The issue about unpaid artists is nothing new, however, the news The Guardian reported about this situation is alarming.
About 71% of artists who participated on publicly funded exhibits weren’t paid a fee. Sixty three percent turned down gallery requests due to the fact that artists could not afford to work for free while struggling to pay the bills.
“People always think that artists are exception to the rules when it comes to paying for work.” What they don’t understand is that “what we do is also the fruit of our labor”. Although it’s true that we may compromise a good paying job for our passion for arts, still, our compensation should not be the price we need to pay.
I remember few years back, when my uncle and I visited the art gallery in Manila where he usually displays his paintings, he introduced me to the gallery owner. This old Filipino-Chinese man looked at me from head to foot and asked, “Are you starving?”. It seemed odd to ask that a stranger. Though perplexed, I said yes. I wasn’t hungry at that moment, but subconsciously, I knew he meant something deeper.
That question always retrieves from memory each time I see sentiments on Facebook by my artist friends who were offered exposures instead of being paid. Or every time I involuntarily think of those clients who asked me to make portraits then disappeared from off the face of the earth when I finished their request. The epidemic is real.
Blog Director and Art Critic Paddy Johnson of New York Times wrote, “Making arts is not an economic decision for most artists who are continually exploited for their ideas and labor”. She then cited a prevalent scheme in New York wherein real estate developers solicit artists to lease a raw work space, then would impose rent hikes once the space is renovated.
This exposed artists’ dilemma on different perspective. We are paid less, on the other hand, we are charged more. Studios, paints, brushes and canvasses aren’t cheap. “Exploited” is the right adjective to describe this situation. “The intention behind these…is not inherently malicious but is certainly ignorant”, said Zach Ienatsch when he wrote for University Star. People have the slightest idea what they’re doing is opportunistic.
It’s as if everyone’s thinking that artists are millionaires. It could be true. But not for the ones who are only starting on this career and most especially the ones who don’t have “connections”.
In the Philippines, it’s extremely difficult to get a decent income out of being artist alone. My uncle for instance, still needs to work part time to support his son’s education and sustain their living as a whole. Selling his paintings is just not enough but he’s still going on with it because it’s his passion.
To stress out the importance of this, National Endowment for Arts, through arts.gov website, collected comments about why arts matter to them.
Here are a few…
“The arts matter because they help us see the world from different perspectives. They give us empathy and help us understand people, places, periods of history, and issues with which we may otherwise be unfamiliar. They comfort us in grief and energize us in celebration. They are important because they can act as a catalyst for change…they can start a revolution! The arts ignite something in our brains that I can’t explain, but I know it’s essential for life.” – Jennie Terman
“The arts matter because they allow us to express ourselves and illustrate the world around us in a different light, helping us to gain understanding, build communities, and give hope.” – Kelli Rogowski
“The arts matter because they are the record of our civilization and the arrow pointing forward to our future.” – Greg Reiner
“The arts matter because life is dull without perspective. All art, good and bad, made by an individual or a team, brings the perspective of an artist to others. It is so important to have art, to teach art, and to allow ourselves and our children to live with a national tradition of art, because the arts give us the tools and means for communicating about the way we see the world. Without the arts, we are confined to one world and one worldview; with the arts, we have the treasure of a million worlds and a million ways to see them.” – Daniel Fishman
“The arts matter because they encourage civility in the world. Living in London in my middle 20s, I spent a huge amount of time in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. In that crowded city, where people studiously avoid making eye contact on the streets, there was a notably more relaxed and friendly spirit in the park. The combination of open space and room to breathe, the flowers and green lawns and old, old trees, the choice of paths from Point A to Point B–experiencing these things together allowed people to let down their guard just a little bit, and occasionally nod and smile. Landscape design made that subtle shift in civility possible, and I will always remember it.” – Courtney Spearman
“The arts matter because they allow people to uniquely express themselves… without fear of giving a wrong answer.” – Lauren Tuzzolino
Now think about this, imagine a world without art. Doesn’t that sound vague? There’s just simply no civility, or worse no survival. We will never reach this modern hi-tech era. No learning, no education, we will be stuck in an age when all we can do is eat, drink, hunt for food and die.
There’s a reason why we call basic commodity “basic” and fine arts “fine”. Because it’s tenfold valuable. It’s not just important, it’s fundamental.
Don’t think that we’re sticking to arts only because we’re lazy. That’s not the reason at all. For one to call themselves “artist”, it requires discipline and dedication.
So long as people don’t realize this, I’ll continually ask myself: Am I starving?
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