On Money and Art: An Awkward Intersection
Yesterday, I received a check in the mail for an article I wrote that will be appearing in the next issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. It came just a few days after the Creative Pinellas Meet-Up in Clearwater where, among other topics, we attendees discussed the pleasures in being financially rewarded for our artistic work. The arrival of the check reminded me of that conversation and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I have complicated feelings around money, especially when it comes to my own writing, feelings that I haven’t entirely reconciled and am unsure I ever will. And of course there is this unavoidable irony as well: I’m writing this blog as a result of the generosity of Creative Pinellas in awarding me an artist’s grant.
Nonetheless, there’s something about attaching a price tag to what we do that makes me unsettled. Yes, I am furious with the general practice of not paying authors for published work. I also understand that places that don’t oftentimes don’t have the means to do so, theirs being a labor of love as much as my writing is to me. Far worse is the increasing prevalence of boutique publishers that require authors pay them for the production of a manuscript.
Beyond all this is simply the fact that we’re measuring our worth the way the rest of our capitalist culture does: through financial gain. But art is so much more than the money it reaps. And so many terrific artists don’t ever see a dime. It reminds me of the ways in which the American educational system has been corporatized. Education is now a means to an end, rather than the means being the end–or better–the means just being.
I suppose what I’m saying is this: Yes, advocate for yourself as an artist. Yes, demand, when possible, sufficient compensation. But please don’t let money be the driving force. For one thing, you’re less likely to be successful at it if money is why you’re attempting to do it (and frankly there are much easier ways to make money than writing novels, even terrible ones, believe me). For another, your art risks being corrupted by perceived market trends, which oftentimes results in art that is less authentic and true. The latter can have larger implications for society and culture.
Part of art’s responsibility is to agitate. Part of its responsibility is to question the status quo, to scrutinize it. When art becomes the status quo, we’re all in big trouble.