|"In the Stillness", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available on my website.|
I did all the art-related paperwork for my taxes this week. 2018 was my best year ever, and I still made less than your average student, working part-time in a minimum wage job. And people ask why I still work full-time. Sheesh.
To me, art and culture is something that is inherently valuable. I can't imagine a world without it. Can you? Picture going through your life without music. Or with only utilitarian clothes, all the same. Imagine a world without any kind of man-made visual stimulation at all... no paintings, no photography, no illustrations.
So why is it that as a society, we don't value the work that artists do?
Wonder why the cost of concert tickets has gotten so high? It's because musicians can't make a living with recorded music any more. People don't buy it. They stream on YouTube, where most of the artists get nothing, or Spotify, where they get a fraction of a cent per play. Performing live is the only way they make any money, and they need money to live (and I live with a musician, this is not me making assumptions, this is a reality). Lots of smaller venues that "feature" live music don't actually pay the musicians anymore either... the bands need to set someone up by the door to charge admission (if that's permitted... otherwise they play for "exposure"), and it helps if they have merchandise to sell. When you're splitting that few hundred bucks between the 5 band members, it doesn't go very far.
Visual art isn't any better... big companies raking in millions in profits per year steal designs from artists that dare to post their work online. They don't think anything of it. If it's online, it must be free for anyone to use, right? But try doing that with a design owned by someone with enough money to sue you (think Disney). It wouldn't go well.
A thing that has emerged in the visual art world is the pay-to-play model. In the traditional art world, you found an art gallery that liked your work, they had a client list, held events, handled the sales, and took a commission. Usually, its around 50%.. does that surprise you? I know many people who where shocked when i told them the average commission for a gallery was half of what the purchaser pays. I get it and don't begrudge them their commission... they are paying rent, hydro, wages for their staff, advertising, etc. It's a business. In this new model, the artist coughs up a "hanging fee"; sometimes its a nominal $30-$50 per piece, sometimes it's considerably more. Some venues charge a commission on top of that, should the piece sell. Many venues offer the ability to have a "solo show", which amounts to renting the gallery for a certain time period. In a city like Toronto it can be quite expensive. I get it... the rents are insanely high so in order to stay open the gallery has to have some guaranteed income. It's a model that has developed out of need. But for the artists that are trying to do this for a living, it can put the entire gallery thing out of reach.
I often wonder how visual artists that make work that may be difficult to sell (like installation or film) manage to make a living. I know there are grants available, but I also am aware that often artists that don't have a saleable product have a hard time "qualifying" as a professional artist to Revenue Canada. I read an article this week that explains how the different branches of government actually work against each other, making the situation for artists even worse. I was angry by the time I got to the end. It makes no sense, and I now understand now that not valuing the arts is built right into the system we live within.
What's the solution for this? I have no idea. But I think it starts with transparency, and letting people in on the industry's secrets. Only when the system of funding is fixed can the arts really thrive in Canada. At the moment, it seems to be totally out of whack.
I understand that if I want to live off my art, I have to think like an entrepreneur, think of it like a business, and that means doing the work that sells, and abandoning the stuff that doesn't. Since art is such a personal thing, that can be a difficult decision to make. I use painting as a kind of stress/anxiety management tool, and I know I would continue to paint even if I never sold another piece. I would just have to reevaluate how long I kept something around and I would paint over things a lot more regularly. at the moment I'm managing to sell enough to cover my expenses and give myself a bit to try some new things, and that will have to do for now.