Most artists don’t make a living at their art, and most people who study art formally fail to develop their studies into a viable career. Writing in Art of England magazine recently, I observed that we should start viewing artists as entrepreneurs. Of course, what we see instead is institutionalised poverty, since government arts grants and various other projects define art in terms of what granting agencies think art is, and one feature is to undervalue the artist’s time. The result in the main is a lot of student quality work, unfulfilled artists beavering away in sheds and back rooms. I believe that all artists want to achieve a measure of artistic recognition and financial independence.
The Independent newspaper (UK) the other day featured the 10 best cheap art to buy. The works art, if that doesn’t stretch the imagination too far, were by and large commercial reproductions, posters and ersatz rubbish you stick on your wall. Given the word cheap, and knowing what prices many real artists sell their work for, the Independent newspaper could just as easily have gone to the trouble of finding 10 artists whose work is affordable, and undoubtedly better. What were they thinking? But perhaps they are just part of the problem for real working artists.
As noted in an earlier post, Bruno Frey’s views on the economics of art are relevant, as he picks apart this iron triangle to show that there are better ways to support successful artists. Indeed, the success of an arts policy in the end depends on the success of artists, and not the production of art. Yet we support the art but not the artist.
Their failure of artists in the main to be entrepreneurial and build successful careers is a criticism as much of artists as the welfare state that protects them. It should cause considerable dismay and a call to action across the creative spectrum. I have special criticism for academe where people often begin their art non-career by simply wondering why art as technique is taught at university; it seems bit like teaching undergraduates how to use a pen so they can take notes in class — probably better done elsewhere.
As for the theme of art and money, well, time to end the poverty trap that artists have allowed society to put them in. Oh yes, artists need to make their own way in the world — just like the rest of us. Perhaps the solution is to make that easier.