All too often, artists who are attentive to the “business” of their creative practice are accused of “selling out.” But for many working artists, that attention to business–to revenue generation, asset accrual, the arts economy—is what enables an artist to not just survive, but to thrive. When artists follow their mission, or organizations theirs, they don’t sell out, they spiral up. As I talked with artists and arts infrastructure leaders about what makes their work sustainable, an unexpected theme emerged: property ownership.
So starts Essay Nine, the last before I complete the speculative fiction of the epilogue. The essay is inspired by two complementary quotes:
Art is a way of survival (Yoko Ono)
I had a dream. My father had just died, and in my dream … I called my Dad and I said, “Should I give up my art?” He said, “No. Don’t give up your art, but keep the house.” (Beth Ames Swartz)
Another update: after consulting with my editor from Intellect Books, the title of the book now aligns with this blog, where I tried out so many of my ideas:
Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action
“When artists follow their mission, or organizations theirs, they don’t sell out, they spiral up.” Yes. But that “when” is the very issue in contention.
You suggest that “thriving” is something one achieves at the end of some finance accumulating effort, but most artists I know are LESS interested in thriving financially than in just doing their thing in an uncompromised way. Thriving that way. It is the compromises one makes in order to do the business thing that is so uncomfortable for many artists. No one went into art just to make money. If I have a skill I think I can make money at, I first discovered that skill by engaging with creativity *for* *some* *other* *reason*. Many go into art with no thought of a financial return at all. The amateur artist or casual part time seller account for many more times the creative output of full time entrepreneurs.
It is when you talk about the entrepreneurs as if they were the defining essence of artistry that your account starts to look skewed. Entrepreneurs may be what you want to talk about, and of course they are important, but understanding the motivations of artists from this eccentric example is highly misleading. There are more children making art with no thought of a career in the arts than there are career artists. Just that one fact alone should give us pause in weighing the evidence concerning artists.
I know I have discussed this with you before, but the overjustification effect (https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/12/14/the-overjustification-effect/) is one reason that psychologically many artists feel at best ambivalent about trading art for money and at worst feel defiled by it. Some things are just too personal to be bought and sold. And if we do not fully understand this, how are we supposed to make sense of artists? If your book leaves these considerations out, does not delve into the radical difference between these positions, then it surely won’t be of any use to folks who have *not* made up their minds on how finances relate to their art practice. If you are only talking to people already committed to entrepreneurship, then okay.
But good luck on the book regardless! I will be interested to read it 🙂
Hi Carter: you will indeed have to read the whole book because throughout I use examples defy the notion “that “thriving” is something one achieves at the end of some finance accumulating effort,” – on the contrary, the artists I interviewed for this book are not motivated by financial gain at all – and that is the point. Hope you’re doing well!