It seems I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about whether or not artists should be paid/expect to be paid/pay their own way for the art they make/etc., and it’s making me grumpy.
It’s making me grumpy because in every case the author presupposes so much on behalf of the artists they purport to speak for/hypothesize on behalf of. In every case, the author claims that (paraphrasing here to be sure – every article has had it’s own particular focus) “Artists shouldn’t expect to make money with their art – they should do it because a fiery passion to make art burns within” and “So, get a second or third job, surrender any hopes that you will ever own anything nice, and do what you love because you love it – not because you ever hope to make a living with it.”
Let me be clear: I tell every student who wants to work professionally in the theater that it’s NOT an easy road. That many of them will find that their paths take them in different directions than they intend. That it’s okay if one day they decide they don’t want to be an actor/playwright/director after all. I tell them that being an artist may not meet their economic standards, and that – yes – you need to really love this crazy profession in order to pursue it, because sometimes that’s all you’ll have separating you from a complete artistic meltdown.
Because it’s not a field where you can walk into ridiculously high-paying gigs fresh out of college or simply by making the right connections. It’s not a field that pays highly, or “fairly”, or even sometimes at all.
In fact, much of the time, it pays nothing at all.
But I don’t tell them that they should suffer for their art, even though they might. I don’t tell them that an artist should not ever expect, nor anticipate, nor (even) hope for, a paycheck someday.
Because if I do, then what does that say about how I value their art?
Art takes time. It takes materials. It takes energy. If I write a play, I have to put in incredible time: the time to hone my craft, to write the script, to edit it, not to mention the time it takes to shop it around… That time isn’t “free” if I have to balance it against other jobs that pay and hopes for a personal life. I’m carving that time out of the hours I’m supposed to be living/nurturing relationships with friends and family/making love/experiencing the world around me/etc.
Time is not free.
And then there are the materials an artist uses to make their art. As a playwright, I have to own a laptop or a desktop or at least a notebook and lots of pens in order to get my words down on paper/or/screen. I have to have a place to make my art – whether it’s my apartment or Starbucks or the park. I have to feed myself, clothe myself, pay my electric bills… all of these “material goods” go into my ability to write.
And in order to hone my craft, find the time, and to supply the materials, I need money.
So, if I am working a job that is not in the arts to earn this money I need to make my art (as many of us do), then I am essentially working (at least) two jobs at all times: the one that pays and the one that doesn’t… yet.
Why is it so wrong then to hope that one day the play I write might pay me back with a bit of extrinsic gain in order to help my body and soul enjoy the intrinsic? That “gain” may take the form of royalties, speaking fees, or a faculty position – and it may not be a lot, but receiving something other than a pat on back goes a long way in validating years of hard work put into evolving one’s artistic self.
I don’t think it’s asking a lot for artists to seek compensation.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing for artists to value their art more than just “art for art’s sake”
I do think that those who pass on the “You’ll never make money with your art and you shouldn’t want to” lie to other artists are merely perpetuating a malfunctioning system’s philosophy of self-preservation.
It’s not evil to hope that your art will one day help pay the bills instead of merely adding to them.
It’s not delusional to think that our current “Eat or be eaten” system can be improved.
There’s nothing wrong with theater companies seeking out new business models in the hopes of creating a life for their artists that includes less suffering and more art-making through financial support, be they commissions, salaries, or even just good-old-fashioned stipends.
Stop telling people what they should intend with their art. Stop telling artists that giving it away for free/or/next to nothing is just the name of the game.
Because that kind of condescension does nothing to change the game.