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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

from Facebook: art isn’t free…

posted in:
easter eggs
  • Nathan

    My highschool art teacher would often work with his serious students to get some of their works sold. Maybe not for much, but for something. He also had our best works photographed and put in a portfolio booklet. He was a cool guy.

  • Bluejay

    I think part of the problem — and he touches on this a bit in his article — is that we as a society have two ways of looking at art: as a profession and a learned skill, but ALSO as an innate human capacity, universally accessible to all. And we tend to confuse those two perspectives.

    We encourage EVERYONE to create. We teach our children not to be shy with their creative talents or desires: “everyone can sing, everyone can write, everyone can dance!” (We don’t say “everyone can be a neurosurgeon.”) We bestow “artist” as a title more easily than other professional labels; when kids take part in the school choir or play, we call them singers and actors, but when they dissect frogs in science class or join the math club, we don’t call them doctors and economists. We describe the act of creation in exactly the same way, regardless of training or skill level: Audra McDonald can SING, but so can a toddler belting out “Let It Go”; Stephen King can WRITE A STORY, but so can a second grader writing her “What I Did Last Summer” homework.

    And we tend to see art as bound up with our human origins, as part of “what makes us human” (which isn’t to say that only humans can produce or conceptualize art). In fact it’s probably the MAIN way we think about art, in a way we don’t do for things like banking or cab-driving or factory work, which we see as services and products requiring compensation. So in a weird way, maybe our elevation of art leads us to devalue it at the same time. “If it’s part of our humanity, then it’s not a job or commodity. If it’s our priceless birthright, then it shouldn’t have a price.” Maybe that’s where we need to untangle our thinking.

  • Danielm80

    If you can get this essay to load properly (the website is a little dodgy at the moment), it deals with some of the same issues:


  • Bluejay

    To be clear, I don’t think it’s wrong for us to think of art as universal, or to encourage everyone to make art. Everyone SHOULD sing and write and dance and paint as much as they want to, because that’s part of what makes it wonderful to be human and alive. But we need to be better at distinguishing art-the-human-capacity from art-the-profession-pay-me-now-please, and making sure that professional artists get their due.

    I wonder if that distinction is clearer with other professions because there’s a clear training period before you get to do the thing itself. You have to learn to be an electrician before you can actually fix wiring in people’s homes. You have to go to medical school before you’re actually allowed to cut people open. There are gatekeepers, in other words, who signify that you’ve done your formal training and so your work now officially has (monetary) value. But with art you can create and present a product no matter what your skill level: both amateurs and professionals can “sing” or “draw” or “write.” And with modern social media you can put yourself out there and skip past all the gatekeepers. Which is great for finding an audience, but maybe it also makes it trickier for people to figure out who’s doing what as amateurs or professionals, and exactly what value to place on their work.

  • You’re not wrong about any of those things, but there is — or, at least, there should be — a huge difference between anything creative you do for your own amusement and edification, stuff that probably no one else would enjoy, and anything creative that garners a genuinely appreciative audience*. The minute you are enjoying the fruits of someone else’s creative labor and imagination, you should consider how you can give something back in return for it.

    *One that has no previous investment in the artist, that is. Just because a school auditorium full of parents show up to cheer on their kindergartners doing ballet doesn’t mean that there should be any expectation that there’s a wider audience for such a performance. Obviously.

  • it also makes it trickier for people to figure out who’s doing what as amateurs or professionals,

    I’m not sure the artist’s intent matters so much as how much an audience appreciates the art. If you like it, pay for it somehow. Money is always nice, but these days, spreading the word on social media is good, too.

  • Bluejay

    Money is always nice, but these days, spreading the word on social media is good, too.

    Which hopefully turns into money somewhere down the line, yes? Otherwise, “we’ll pay you in exposure, not money” is HuffPo’s argument.

  • bronxbee

    you’re a bit contradictory … the difference between a professional or a happy amateur is not just appreciation but a professional is paid. paid enough to actually put food on the table, pay rent, have a comfortable (not necessarily rich) life. appreciation ( or even “giving back “something”) is not sufficient. don’t you want money for what you do? don’t you feel you’ve practiced your craft and educated yourself enough to deserve the same reward as a dental hygenist or a carpenter or teacher or secretary? “appreciation” is best when a sufficient reward follows.

  • Bluejay

    enough to deserve the same reward as a dental hygenist or a carpenter or teacher or secretary

    Thinking about this more: Maybe the real problem is simply this (and it’s an attitude that’s probably very hard to change): For most people, if they can get something for free, THEY WILL. And in the Internet age, the thing that’s usually available for free is art.

    This isn’t really true of other products or jobs. In most cases, if you don’t pay for the thing you want, YOU DON’T GET IT. At all. Carpenters don’t do free carpentry and ask for subscriptions. Dentists don’t fix your teeth and hope you’ll click their “donate” button. Teachers and secretaries who don’t get paid walk off the job. This was even true of art in the pre-Internet/pre-bootleg era: If you didn’t pay for a ticket, you didn’t get to see the movie.

    With the Internet making so much art and information available for free, it’s basically reduced artists and writers to the status of street performers with a hat out: maybe they’ll get some coins from appreciative crowds, but MOST people will still just enjoy the performance and choose to walk past. And then the attitude that “art can be had for free, you just pay if you feel like it” seeps into the general mindset.

    That’s wrong, of course. Professionals of all fields SHOULD be paid. Just wondering how to change attitudes. Or, rather than try to change people’s behavior, maybe the answer is to work WITH people’s behavior and just make the entire Internet pay-per-view — though of course that would have its own unintended consequences.

  • Danielm80

    The argument made by a number of artists I respect—including Cory Doctorow, Amanda Palmer, and Neil Gaiman—is that material released for free can serve as promotion for projects that cost money. It doesn’t always work flawlessly in the real world (and Doctorow seems to release everything for free), but I’ve certainly spent a lot of my earnings on creators I discovered when I found their work online.

  • Bluejay

    Sure. The challenge is to strike the balance between how much material you give away, how much material you charge for, and whether enough people are paying you that it’s worth what you’re giving away for free. Obviously it’s not working for a lot of artists, which is why we still have a lot of articles written about this issue.

  • Hopefully. But it’s also a way to show appreciation if you’re not able to pay hard cash.

  • I don’t see how I’ve been contradictory. Of course I want to be paid! But I wasn’t talking about what I want but about how audiences should approach work online that they see as “free.”

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