The Myth of The Artist
I’ve just finished an extraordinary book called “Why are Artists Poor” by Hans Abbing. It was recommended to me by my Twitter buddy Ivan Pope. Although I think the book has an awful title, it has been so enlightening for me and has lead to a series of “lightbulb moments” about my profession. So much so that I’m going to write a series of blog posts that I hope will be useful for both artists and art-audiences alike.
I’d go so far as to say that this book should be required reading on all arts courses (especially the UK degree courses), as it’s a real wake-up call containing many home truths that all wanna-be artists would do well to take heed of.
The book argues that the economy of the arts is an exceptional one, and that it systematically keeps artists (of all types – painters, musicians, writers, etc.) poor, and that it is a cruel economy with no one culprit, but a series of relationships and values that maintain the situation as it is.
Abbing suggests that central to this economy is a series of myths that are so universally internalised, that they aren’t even consciously acknowledged. Have a little think about them. Do they stack up? Are they really myths or truths? Do you find that you think about artists this way?
I’ll write later about which of these myths I think need debunking, and which I think are not actually myths but reality. Some of these are contradictory, all thought provoking, but for now, here they are. If you want to add your thoughts in the comments box below, I’ll happily engage in discussion with you.
1. Art is sacred
2. Through art, artists and consumers relate to a sacred world
3. Art is remote and superfluous.
4. Art is a gift.
5. Artists are gifted.
6. Art serves the general interest.
7. Art is good for people
8. Artists are autonomous; other professionals are not autonomous.
9. There is freedom of expression in the arts
10. The work of art is authentic, and the artist is the unique creator of it; in other professions such authenticity does not exist.
11. Creating authentic work gives one endless private satisfaction.
12. Artists are selflessly devoted to art.
13. Artists are only intrinsically motivated.
14. Money and commerce devalue art.
15. Artistic quality can only exist if it is independent of costs and demand.
16. Artists have to suffer.
17. Talent is natural or God-given.
18. Everybody has the same chance of being gifted or talented.
19. Certain talents in the arts only appear later in someone’s career.
20. Because extraordinary talent is rare, only a large pool of artists can provide society with a few extremely talented artists.
21. Success in the arts depends on talent and commitment exclusively.
22. The arts are free. The barriers that exist in other professions are absent in the arts.
23. Successful artists are often self-taught.
24. Given talent and commitment, equal chances exist in the arts; the best is victorious.
25. Because the best win, the arts are democratic and righteous.
26. The high incomes earned by some artists are fair.