Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. — Cesar Cruz
Geez, when you put it that way, art sounds mad important, right?
Except people can be pretty ungrateful. That’s pretty obvious to me now more than ever, as speculation increases concerning artists’ work and what it, and their time, are really worth. The issue spans across every level of artistry, from supporting our local photographers, poets, painters, etc. to paying “already famous” artists for their music, tours, merchandise, etc. The internet age in which we live makes people feel entitled to free art. Alternative methods of acquiring music, like torrents, the late LimeWire, zip files, etc, thrive now more than ever. Artists are met with “opportunities for exposure” in exchange for photo shoots, poetry sets, and tattooing appoints… but “exposure” doesn’t pay the bills. Promotion doesn’t pay the bills. Pro bono work doesn’t pay the bills.
A great deal of this mass unwillingness to pay artists for their work, I believe, stems from the old traditional idea that artistry isn’t work. For a long time, and even still now, parents have discouraged their children from and berated them for pursuing careers in the arts. Parents deter their children from pursuing music, or wanting to paint, or read poems for a living. And whether it’s just correlation or causation that links this idea with our attitudes toward paying for art now, this thought process continues to make it hard for people to respect artists and their work in the same ways we respect traditional professions and career paths. We marvel at the starving artists and their work– we consider them bold and brave– “That’s dope, but I could never…” We gawk at art and rave about how we could never be so creative and daring, but we always want the experience for free. The truth is, folks who don’t create don’t always understand what it takes to create. To make something out of nothing or create new things out of old things take takes time, talent, inspiration, an eye/ear for what’s dope.
Because of a societal and cultural lack of respect for the arts, we continue to perpetuate the idea that success and real adulthood means following the plan: going to college, working 40+ hours a week at a job with limited upward mobility and no tangible impact on the world around us. While there are plenty of artists who can and do enjoy working fulltime and creating, many artists aren’t as fulfilled. A lot of artists don’t get the opportunity to have what they love support them financially. Enjoying what you do is not being a real adult. Losing sleep to create or travel is not being a real adult. Living with a scattered, erratic schedule is not being a real adult. The irony here, though, is that while we’ve shunned art and music degrees and turned our backs on folks that skip college entirely to pursue their art, it hasn’t gotten any easier for those with degrees in “real professions” to gain employment. Folks with degrees are STILL broke, still living paycheck to paycheck, all on top of having to pay back student loans. There are very few of us who aren’t struggling, with or without a degree. For too many people, success and adulthood mean sacrificing a real sense of purpose and joy to make money and to adhere to the current status quo.
But the truth is, not everyone can be an artist. Talent aside, not everyone has the cerebral ability and heart it takes to create consistently in a society that suppresses it. It’s difficult to blaze one’s own trail in a society that pushes working class, patternized living. While we need folks to wait tables, teach, take care of the sick and elderly, manage our money, etc., I believe that there are too many artists wasting away in 9 to 5s because the economic system in the art world is struggling. What I’m trying to say is this: don’t disrespect artists and their art by demanding work for free. The first step to changing the ways artistic culture is received is to show that we truly value it. Many of us are working part-time and full-time in addition to trying to make time to find inspiration and create. Every artist is a storyteller, and our stories matter. They reflect our experiences and provide narratives for whatever social climates exist. For all intents and purposes, artists chronicle history more accurately than any history book could.
But I’m a hypocrite. I’m only just now getting back to purchasing music and I never keep the CDs passed out like flyers at SXSW. I find that I feel the same way about art as I do about state and local elections: I’m more inclined to support a local artist pounding the pavement than I am a larger artist who seems to have already “made it” (except Beyonce, of course). I need to do better, personally. So I can’t technically charge us to do better; I can only ask that we do what we can do support our artists. Pay for streaming services, maybe. Go to concerts. Buy books. Buy pieces. Throw a couple dollars in the hat as you pass. Most importantly, respect the craft. Respect the craftsman. Respect the time and the sacrifices it takes to work a 10-12 hour day and still go home to edit those poems and articles or put together that mix. For artists who can’t quite live on their craft alone just yet, it’s difficult not to get what you need from the thing that you love.
But, luckily, you can help: BUY ART. GO TO CONCERTS AND SHOWS. BOOK THESE ARTISTS.
The solution is simple– support you local artist, poet, DJ, designer, etc. financially. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Change the culture a few dollars at a time.