I recently saw a call for artists with no compensation being offered to them. I put no blame on the poster as this is all too common of a theme. But it brings me to the age old question: how do we educate all that art is a trade?
How do we educate that artists spend thousands of hours learning a skill and cultivating it, the thousands of dollars spent on materials and workshops, the hours spent on social media, websites, billing, and the dreaded negotiating wages. Then of course, there is the time spent navigating self-doubt.
It can be difficult producing something from your heart and waiting for a client to respond. In truth, this self-doubt is probably stimulated by the subjectiveness of art, and then exacerbated by the lack of worth that society has put on artists.
I believe we made this mistake from the very beginning; undercharging, creating volunteer boards, pirating music—these are all culprits in getting us to this place. We have already set the stage, and it is of no benefit to the creators.
How do we fill a theatre with attendees when they could listen to the very same music at home on Spotify for free, or nearly free? Yes, you do not get to enjoy the same collective experience, but for some, that is not enough of a draw to get them out of their cozy homes. For those few though, that feeling of watching someone passionately convey their life’s work, squeezing it into a 2-hour set in a room full of people who showed up for them, that’s priceless.
Which brings me to my second question: why is it so much easier to pay for tangible work? Why do we have such a difficult time putting a price on something that makes us feel alive?
I remember when I was considering attending school for International Development and questioning the salary scale of some non-profits. My friend spoke to me: “Ruby, why does the CEO of an oil company deserve to make more money than the CEO of a company that delivers essential services to hundreds of thousands of people?” Without getting into the absolute inner workings of it, I believe my friend was right. This is a stigma, a narrative that has been pushed on us. It did not take much for me to shift my opinion in that field, so perhaps it could be the same in the way of compensation for artists.
While I cannot speak for all artists, on behalf of myself—as an artist—I thank you for reading this and perhaps taking a second to re-evaluate your stance on art, on what makes you feel alive, and on the appropriate payment that those who bring so much joy to the world so well deserve.