Ever since I was in grade school, peers would praise my drawing skills. But, they often followed up this praise with a comment like, “Eat lots of burgers now, so you won’t mind being a starving artist when you grow up! ”
Have you, Dear Reader, ever:
Made a similar comment?
Told a friend working in the arts that they’re lucky they don’t have a “real job”?
Told your child to pursue something more “practical”?
Assumed your creative friend would be happy to design a complimentary logo for your new business, because they love making art?
If the answer to any of these is Yes, then you are part of a harmful societal attitude that could be making the Starving Artist myth a reality.
Now, more than ever, we need creative thinkers. We need designers to make our environments and products more accessible, more understandable, more beautiful, more sustainable. We need brilliant filmmakers who will shine a light on the under-served, the under-represented. We need recording artists and composers who can bring more of the world’s citizens together through the universal language of music.
But these artists need, and deserve, to make a good living. After all, they improve the quality of all of our lives on a daily basis. What is it we list, when asked about our personal favorites? Movies, games, songs, foods (they don’t call it ‘Culinary Arts’ for nothing!). The skilled artists who created these experiences that have enriched our lives should be paid accordingly (and on time).
But artists, and the arts, continue to struggle in a world that prioritizes hard data over soft data, profits over progress, and quantity over quality. We place importance on STEM in schools, but STEAM is the way forward. We allocate ample budget for web hosting and SEO, but haggle with the web designer. We want the illustrations for the theatre’s season posters to cost less than a couple of tickets to the plays, themselves. Logo design and branding are a last-minute consideration for a restaurant, after all the money has been spent on kitchen appliances and remodeling.
Art is work, as Milton Glaser famously wrote in his book of the same title. And this work is done by trained professionals with unique, valuable skillsets. While there are numerous reasons for why many artists have seen their fees remain flat or decline over the past few decades, there are a few things we all can do to ensure artists can flourish and continue to bring color, inventive ideas, and beauty to our world:
- Drop the ‘starving artist’ expression. Many thousands of artists are out there hustling, making a good living, paying taxes, and all while making the world a better place. When a child hears this line, it discourages them from continuing to pursue the creative form of expression they love — music, drawing, dancing, etc.
- Credit artists for their work. This one is so easy to do, but it does not happen often enough. Recently, I watched the SuperBowl — all the on-screen player profiles were illustrated for the event. No artist credit could be found at any moment during the broadcast. I still see publishers tweeting out book covers for new releases with credit to the author, but not the illustrator or designer who made the cover art. Even other artists do it — many bands announce new albums with a big picture of their album cover art with no mention of the photographer, designer, or illustrator who created this vital part of the final product.
- Let artists tell you what their work is worth, and let them explain where these numbers come from. Unless you are deeply embedded in the commercial art world, or an expert on pricing in the arts, you probably have no clue what good art *should* actually cost. The hours spent making the final version of some creative project are only a small component of how art should be priced. The expertise, research, equipment and materials, the revisions and changes and iterations — these definitely need to be considered and often are ignored. Artists are experts in their field and can educate you on fair pricing. And then you can be an advocate for them by encouraging others to learn more about pricing for creative services, as well.
- Spend money on art. Make this a priority, even if you can only afford to buy one thing per year; buy a book, a movie, go to the theatre, buy records, buy prints, buy paintings, attend a community dance performance. YouTube has spoiled us, and we can ‘watch’ our favorite songs, watch artists show off their painting skills, watch designers make a logo from scratch, and hear filmmakers talk about their creative process. This is great for art education. But, if we don’t buy what these creators make, attend their shows, or hire them for their services, how can they carry on doing this wonderful work?
- Bring artists into the conversation. Whatever you are building, selling, championing, or producing in your own business or institution, consider getting an experienced artist involved in discussions (big and small), and pay them for their time and expertise. You will likely benefit from their creative thinking and their fresh perspective.
- Remember that while artists do often love their work, this love does not pay bills. Part of the biggest problem artists face, when trying to shape public opinion about the monetary value of their work, is the notion that because a person enjoys their occupation, they should be willing to do it for free. For all I know, many lawyers absolutely love practicing law. This does not, however, prevent them from charging by the quarter hour, and handsomely.
Art is a part of everything we enjoy in our lives. Architects have built the structures in which we love spending time, painters have created the images that linger in our memories, and songwriters have brought us to tears with a few chords. All of these artists have the same life expenses as the rest of us, and for their wonderful contributions to our lives, they deserve to be paid to make their work. Let us all do what we can to ensure their numbers grow.