How Artists are Poor

Visual artists, poets– NPR thinks you do it for the love, because as its new series on how artists make a living reveals, you’re not doing it for the money. Revelation, huh?
What the articles explore is the myriad ways artists support themselves while pursuing their craft. While it is mildly interesting to hear about how different people make money (teaching is a big one), nowhere does it question how difficult it is to make a living in the arts. I believe artists create something of great value for the world, and yet that value is less than often paid back to the artist in dollars that amount to a good living. Partly it’s difficult to assign a dollar value to a work of art.
But we also have a value system in which the arts seem expendable, like dessert. It’s pleasant, but it’s not meat and potatoes. And the stereotypical ‘starving artist’ doesn’t even get potatoes. While its true you can’t eat a painting or a novel, I rather think- to continue an overextended metaphor- we eat too much, and look and read too little. This leaves artists in rather a tough situation, like this one…

On the other hand, you can’t eat a painting. What do you think?


9 thoughts on “How Artists are Poor

  1. There’s a reason art is only inherently valuable as a collector’s piece… 🙁

    It’s always going to be hard to sell a nebulous idea, a thought, a proposition — especially one that you can see in a library book, or on TV…!

    Artists will just have to settle for benevolently changing the world. Leave the money to the capitalists… damn them.

  2. great post, and point about society’s value system for art, it certainly isn’t in dollar signs. and i especially like the first painting, that looks like my reading nook as a child.

  3. You must be mind reading; I’ve been having a similar delusion that perhaps I should be making a living wage. Unfortunately, I think most of us have our hands in something else to pay bills. Although art may be the currency a culture is judged by, the artist does not establish the price but “merely” creates the value. I think it’s a mater of short term (culturally) goals and priorities. It would make more sense to have our politicians wait tables than artists.

  4. So I have a brilliant solution: we take all the money Britney Spears has ever made and redistribute it…

    (The only way I like communism is when I’m the dictator calling the shots, for the good of the people of course)

  5. I know that in the music industry, a lot of the less ‘commercial’ recordings are funded by the sales of chart albums, so Britney is doing her bit for the arts!

    Perhaps we could also introduce a similar scheme in the visual arts, where commercially successful illustrators like Jack Vettriano can subsidise real artists.

    At the moment there are too many people who, to quote Oscar Wilde, know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  6. O, this (cool)blog goes fast and I’ve been struggling to find a quote from Banksy this (older) post made me think of. As a midlife-starter, I struggle with the low-budget-topic myself. Anyways, I found it & here it is. From Banksy’s “Wall and Piece”: “Art is not like other culture, because its success is not made by its audience. The public fill concert halls and cinemas every day, we read novels by the millions and buy records by the billions. We, the people affect the making and the quality of most of our culture, but not our art. The Art we look at is made by only a select few. A small group create, promote, purchase, exhibit and decide the success of Art. Only a few hundred people in the world have any real say. When you go to an Art Gallery, you’re simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires.” Ugh-How’s that?

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