Artists, Capitalism and the Fight to be Valued
The argument around the pros and cons of capitalism are once again in the limelight. And for good reason. There is a complex, necessary conversation around the mindset and systems that both lift up and break down society. While I am not here to speak to the global ideological or political beliefs around capitalism, I do want to acknowledge how capitalism works against artists and how the fight for a sustainable, creative future is actually playing the system at its own game and potentially our only option to move forward.
Capitalism is based on the idea of building profit. The United States of America is the most powerful country in the world because of its focus on profit building. Profit building goes hand in hand with productivity and artists are inarguably viewed as non-essential for many reasons including our assumed lack of productivity.
I’m not speaking to the misinformed point of view that most creative types have our “heads in the clouds” or are overly “emotional and esoteric” but that we are not seemingly adding to the economy in any meaningful way unless we’re playing into the commercial world of art. And while I’m not here to knock anyone’s artform, I am here to fight for the tens of thousands of working creatives who might not have the opportunity to play commercially but are still viable, necessary members of society who deserve respect and basic human safeguarding.
While not necessarily capitalistic in nature, many of the current systems in place do not work for our industries. Healthcare, retirement and “proof of income” are all examples of societal norms and needs that are based on traditional systems designed for traditional workers to make sure we are all adding to the productivity ($$$) of the nation.
One could argue that we are being held back from adding to the system in a meaningful way. And that this is designed to push us into other, more “productive” fields.
The most obvious sign is that we don’t have immediate access to these basic safeguards and the more subtle signs harken back to our parents wanting us to have a “backup plan” or the look of worry on a realtor’s face when they find out we’re an artist applying for an apartment or the simple existential dread in all of us that we may not be able to take care of ourselves and our loved ones if we continue to pursue the very thing we’re so good at and are so passionate about. It’s both a “one size fits all” system and a destructive mindset.
So what do we do?
Fight to be valued.
A wave of change that could bring equitable safeguards into place for our unstable industries will only come after the world recognizes not only the importance of what we do but how it adds to the economy (beyond Banksy, Broadway or the MET!). Our seemingly “non-essential” work doesn’t make its case alone as to why it’s viable and necessary. Therefore it’s up to us to break the mold and build an infrastructure to take care of ourselves and our families in order to grow sustainable businesses, saying “we don’t accept your unwillingness to help us”.
This is a community fight, by the way. This is not just for one or a handful of us. We fight to be valued so that all creatives who want to find happiness and survive without worry can do so. It will take all of us participating and changing the conversation around what our businesses are and could be.
And for those that decry how unfair the current system is and demand change now, it’s not that I disagree (obviously), it’s just that I’m not seeing an immediate alternative path without a majority of us taking some responsibility to understand how the system works and identifying what we can do to shift it.
And let me be clear and say that I’m not floating the idea that there’s a plot to bring down artists. But I am implying that it is up to us to make the value of our art clearer by building viable businesses. It helps “them” help us.