One of the true joys of readership is encountering a genre totally anew--especially a familiar or an underestimated one. In Make Art Make Money, Elizabeth Stevens delivers a virtuosic double punch: She provides a biography-driven history of Jim Henson's rise to eminency among American wonder-makers in the 1970s, and she reinvents the "self-help" book beautifully. Make Art Make Money is a delightful Muppet-fest disguised as a smart book about the gritty how-tos of the business of art.
Stevens's voice remains funny without edging into manic hero worship. Her take on Henson's genius is perfectly in tune with our time, somehow never sacrificing history for glibness. This makes the fact that hers is, in many ways, a book about how her hipster/Great-Recession generation can succeed in the business world all the more surprising and enjoying. Via Henson, history becomes fun (and fuzzy); business becomes less intimidating and more creative: Stevens tells us she is offering "ten Muppety lessons" on how to make a buck without sacrificing that aspect of art that makes it art--its quality of gift.
Surely, many artists and businesspeople would benefit from meditating upon Kermit for a few hours, but this book will strike a particular chord with those writers, painters, sculptors, designers, puppeteers, etc. who essentially don't want to make money, who view money as a sign of diminishing creative returns.
For them especially, Stevens's careful investigation of Henson's leaps from plateau to plateau (commercial toil, nonprofit success, toy production, brand empire, Hollywood) will entail a convincing counter-narrative: Some artist is going to sell your kids toys. Some artist is going to design children's shows. Some artist is going to create biting social satire couched in huggable fur and beady button eyes. If you have something to say to the world, why are you not trying to be that artist--which means making enough money to get those gigs, to have total control over them?
According to Stevens, this task isn't easy, but it is possible. Jim Henson, may he rest in peace, is all the proof we need.