The business of art

I really wonder if all artists can or should be turned into effective business persons. There seems to be a movement afoot to give artists lots of financial and marketing skills to be able to turn a profit from their work. But doesn’t that discourage innovation and the creation of work that just doesn’t belong over someone’s fireplace, or load onto your iPod or Kobo?

Ask any artist if they would make art even if they can’t make a living from it, and they’ll tell you YES. They have to do it. But artists have families and mortgages and dental bills like everyone else. What we forget is that making art is a calling, not a business, not a job, and that the mind that can create is not necessarily going to be able to run a business. Do we ask our bankers to take a second job selling cars, just so they can continue to do the banking that they love? Do we want plumbers moonlighting as psychologists just to make ends meet?

This 2009 article by the Globe and Mail  shows that 43% of 140,000 artists from all sectors in a study earned less than $10,000 a year and that artists’ incomes have been declining since 1990.

We imagine that if an artist is “good” they should be able to make a living, but the facts don’t bear that out. And what do we mean by “good?” The most aggressive artists, the ones with a partner who can support them, the lucky ones who were in the right place at the right time, or the ones who are good at writing grant submissions? I’ve known many  “unsuccessful” artists who touch me to the core and I bet you do too. I don’t know a single artist who can support themselves solely through their art work.

So what does that say about how we value creative people in our lives? Take away much of what is beautiful, fun, unusual, and moving from our daily landscape and imagine what the world would be like. No movies, no music, no inspiring architecture, no comedians, no fashion design, no magazines, no children’s books, no chainsaw sculpture, no throat singing. Think about it the next time you listen to that mp3 that you downloaded for free.

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