Who should pay for the arts? Obviously our government won’t (don’t get me started here). So for now, it’s really up to us people who understand the value of art to be vocal about why supporting and sustaining the creation of new artwork is important, and maybe even reorient ourselves to what we decide we should be paying for, as individuals. Personally, I try to buy art as often as I can from artists whose work I care about, and I support a growing list of artists on sites like Drip, Kickstarter, and Patreon with a small contribution every month. And, I know I can do more—it’s a personal goal of mine to do a better job supporting the artists I care about. It’s a learning curve, since most of us haven’t been conditioned to know how to support each other, and we all have weird relationships with money. For now, I’d recommend everyone think about how they can support artists. Even if you can only contribute a few dollars to someone whose practice you admire, it’s not just about the dollar amount—it’s about saying, “You and your work matter and I hope you will keep doing it.” We all need to get better at saying this, and not just to artists. If someone is doing something cool, you should tell them—odds are they don’t hear that kind of positive feedback or get that kind of support as often as they should. Capitalism sucks at creating supportive relationships so we gotta take it upon ourselves to do better, one person at a time.
And, no—I’m never surprised by anything artists do. Nobody can surprise me with their weird use of Kickstarter, either. Everyone should be as experimental and subversive with all digital tools at all times, and use all the platforms that exist in the most insane, awesome, over-the-top ways they can think of. People aren’t nearly experimental enough with these platforms. People should go crazy, break the internet, and earn a million dollars. It’s definitely possible… and I won’t be surprised if and when it happens. 🙂
...it’s really up to us people who understand the value of art to be vocal about why supporting and sustaining the creation of new artwork is important, and maybe even reorient ourselves to what we decide we should be paying for, as individuals.
What inspired The Creative Independent's current survey of visual artists on financial sustainability? What insights do you hope to gain from its results?
Our survey for visual artists stemmed out of a conversation with artist Yumna Al-Arashi. She’s an incredibly smart and talented photographer whose work is exhibited and collected widely. And yet, she emailed us because she still felt like she wasn’t “doing it right” (the artist thing, I mean). She wondered if she was messing up her career by not working with a gallery, and wanted to better understand what other viable paths other artists were taking to sustain themselves and grow their practices. Together, she, Brandon and I wondered why this type of information sharing wasn’t happening more openly. Why is it so hard to figure out how to make it as an artist?
I’m a pretty practical person, and seeing this serious gap in information made me want to fill it in with some real hard numbers. Since we have a platform through which we can pretty easily reach artists, I suggested we do a survey to actually illuminate, on a broad scale, how artists are making (or not making) money, among other things. We’ve been collecting responses for a few months now, and soon we’ll be releasing all the anonymously collected information as an open data set that everyone can learn from. Moving on from here, I not only hope the information will give people a more transparent look at how different structures within the art world are helping (or hurting) artists—I also hope we can continue to identify holes in knowledge, and come up with some actual next steps and strategies that will improve the situation. This could include commissioning more guides, convening conversations, launching more surveys, overthrowing the government… we’ll see. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen over time, always.
After interviewing so many artists, what is one common obstacle that stands out when it comes to creating a sustainable art practice? What do you see as potential solutions to this issue?
I mean, the obvious answer here is making money. As for solutions, ha! I guess my recommendation to artists would just be to figure out ways to make money that you can live with. Lots of people have day jobs to give them some stability, and to ease the pressure they’re putting on their creative practice. The idea of the artist who’s making most of their money through their work is a myth that needs to die. That situation is the exception, not the rule. Until our society completely 180’s and has a better understanding of the value art and artists bring, artists are not going to have an easy time making money. My best advice to artists is to become aggressively financially literate, even if it feels hard or counterintuitive. Don’t just say, “Whatever, I’m an artist, I don’t understand this stuff.” Make an effort to play the game of capitalism, and out-smart it. Take a business class. Keep track of your expenses. Learn the basics of saving and investing. If you’re an artist, the system is rigged against you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t one-up it. Figure out how to sacrifice the smallest amount of time/work for the biggest amount of financial stability you can get. Once you get a plan for financial security in place, you might be surprised to feel an enormously heavy weight lifted.
Even if you can only contribute a few dollars to someone whose practice you admire, it’s not just about the dollar amount—it’s about saying, “You and your work matter and I hope you will keep doing it.”
Another common obstacle people face is that… making art is a hustle and it sucks sometimes (maybe even a lot of the time). Seriously, everyone I talk to for TCI has a laundry list of struggles that’s a mile long. I can tell you from experience: ten out of ten people are not waking up every morning and saying, “Wow, another perfect day in my life as an artist!” At face value, it might not seem worth it to be an artist. But for most people we talk to, it’s not a choice. They have to follow through on their ideas, and bring things out of their head and into the world. That process can be 90% painful, realistically. There’s not really a solution to this problem, except to just keep going, and to know that you’re not alone.