The thing about the art economy is….there’s either too little or too much. You either have a situation where artists are mocked and not taken seriously or a situation where artists are overly celebrated and obsessed over. You either make no money or all of the money. There’s no in between. You can’t be an artist just making an average living, the way you have accountants, doctors, engineers, lawyers, janitors, electricians, plumbers. This is because as an artist who hasn’t ‘made it’, you’re just an artist who’s trying. Since you can’t really do the average things like own a place and pay your bills as an artist who’s ‘trying’, your art is seldom taken seriously. Try telling a person that you’re striving to be an actor. Because the probability of breaking into the small, exclusive market of Hollywood actors is so low, people will be stunned. Some may even act intrigued, but they are likely to be generally uncomfortable with the concept and will resolve to judging. It’s hard to even argue that they are wrong. It is true; chances of breaking into those spaces is much closer to impossible than anything else.
Artists commonly like to amuse themselves with the idea that these people just don’t believe in dreams. But really, how could they? Adults have responsibilities. In a world where even adults doing average things run away from their responsibilities, it’s hard to respect a person who is outwardly expressing their intention to not have the primary goal of participating in those responsibilities the way everyone else has to. At least, that’s what it seems. So it’s not that these people don’t believe in dreams; it’s just that they never have that opportunity to indulge in them–the way capitalism has intended. They are driven by these same images of extreme poverty and extreme wealth to reproduce their safe, average lifestyle. So because the idea of a ‘starving artist’ is much more appealing when depicted in art than in real life, at some point, most people choose a career that is accessible and profitable and repeat it for the rest of their lives. Then there are people who don’t have the opportunity to choose an average career and that’s the populous that typically makes up your ‘starving artist’. Again, not glamorous. It’s the guy who you’ve learned to ignore as he plays for petty change at the subway station.
This translates into a generally shitty attitude of discouragement towards art. You can be an artist, so long as you do it as a hobby. You can call yourself an artist so long as you are not dedicating all your fruitful hours towards it, so long as you have a source of income, so long as you can be valued at a dollar amount in society. Yet, people love consuming art. Majority of the doctors, lawyers, engineers, plumbers, electricians, accountants (hm…okay, maybe not accountants) listen to music. So, even though people who visit doctors, solicit advice from lawyers, live in buildings constructed by engineers, don’t expect them to do those things as a hobby, for some strange reason, we have this expectation of artists. Isn’t it the idea that because we all need doctors, need lawyers, need engineers, that it is a part of our everyday life and existence, that it is an acceptable occupation? If you really think about it though, we don’t need doctors. If we lived in a world without doctors, we may just live shorter lives and have a smaller population. We find it hard to imagine but it used to literally be a thing. We may think we need lawyers and a legal system but we can do without it. We built it. We didn’t need it. We just preferred to have it. Likewise, if you try imagining life without art, it won’t seem very realistic. In this way then, we do need art. It’s a part of the culture and civilization that humans have constructed, just as much as any of the other professions are.
And let me be very clear: the consumption and production of art are very different. Yeah, a lot of people do sing/play instruments on the side. They have in no way mastered this skill though. You may endure it at friend and family gatherings from time to time but you won’t put it on your iPod (look at how ancient I am…are iPods even a thing anymore?). Comparatively, you may listen to your friend who read some article(s) online about various medical issues and learned a few relevant facts, you’re not going to seek their help in a serious medical condition. All the same, we can all probably agree that it would be pretty fucked up if there were a handful of skilled, paid doctors in the world. What a shitty system would it be for medicine if all finances were concentrated in the hands of a few and majority of the doctors lived in poverty? People would stop striving to be doctors because the chances of them ‘making it’ would be so low.
Not to mention, a handful of artists, who typically descend from the group of already elite, are not even well-equipped to represent the perspective of the masses. It’s amazing how so many artists are depicted as coming from poverty and making it from nowhere, when in reality, that’s the exception, not the rule. I would like to believe that we are smarter than wanting the homogenized, uncomplicated messages that are the standard of most popular music. There is art out there that can speak to the complexity of individuals and it doesn’t need to speak to the complexity of every individual but to a generous chunk. But somehow, that isn’t a commonly sustainable possibility in our society.
So, what we want is not for people to stop striving to be artists, or to be ashamed of wanting to be artists. We want art. A lot of people may not know it but I think we all at least want art: the movies, the TV shows, the music, the fashion. I understand that even if this perception in people changes, the economy quite possibly wouldn’t reflect that. I do like to believe though that the economy is a projection of what we consume. I understand that the big media companies have it in their best interest to tightly control the art that most people are aware of, have exposure and access to. They have a demonstrated tendency to take beautiful things and make them greedy. It’s also easy to see that they exploit the average person’s lack of time and energy to research beyond what is made visible by these entities.
Now, even though I don’t have one, I feel inclined to give a solution to this problem that I’ve presented. The best that I have for the time being is to invest in your local art because your money speaks. This is not always easy. If you pursue supporting local art, you may encounter several shitty examples. My personal worst experiences at poetry readings include a dude reading out lyrics on his iPad (probably from A to Z lyrics) to Gang Starr’s Moment of Truth and pretending that they are his own, a girl who called herself MC Freedom Bunnylove and recited hymns from various religions for 10-15 minutes while simultaneously being covered head to toe in glitter, 30 year olds rhyming like 12 year olds, and the list goes on. However, locally is also how I’ve experienced some of the most inspiring art that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, whether it be via internet or otherwise. I’ve seen people of colour fearlessly reclaiming their identity in a city where colour politics stays on the hush hush. I can say this: the experience is always at least interesting. What I personally try to do is to at least take the money that I earn from my art and invest it back somehow into my local art community. You don’t have to spend above your means, but when you have the opportunity, invest in your artists. Support them, encourage them with your renewed attitude and shit. Talk to people with a more open mind.
Since I’ve been somewhat subliminally picking on accountants this whole time, I will end this train of thought with a tangent. My most hilarious encounter in recent times has been with this trailer:
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he has more in common with Einstein, Mozart, and Picasso than he does with us…maybe he’s capable of much more than we know…imagine the secrets this guy has”. These words build all this suspense as you watch images of a peculiar man going through life and you’re thinking “what will he be? What will he be?”. Then the suspense is brought to a conclusion by this fairly intense declaration that reads “The Accountant”. So simple, yet so fucking hilarious. I inevitably always burst into laughter when I see this trailer at the movies or on TV. Also, Child Psychologists don’t often diagnose children with extraordinarism, and certainly not an extraordinary predisposition to become…an accountant.
God damn Ben Affleck.