Truthfully, I think most people view artists, their lives and their work, with a suspicion that they never grew up and are still at play.
She asked me what was on my agenda for the day. I told her I would go for a photo walk, then sit in a cafe and write and then go home and edit the photographs I took during my walk.
“Sounds leisurely,” she said as she got out of the car, a statement I took as both jealousy and critique. Unlike her, is the implication, as she walks off to get on the train and do the nursing work that keeps us together financially.
I don’t for a minute want to suggest that my wife has not been supportive of my decision to pursue an art career. Certainly there has been some jealousy and a bit of frustration with the reduction in resources it has led to, but she has been hugely supportive and more tolerant of the impact it has had on her economic well being than I have a right to expect.
No, I don't think she consciously meant much by it. Rather, I think she reflexively displayed a prevalent societal attitude that lurks in many, even those who actually do appreciate and understand the hard work and sacrifice that art is for many artists.
Truthfully, I think most people view artists and their work with a suspicion that they never grew up and are still at play. Because what we do looks like fun and few of us make enough money to live off it, we are all too often thought of as underperforming members of society. Few people realize how hard we work, how strongly we are driven to do our work and how much we contribute through the making of our work.
Part of the problem is that our society significantly undervalues the production of artists (as do the artists themselves, more about that in a minute) and therefore does not remunerate them at anything close to the value they provide, for example, to the merchants and real estate owners of the communities they live in.
It’s a common story. Artists move into a town or neighborhood because they can afford space to do their work and find or develop a community environment conducive to making art. They reach a critical mass, the town/neighborhood gets safer and becomes “interesting” to a more resourced public. Developers own large amounts of property in the town/neighborhood, which they bought at depressed prices before the artists arrived or in the early stages of their arrival, condos get built, boutique stores open and voila! Through a process broadly known as gentrification, a neighborhood/town has gone from gritty and/or depressed to hip and lucrative.
To be sure, the transformation is brought about by efforts from a spectrum of community contributors and the contributions being made by artists are not welcomed by all. The process of gentrification works to the detriment of many longtime, mostly working class people in the communities it transforms. But that is another discussion for another time. At present, I am only trying to illustrate that artists contribute to economic growth in ways that benefit many and should make them more respected and economically secure, but don't.
Initially, in these towns/neighborhoods the creative community develops a festival kind of atmosphere. They create art events large and small and populate the drinking and food establishments in ways that are funky and, well, creative. Increasingly, the art community supplies it's creative product for free to be seen and to further make things artsy, creative and attractive.
In Beacon NY, for example, there has been a project called Windows on Main. Artists contributed their time, materials and creativity to decorating storefront windows with site specific art installations, and guess what? Nobody is paid for their efforts. Not the organizers, not the artists, nobody. Who benefits? The merchants and developers. Are they contributing to an art fund that at least compensates artists and organizers for their expenses? Not that I know of.
It’s a similar story with another project, Beacon 3d. Wonderful project, wonderful work, terrific organizer, same story. Organizer and artists get little or nothing. Merchants and developers get a more artsy creative environment that draws people and makes money.
In fairness to developers and merchants, all of them are continuously hit up for donations of money, product and space to an ever growing number of local charities and causes and most of them do contribute to a selection of those charities and causes. Artists, however, don’t seem to benefit much from that largess.
Artists themselves are the other part of the problem. Most artists deeply enjoy the work they do and too readily accept the poverty that goes with it or the idea that they should contribute their creative product for no remuneration in order to be seen or heard. Poverty in art making is for many a badge of honor and a demonstration of the purity of their pursuit.
I often work seven days a week at my photographic and written art. I also spend significant portions of many of my days at work that generates income and isn't my art. I contribute more to household maintenance and management than my wife does, which I consider fair because she is the main bread winner and has to spend many hours commuting in and out of the city to do that. This is what most artists do. They work really hard at their art and a bunch of other things in order to be able to exist and contribute something of value to others while making their art.
It needs to be more broadly recognized that they are not playing, or lazy, or selfish and self involved and that it is good for a lot of people when they do what they do.