With its penchant for viewing all activity through a monetary (read: the profit) lens, American capitalist culture treats artists as menial workers—like miners, who dig for the important resource, which others sell to make fortunes without personal bodily risk. In fact, the experience of creating something (from nothing) is often described by those so engaged in terms of digging deep into unpleasant (inner) territory and extracting raw material that needs still much work to become valuable. It seems artists accomplish all the labor, and any others in the business are not much more than marketers and critics. This is close to a parasitic relationship. It is particularly painful, when one realizes that the artist is the lowest paid in the chain of wealth for her own product. Just $1 to $2 per book. Publishers, agents, distributors, marketers, and the like make the lion’s share of the money.
Oh, you say, but what about all the luminary artists—the stars—and their extravagant lifestyles? The schizophrenia of capitalism occasionally hands an artist immeasurable success. Though she almost always has something to offer, the relationship between talent and remuneration is rarely one-to-one. All artists have something to offer. This bizarre imbalance demeans the efforts of other artists yet more. And it contributes to the blinding of society to the fallacy of its premises and machinations.
Creativity is the jewel arising from the intelligence of our species. It should be the object of our devotion. A few societies still honor the artist. It used to be and may still be that in Sweden, I think it was, young artists were solicited to audition their work to a national board. And promising artists were given stipends for life. For life! That’s commitment to the arts through supporting artists. Of course, like all human interactions, their system too, is never free from politics, but the cultural vision is more properly directed. This contrasts to the all-or-nothing version of capitalist art that we foster here. In this country, we limit our efforts to subsidizing agribusiness and oil companies. Message: “You are talented if you make money for others.”
I remember meeting the mother of a girlfriend when I was starting out as a songwriter, during which she responded to the news of my artistic stirrings with rolled eyes and a cryptic, “Lots of luck.” She did not need to express the hope that her daughter would not proceed in relationship with me. Perhaps if I had said, “I plan to be an international arms dealer,” we could have set a wedding date.