Artists Don’t Have Poor On The Brain

For some reason recently I seem to be writing a lot about how money and external rewards/punishments don’t seem to motivate creative professionals.

I saw the topic come up again just last week in an opinion piece on (scroll down to “MIND ON MY MONEY & MONEY ON MY MIND”). Tim Schneider examines a study conducted with a small sample size that was being used to support an idea that artists are poor because their brains are hardwired to desire that state.

The article he responds to says:

Adding a twist to their findings, the researchers also discovered in a second test that artists showed a greater response in another dopamine-related part of the brain (the anterior prefrontal cortex) when they were told to reject the green squares. In other words, artists get less worked up about receiving money and more worked up when they know they can’t have it.

“Collectively, our results indicate the existence of distinct neural traits in the dopaminergic reward system of artists, who are less inclined to react to the acceptance of monetary rewards,” the researchers write.

Schneider refutes the suggestion that the study supports the idea artists’ brain chemistry creates a preference toward poverty. Not only because the sample size for the study was only two dozen people, but because he felt the poverty interpretation read too much into the results.

…Instead, the researchers simply concluded that artists “are less inclined to react to the acceptance of monetary rewards” than non-artists—meaning, in effect, that the artists in the sample prioritized cash less than normies when making certain practical decisions.

Which… duh? In fact, short of proposing that it might not be advisable on a first date to go beast mode on a full slab of ribs, I’m having a hard time imagining a less controversial statement than that one—especially to artists themselves. After all, if they didn’t find a higher value in pursuing creative goals than making money, they would just be content to sink into stable, boring jobs like the rest of us rather than braving the many risks, uncertainties, and injustices of life as an artist.

So as I have been writing throughout these posts, don’t let people convince you that you are poor because you want to be or your brain chemistry is imbalanced. Next thing you know, someone will start prescribing drugs to cure your AADS – Artist Acquisitive Deficiency Syndrome.  (I am sure someone out there can come up with a more entertaining acronym).

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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