Lydia Stryk has a fascinating piece up on HowlRound about a movement to guarantee artists a living wage. And Stryk's wonderful piece (not all of which I agree with) is just the tip of the iceberg. There's an ocean of online commentary these days on art-making and the question of its sustainability in our current economic structure. I wonder why this might be happening.
Maybe it's just that a lot of over-educated folks with upper-middle-class parents (myself included) bought the story they were sold about devoting one's life to the creation of art: You can do it.
Or put another way:
You can be whatever you want to be.
Has there ever been a more profoundly dangerous message conveyed to an entire generation?
The truth is not so simple. So, these people (again, I include myself here) armed with the vocabulary of social science, begin to wonder what the fuck is wrong with this picture. Or put another way:
Why is my life so fucking difficult?
I'd say, the problem lies not so much in the economic or social structures in which we swim, but in ourselves and our completely unrealistic ideas about the value of what we create.
We can complain and complain til the cows come home that no one wants to pay us to be full-time artists but the fact remains that society has yet to establish a more effective or democratic means of assigning value to goods and services than money.
Most everyone has it. And everyone can choose to spend it wherever he or she likes.
Therefore when we are creating things that people want, they are willing to part with more cash to obtain it. It's that simple.
We now consider Mozart's music to be High Art, without question. But The Magic Flute, for example, was commissioned as a silly piece of fluff entertainment. In other words, people wanted something amusing for a special occasion and Mozart delivered. It's only now, with the benefit of hindsight, that we recognize his genius in the detail of the execution. The folks sitting in that Masonic Hall drinking and smoking during that first performance of that piece may not have even heard all of it. What they did hear, they found silly and funny and entirely satisfying. But I'd bet nobody thought they were being fed a healthy dose of Art.
So, isn't it possible that the Mozarts and Shakespeares of today are slaving away designing video games, rather than exercising their skills in antiquated forms such as the three-act dramatic opera or the well-made play?