Hockney sells his art for £70m at Christie’s in New York and a Banksy stunt to expose the art world at Southeby’s only increases the value of his work. We can see that the “official” or “radical” art world is just a playground for the system’s rich elites. Apart from the occasional interest as a soap opera, it means fuck all to most of us.
The majority of artists (people) don’t do art as a living as it doesn’t pay. Those that struggle to create, work for free most of the time. They struggle to provide the basics for their families and generally live a stressful unromantic financial lifestyle. Most artist have two full time jobs on top of life. One that pays and one as an artist. There are a million other barriers for working class people to be a working artist but the fact it generally doesn’t pay is the central problem; most of our creative energy is employed in just survival.
The two realities could not be more different. The elite and the rest of us. So it’s a stupid idea to be an artist isn’t it? Short answer is yes! You are very unlikely to make a living especially if you create what you want to make. Thats not to say if you compromise a bit it’s impossible especially if it’s “marketable” or “opportune” and you get support and a lot of luck. If you’re from a middle class background, the road is a little smoother but even then to making a living often demands selling out or buying in. So fundamentally it’s a stupid idea be a working class artist unless you enjoy hunger.
If you have some skills, it makes sense to deploy them in a direction that makes money. Surely there is creativity in all work and it’s true there is always some small outlet. The problem is once we stop being freely creative we stop being human. We start to shut down. We become cogs in a merciless engine of production and re-production. We cannot help being creative, it’s a human condition of survival, having only small outlets like hobbies or being part time is not enough.
What little we do manage to create by not being a working artist, the economic system often licks up for free and spits out the bones. Somewhere there is a slag heap of broken people who made the sensible choice not to be an artist.
So while it’s a stupid idea to try be a working artist, it’s a more stupid idea not to be if you have urges to create. Don’t let anybody tell you being artistic is a secondary issue, people who say that understand nothing about importance and the dialectic nature of being creative. But importantly, to be an real artist you also need to be a full time revolutionary. You have to fight for the freedom to create, to gain the basic resources, to use the spaces around you that others control, to engage in dialogue with everyone on wider issues, to try an earn a living and above all you need to enter into struggle with the ulitimate barrier to your creative urges: the present economic system.
Everything in our social system will tell you it’s not possible to dedicate yourself to your dreams, but then remember your urge to make things. Creativity is the engine of change so tell the system it’s not possible.
It’s not easy, I know, but it’s not David verses Goliath situation. You dont need to be the lone wolf fighting the cause … don’t try to be Zorro. The really stupid thing would be to try and fight the suffocation of creatively alone. That’s where being working class helps. The tradition of organizing as a community collectively is something we always have had to do to win the basics. Community art also is more than just a class at a civic centre or a festival, it’s also about the struggle to change society; that cannot be forgotten if you want to be a working artist.
So although it’s a stupid idea to be try be a working artist I do recommend it to everyone …
… oh as to our rich elite artists, I’d say pay them a really good skilled workers wage. Something that can give them a nice home, a good family holiday and access to resources. If we do this of course, we’d have to take all the resources off the art elite/establishment to pay for it. The positive of this is there then should be enough resources for the rest of us to have the same benefits. If an artist does great work of an exceptional value, make that work commonly owned and display it in public etc. Payment in ego is big currency for artists so good expenses, a skilled wage and exposure to the artist should cover the cost. There are enough empty grey walls out there and easily enough talent to have massive qualities of commonly owned art. The elite artist needs to remember the value of art is really the value of being human. If they are real artists they will be more than happy with this.
I recommend this article and website for further reading. Towards a programme for the Arts