I’ve had something simmering in the back of my mind for a long time now. It started back a few years ago when I had the brick and mortar studio and started noticing the trend. As I wander around the Internet, I see it even more strongly, and as it is Very Relevant To My Interests, I find I can’t really keep it behind my teeth anymore. As there are a few parts to this, this may end up a several part series of posts.
Since the beginning of human history, there have been artists. Our very first signs of humanity stretching its arms to reach beyond the limited nature of our simian ancestors to become human, are paintings drawn upon the rough walls of dark caves. As we continued to grow and change, it was the artists who charted our journey: the painters, the actors, the singers and story-tellers. To this day, one of our most-often used tools to determine the sophistication of a civilization is through its arts. What subjects do its paintings portray? How does it adorn itself? What does it surround itself with in everyday life?
In most “primitive” cultures, artists hold a place of honor. They are the ones who journey into the mythic forests and the dark places that others fear to venture into, to find and bring out meaning from those places and then to translate it into a form that others may look at and understand. As such, they are important members of society.
Yet, too many modern societies view the arts as “an amusing hobby with which to pass the time.” Many of us are told as children, when we first start to announce that what we want to do with our lives is create art, that we can’t. We’re given all manner of “good reasons”, most of which come down to, “you’ll end up broke, dead in a ditch of starvation/overdose/some unspeakable disease”. Art isn’t something a respectable person does for a living, and besides, there’s no money in it. Ironically, what drives a number of artists to this end is the fact that they are told endlessly that the thing they love most, that they can’t not do, is worthless. They are poor and starving because there is this strange idea in society that “support” means complimenting them on their work, instead of purchasing it.
Oddly enough, I think the Internet can actually do more harm by making things so easily accessible. Why buy a piece of art or photograph, when you can copy and paste it to your computer? Why should you pay to read a blog? It’s not like they spent hours fine-tuning and sculpting those words to best effect. It’s not really writing, after all. Only books, published by a Real publisher, are really writing. It’s so much easier to skim past it and move on to the next shiny thing.
Do I sound a little bitter? I guess I am. I was that child who was always told I couldn’t be an artist/actress/writer, even though one of my earliest memories is of sitting under the kitchen table as a toddler, telling stories to the cats and stuffed animals. I loved to color beyond reason, and for most of my life have carried notebooks to jot down snippets of stories, vignettes, or sketches. Yet whenever I would try to steer my life toward the path of the artist, I would be given a list of “Reasons Why I Couldn’t”. Now I am the adult artist, so poor I can barely afford food, let alone the tools I need to create the art I see in my mind. All because I live in a society that does not value the time and effort it took me to create my works, but tells people that all I need to be a thriving artist is encouragement and compliments. It does not also see that I am trying to run a business, pay my bills, and be a functioning, productive member of society.
What do I think supporting artists means? While the compliments are wonderful and very much appreciated, they don’t pay the bills. They can’t feed the cat, or buy groceries. If you like a particular piece, photograph, or painting that an artist has made, buy it from them. If a writer has written a piece that you like, donate a couple of dollars to them. There is no rule that says donations must be in large sums – a dollar or two from a few sources adds up quickly enough. If you know someone who would appreciate their work, recommend them. Word of mouth is the best advertisement an artist (or any other business owner) could hope for. Besides, most self-promotion has two major drawbacks: 1.) limited audience, and 2.) business cards, domain names, etc. cost money, which circles right back to the first point.
I guess what I’ve been rather long-windedly trying to say is this: “The best way you can support your local artists is to buy things from them, and tell other people to do the same.” Artists are also small business owners, and would like to continue being so.