quite often teaching and grants) are the easier ways for an artist to protect his art from money—to ‘mark the boundary between his art and the market.’ When we exchange our art for money directly, without a clear boundary, the art can easily become contaminated by market.” - from episode 1 “The Problem”
“The way I see it, Hyde’s dance steps go a little something like this:
- Make art.
- Make art make money.
- Make money make art.
It is the last step that turns this dance into a waltz—something cyclical so that the money is not the real end. Truly, for Jim Henson, money was a fuel that fed art.” - from episode 1 “Henson’s Solution”
“If you are turned off by the greed and avarice of the business world, know that part of the problem is that you—artists—aren’t there yet in great enough numbers.” - from episode 1 “Henson’s Solution”
“Copyright is a key to making money as an artist, because it allows a work of art to be made once at great cost—making it, in a sense, a gift—and then reproduced relatively cheaply, giving back to the creator infinite profits. Though commodities, these products still bear the stamp of the expensive original, reminding us of the gift. Toy sales can be quite lucrative, especially with the rise of plastics, and by 1990, CTW and Henson split $15 million a year between them.” - from episode 1 “Find a Good Reason to Sell Out”
“David Bowie: ‘I just can’t believe his capacity for work. For instance, he would finish shooting for the week on Labyrinth in London, catch an airplane to New York, work on a new production, TV series, or whatever over the weekend, then catch a plane back to London Sunday night, and be at the studios early Monday morning to resume filming.’” - from episode 2 “How Many Hours Have You Practiced?”
“Don’t listen to your friends who tell you they like leaving their work at work. They don’t have the same dream you do. They want the comfortable thing. You want the great thing. Take your work home. Longtime Muppet writer Jerry Juhl had a piece of paper above his desk at home that said, “Not writing is worse.” I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing worse than not working on something you believe in.” - from episode 2 “How Many Hours Have You Practiced?”
“The kind of art Henson wanted to make required collaboration. His crowd scenes celebrated this—the raucous audience of The Muppet Show, the rainbow shining down on two hundred Muppets at the end of The Muppet Movie, an entire species of Fraggles dancing, the whole Muppets family singing carols in A Muppet Family Christmas. Fiction mirrors the truth underneath the puppets—Henson said there were a “few hundred” puppeteers in the Muppets Take Manhattan wedding scene: It’s always fun to do those great big crowd scenes when we try to get everybody that works puppets that we know of . . . to come in for a shot or two.” We feel the “fun” when we watch these crowd scenes. It’s not about a certain number of puppets; it’s more than that. What we feel as an audience is that a lot of people really enjoyed working together, something we don’t get to experience very often in our own careers.” - from episode 3 “Give Someone Else a Break”
Hijack the ad:
“In the late sixties, Henson made a parody ad for a fake product called “Flapsole Sneakers.” If you watch it, you are promised in sing-song rhyme diapers that “never rot,” and are then encouraged to “buy a pot” of Cavity Candies. A boy falls off a “Tipsy Toy” and a girl models a “Boo-boo Band-Aid” with a head gash still red with blood. The end of the commercial tells the endlessly credulous parent, “friend,” if your kids already have all these products, buy them a mutual fund, “open end.” According to Falk, Henson made “Flapsole Sneakers” to “play around.” But more than that, the fake ad displays Henson’s obvious disdain for, and discomfort with, the job he was paid to do. “Flapsole Sneakers” is a parody of opportunist advertising, of selling unrealistic desires, and its complicit knowledge that products are not what they seem.” - from episode 4 “Hijack the Ad”
“Many artists today refuse to aim for a broad audience, because they feel it will water down the quality of their work. If you seek to please everyone, the saying goes, you will please no one. There is wisdom to this—often times the more “pop” an artist gets, the less they actually have to say, the more hollow the work becomes, and the more beholden to market demands. Yet Henson’s message did not seem to turn hollow even while it became more expansive to attract more audiences—to get closer to ‘everyone.’ It’s impressive.” - from episode 5 “Invite the Outside In”
