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Two recent conversations left me fuming. I was advocating that artists be paid whenever possible (and it’s usually possible).
Oh, the pushback! The money-splaining!
I am tired of being lectured about monetizing and meeting the market, about gift economies and crowdsourcing, about exposure and building my platform.
So, for the next person who wants to defend the extractive American tradition of making artists work for free, here’s the short version. I’m gonna pin it to my damn forehead so I don’t have to sit through any more pseudo-economics rubbish from people who understand economics even less than they understand art making.
Two questions:
1. Do you want there to be art?
2. Do you understand that the art you consume—the art you love—is only possible if thousands of artists make art you’ll never see?
If you answer yes to those two questions, thank an artist and pay an artist.
Art is an ecosystem, a research sector, and you can’t have the stars without thousands of artists making work that isn’t widely known. You can’t have your beloved masterpieces without thousands of quieter works.
You can't, for example, just have your favorite actor. That's not how it works. That actor exists because of (and out of) a vast ecosystem of actor training, practice, and competition. It takes a thousand actors you’ve never heard of to produce the lead in your favorite film. Same with the screenwriter, the costume designer, and the composer.
And same with novelists and muralists and songwriters.
An analogy: The medicines you take are created by certain scientists, but you can’t just have those scientists. You need thousands of scientists experimenting, failing, and sharing results. Out of that sprawling collective inquiry emerge the breakthroughs that reach your medicine cabinet. It is, of course, impossible to know in advance which ones will become breakthroughs. In fact, even in retrospect, it can be hard to determine exactly whose breakthrough it is.
Research-based inventions come out of ecosystems.
Brian Eno calls it scenius (rather than genius), the intelligence and intuition of an entire cultural scene.
The art you love is made possible by many, many artists who aren’t listed in the credits.
It’s not complicated.
If you acknowledge that culture is essential and that it is birthed out of broad ecosystems of practice, then pay an artist, for f**k’s sake.
I am writing to you because you took an Artists U workshop or downloaded Making Your Life as an Artist. Focus and attention are essential to artists, so if these emails take up your time without giving you something in return, please do hit the unsubscribe button and go make art.
Also: out of respect for you and for myself, I only send an email when I have something to say.