Everything has a price tag. Yes, I know that things that are really worth millions can’t be bought, like good health, happiness, or time, although some things that help maximise them can (good medical care, time management devices, lack of financial concerns, task delegation). But in general terms, most things have a price attached. Value is not the same as price. You might value a nice sunny day and time spent with friends and that has not price tag attached. And other people might be prepared to pay a high price for things that you would not give a cent/penny for, and might not even want them for free (latest fashion design, a gadget that you’re not interested in, a sports ticket you don’t care for).
What is the value of art? Do you think artists ‘work’? Should they be paid for their efforts?
If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a fair bit recently. A couple of friends of mine, a man and a woman, both extremely talented, both write, both also make movies, one is also an actor, the other one directs movies and works on scripts for people (and both have made videos for me) narrated very similar anecdotes to me last weekend. On Saturday I was exchanging messages with Alan Cooke (a.k.a. Wild Irish Poet) who told me he’d been asked to take part in a project run by somebody else on the expectation that his time and effort would be given for free (and the unspoken understanding that he should be grateful to be asked). The next day Magda Olchawska told me a couple of young women working in a project had told her they thought she’d be the right person to help them, again with the expectation that this would be provided free of charge. Both of them had a similar take on the matter. ‘You would not ask a plumber to do a repair for free, would you?’ Or ‘You wouldn’t go to a shop and take what you needed without paying; why should expectations be different?’ Why indeed.
We (or the majority of people, but sorry for unfair generalising) seem to think that whilst professions (or people doing a more ‘mundane’ job) do it for the money and it therefore has a value and a price attached, in the case of artists it’s not the same. They’re having fun! They’re doing what they really want to do! Do they need to get paid on top of that? Now you’re kidding me!
Well, surprise, surprise, artists eat too. They have to train and work hard at what they do. It takes many years to achieve expertise on a subject or field, qualifications, to keep updated, and of course you have use of materials, resources, time…Imagine musicians playing their instruments for years before they master them, or ballet dancers training since they are little and sacrificing games and playing time for their art. We all have heard stories of people who suddenly after writing their first book, or posting their song on the internet, or taking a picture or video, their work went ‘viral’ and became successful overnight. This happens, but compared to the number of people who try to make a living in any of these (and many other) art-related subjects, the likelihood is so small that it’s similar to winning a big lottery price. It is not the norm. Most artists work for many years to see little return and few manage to make a comfortable living out of it (let aside become ‘successful’ and ‘famous’). Struggling to make ends meet is the norm rather than the opposite. Very few get to be well known names like Damien Hirst, Lady Gaga, or Russell Crowe. But they still have to put a roof over their heads, food on the table and pay the bills.
And when they can, artists love to help colleagues and do things for good causes, but not to the detriment of their livelihood. So next time you look (or listen, or touch, or…) a work of art, ask yourself what value does it have to you. Because if it makes you think, it transmits beauty, it makes you happy, it makes you want to dance…it’s worth something. Don’t take it for granted.
Thank you for reading. If it has made you think, please leave a comment, and share.
And in case you want some information about my friends I leave you a link to Alan’s page on Facebook:
And to a post on Magda:
Go on, click and share!
- What Picasso Knew: Branding Tips For Artists From An Art Basel Insider (forbes.com)
- Great artists of the 20th century: their best quotes (telegraph.co.uk)