Artists and Money

It Is Okay for Artists to Make Money…No, Really, It’s Okay
From a Harvard Business School ‘Working Paper’ published June 3, 2009 by Robert D. Austin and Lee Devin:

When art and commerce are mentioned in the same sentence, many people become bad-tempered or think something needs fixing. This paper argues that more artists ought to make more money more often. Harvard Business School professor Robert Austin and theater dramaturg Lee Devin identify and undermine three fallacies about art and commerce, and suggest that it is necessary to carry on a more careful and less emotional conversation about the tensions between art and business and to overcome a general aversion to business common among artists and their patrons. They also stress the need to develop better theories about how art and commerce can achieve integration helpful to both. Key concepts include:

  • The interests of art, artists, and business can be best served if more commerce enters into the world of art, not less.
  • There are three fallacies, often implicit, about relationships between art and commerce: (1) art is a luxury and an indulgence, (2) art is clearly distinguishable from “non-art,” and (3) commerce dominates and corrupts art, and subverts its purpose.
  • Good art should achieve appropriate commercial value consistently, not just occasionally. A conversation takes place when art and commerce are in tension, a conversation in which neither artists nor managers should dominate.

Pay My Rent
Alan M. Berks, writing on the blog Minnesota Playlist, June 28, 2009
Would you feel comfortable with a part-time dentist? Someone who’s got some talent filling cavities and performing root canals but who only squeezes them in at night, after she comes home from the full-time job she does all day, typing at a desk, let’s say, to pay the bills? Or, do you think, the work is going to be a helluva lot better if your dentist could concentrate on the job full-time, all year round? What about your plumber, lawyer, electrician, and accountant? Why then do we accept a system where performing artists have almost no expectation of making a real career in their chosen profession?… I don’t believe that everyone who wants to do theater deserves a living wage. For most people, theater is always going to seem like more fun than dentistry, so more people will want to do it. I think that a market that squeezes young performing artists a little so that they have to choose whether they’re really committed to it is probably appropriate. But anyone who doesn’t think that theater is already a ruthlessly competitive market has no idea what an audition is.

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    One thought on “Artists and Money

    1. Scott Walters

      Berks’ analogy is problematic, it seems to me. First of all, if you are a homeowner you know that you are often called on to do some plumbing or electrical work yourself in order to keep your home kept up and functioning. In fact, one calls in a plumber or electrician only for the most complicated of projects. My brother-in-law is a stonemason, and he does fantastic work, but if I’m putting up a short retaining wall, I’m probably not going to call him. I’m not quite certain that the amount of time my dentist or accountant devotes to his work is all that relevant to whether he is or isn’t a good dentist or accountant. What is relevant, it seems to me, is the amount of practice they get, and their commitment to expanding their knowledge. This has nothing to do with money.

      I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with the idea of the artist as a specialist who concentrates on art “full time.” Such a single-minded focus on art tends to remove the artist from the everyday experiences, values, and people that it is their job to reflect. I am equally uncomfortable with the view that commodifying the arts is an OK thing that shouldn’t be viewed with a wary eye.

      Should people who make art be valued? Absolutely. Is their art work worth something in the marketplace? Assuredly. But is a full-time job creating artistic commodities the best model for the art and for art within our society? I am skeptical.

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