“Henson would undoubtedly be creating in digital media today. In 1988, he pronounced that hi-definition TV was the future. He said he would have used digital video effects on the ending of The Dark Crystal if the resolution had been high enough at the time...Yet I don’t think Jim Henson would be thrilled about some uses of digital technology. Today, the Disney Company scrubs the arm-rods out of every shot in which a Muppet arm rises into the camera frame...Although Henson loved ‘to jump into the middle of new technology,’ he jumped in to experiment, to play, not to perfect. The kind of perfection Disney gives the Muppets—erasing flaws—is not at all thrilling. It asks graphic artists to work for hours with a little “erase” tool on their console. What’s fun or interesting or new about that?” - from episode 6 “Always Innovate”
Art + Tech + Business:
“As Finch wrote: ‘It may well have been a blessing that The Muppet Show was not picked up by one of the major American networks. Had [Henson] found himself working in Hollywood and answerable to network executives, the pressures might well have made it impossible for him to sustain the atmosphere that now exists in the Muppet world. Lord Grade’s hands-off policy has been vital to the success of the enterprise.’ This ‘blessing’ was another sense in which Lew Grade was an ‘angel.’ The Muppet Show wasn’t just a risk, it was also one he couldn’t manage—he had to trust in Henson’s vision. Moreover, it was expensive, costing $250,000 an episode by the fifth season. It was said the show didn’t make a profit on the books in its original run. Rare indeed is the investor that can stomach an arrangement like this.” - from episode 7 “Bring Together a Triad”
“Are pitchmen born or made? Jim Henson had two characters on Fraggle Rock. One was Cantus, the wandering minstrel. Cantus could play every song in the rock on a mystical pipe, because he spent most of his time listening. It was hard to get him to make a concrete statement at any time. He preferred to ponder life’s mysteries rather than endorse any message. He was a bit of a mystic.
“Henson’s other character was Convincing John, who could convince anyone of anything. One of the most powerful and dangerous Fraggles in the rock, Convincing John spends most of his time talking. He is almost manic in his “preachification,” so sure of his opinion he can convince anyone of it, even if it is something as ridiculous as insisting everyone wear cups on their hands. Jerry Nelson said these rather opposing characters shared something: ‘The intensity of Convincing John or Cantus the Minstrel always had a kind of intensity that kind of was Jim.’” - from episode 8 “Pitch, Pitch, Pitch”
“It is easy for CEOs to say that they want to foster creativity, and yet, it takes a radical approach to actually create that kind of environment. To foster collaboration, Steve Jobs designed the Pixar building to have only two bathrooms – all in the front lobby, forcing people to interact more and combine their ideas. Yet this is superficial, dictatorial, and seems designed to ensure bladder discomfort. The real way to create innovation and collaboration is by setting an example – starting with oneself. Jerry Juhl has called Henson’s spirit ‘infectious’: ‘One of the images that I think we all have of Jim that we’ve seen repeatedly is Jim standing in the studio with his hand in the air and a puppet and he’s laughing uncontrollably. Everything has come to a complete stop, and that kind of infectious enthusiasm kind of spread through all casts and crews.” - from episode 9 “Nurture Talent”
“From the very beginning, Jim Henson’s company has been a private, family-owned company. Henson never sold shares, and there is very good reason for that.
A fellow artist-entrepreneur, Walt Disney was vocally against issuing public stock. During the golden age of Snow White, Disney bragged: ‘We don’t have to make profits for any stockholders. New York investors can’t tell us what kind of picture they want us to make or hold back.’ Yet, Disney did eventually cave due to pressure from Roy, and in 1940, Disney issued stock to the public. Another entertainment mogul, George Lucas said he turned down the chairmanship of Disney in the 80s. ‘I don’t want to run a public company,’ Lucas said. For artists, a public company means having many bosses, and less artistic freedom.” - from episode 10 “Own Everything”
“What Jim Henson did with his life was amazing. He seemed to approach his career with the idea that he could do anything, so what was worth doing?
Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock inspired children from 1969 to the present – all over the world. Those works of art inspired us to be kind, light-hearted, accepting, and creative. Henson’s work had a deceptively powerful effect on a generation of creatives. Sesame Street tells us that it’s okay to stay innocent, and as a result, Generation Henson values art and collaboration in some cases more than they value supporting themselves. Time wrote that Henson ‘helped sustain the qualities of fancifulness, warmth and consideration that have been threatened by our coarse, cynical age.’ Mel Brooks once said that the Muppets stood for one thing: ‘The meek shall inherit the earth.’I think he was right. There are kinder people walking the earth today because of Henson. In many ways, the meek have already inherited it.” - from episode 10 “Make Your World in its Light”