Does Art Pay?
It’s no secret that many Special People are, for lack of a better word, artists. We think we have something super special inside our souls that has to be let out because Mrs. Zuratti liked our 2nd grade media project on Paul Revere. We don’t want to work for anyone or any job that will dare cramp our artistic vision and make us follow orders. As a result, we end up working in jobs for for people that cramp our vision, make us follow orders, and in which we must perform the most menial of tasks. We might call these, “Don’t Screw Up!” jobs, where the only possible way of doing well is to not screw up.
These jobs are well known to FOOS (Fellow Occupiers Of Speicalland). In a typical scenario, you’re working as an assistant/temp/grunt for the person who graduated from college in ’06 and you actually come close to tears because you’re yelled at for misprinting labels. Come to think of it, you actually did cry softly in the bathroom afterwards, humming to yourself a beautiful old chanty, until you realized it’s just the song from the Ernest & Julio Gallo commercials. This means that even your soundtrack of self-pity is derivative.
I’ve been talking to several of my artist friends of late and having almost one conversation. What are we driving at so insistently? What is it that we want so badly to express in ourselves, that we’re willing to take some of these jobs that should have gone to that guy in 8th grade Biology who laughed every time the teacher said penis? Do you remember that guy? He’s in advertising right now and doing quite well. Why in the name of Jumping Jimminy Cricket do we think we’re so special that we must birth pure art into the world—songs, dances, plays, roles, paintings, short films, various textiles? What makes us think that we get to avoid the punishment of Adam and Eve, foisted on the rest of humanity, who must do labor and drudgery for their daily bread?
And yet, as I think about it, and think of all the jobs we take—the bar tending, the bar backing (I never made it to bartender), the waitering, the data entry, the after-school working, the proofreading, the copy-editing, the office managing, the millions of Don’t Screw Up! jobs, I wonder if we don’t suffer the most of anyone. Here we are, the most sensitive people around, in the jobs that require us to take the most criticism, dumping on, and general “you sucks” of anything else out there. We’re jelly fish where rhinoceroses are needed. And we’re not honey badger. We care!
I wonder if we don’t, in some way, feel guilty that we’ve chosen art as our work, and thus feel the need to punish ourselves with the hardest, gruntiest, and most labor-intensive jobs we can do in our spare time. Yes they’re to make money, but do they also pay some kind of debt for the art we make? The art that doesn’t feel as substantial as “real” work, and which society doesn’t feel should be compensated like real work. Conversely, though, if we start to really, truly think of the art we do as our work—our blood, sweat and fears, that thing that we struggle with, rage against, fall in love with, despair over, then start on again; if we think of it as work that, for all this insanely hard effort, we MUST receive compensation for…does that change our outcome?
I have no special love for the artist, Damien Hirst, the splashy, shark-in-a-fish-tank charge ten million dollars for my jewel-incrusted-booger British artist who will have a retrospective at the Tate Modern next year. He’s manipulative, visionless, generic, shock-dependent, “insert your own bad-art adjective here,” but I will say one thing. I don’t think he ever, ever, thought that he wouldn’t support himself off his work.