Years ago I was running camera for an interview with the founder of a major tech company and he made a distinction that stuck with me ever since.
He said there are artists and there are entrepreneurs. Artists make something, present it to the world, and when people give feedback they leave their work as it is and tell people they don’t get it. Entrepreneurs make something, present it to the world, and when people give feedback they reconfigure and present again. Then they get more feedback, reiterate, and present again. They repeat this cycle until they have a successful product.
Where you fall on that continuum as a creator is completely up to you. You might make things that never make you money in return and that be perfectly fine with you. Or you might be totally focused on profit. That’s perfectly fine too.
The big thing is, you don’t have to choose. Artists can make money, and if they want to be happy, they probably need to at some point. It’s not fulfilling to have a burning desire to make art and spend all your time working jobs that keep you from doing it. Few people have the means to stop working and create whatever art they desire. The smartest artists figure out how to get paid to make art—art which they are still proud of.
It’s romantic to talk about never being a sellout, and no doubt, industry has warped many creators. But a lot of upcoming artists actually need to learn how to sell out. You can’t sell out if your art isn’t good enough to sell in the first place.
Maybe step one is getting good enough at something for people to pay you to do it.