Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Art in a Capitalist Society

"The artist walks alone
Someone says behind his back,
"He's got his gall to call himself that!
He doesn't even know where he's at!"
The artist walks among the flowers
Appreciating the sun
He does this all his waking hours
But is it really so wrong?"

--Daniel Johnston, "The Story of an Artist"

No one asks a child, when he is busy working on a drawing or painting: Why are you doing that? But for an adult, the question is more complex: Why, amidst all your responsibilities and adult concerns, are you spending time drawing or painting or writing?

For the fortunate few who are able to make a real living from their art, the answer is fairly easy: this is my job.

But what about the vast majority of artists who cannot make a living from their art? As a gallery owner, I would say, of all the artists we show, maybe 1-5% make their living exclusively from their fine art. Some work as "graphic designers" for corporations, but that is different from making fine art. For the 95-99% of artists who must work other jobs to pay the bills, myself included, the question is worth considering: Why do we do it?

If asked, I would say I make art because it is fun, it it stimulating, it allows me to express my thoughts and feelings and share them with others. For me, that is reward enough.

In a capitalist society like America, however, this goes against the prevailing mindset. In a capitalist society, the primary goal of any citizen must be to make money. I have had conversations with successful business people who, when I explain that my art gallery makes me no money, give me quizzical looks.

From a purely capitalist perspective, it makes no sense for me to make art, write, or own an art gallery. Thankfully, I have not bought in, entirely, to the capitalist mindset that purpose is tied up in material wealth.

I'm not saying that we do away with capitalism. That isn't going to happen any time soon. What I am saying is that, in a capitalist society, it is very difficult to be an artist, and this is unfortunate.


1 comment:

  1. Amen to 'it's fun' :) I struggle constantly with my ever growing dependency on others for support as my friends become more and more stable...buying houses, supporting families. To give more time to creative pursuits, I had to give up some financial security.... took me 30 years to really accept that I just need to do it.... it's fun ...and I really can't help it ...I would be miserable without it, you know?