Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Art Ghetto

There  is a  good  deal  of  conversation  these  days  about  our  system  favoring  the  1%  to  the  disadvantage  of the 99%.

Anyone pursuing  a livelihood  as an artist in America in 2016 knows this  full well.  I would  suggest  if  you  really look at  economic  changes  in  the  arts you'll see a  road map  for  were  the  country is  headed  as a whole since Washington  politics  frequently  take their  cues  from the  artistic  community.  Simply put, as a general  group, artists  are  amazingly  capable  of  getting  by with being  provided with very little: where better to look for a plan for how  we  could limit  American  society as a  whole.

Art and  artists have been  voluntarily  ghettoized  for many  decades  in  America.


When  one  lives in  the ghetto  of art  it is understood  that  the  only  path  to a  reasonable  livlihood  is through  the  pursuit  of  another  profession.  This is a  necessity  some  artists  wrestle  with , others accept,  some  promote,  but  for  practicing artists, the  idea  of  a "day job"  has  been accepted  for   so  long  that   those  who  sample the art and even the  unions  that  represent  the  artists  have long given  up a  notion  that  art  should  support  artists'  lives.  Writing  that  you  can't  make a living   as  an artist is  as pointless as  writing the  sky is  blue.

In this  accepted  state artists diversify.

Some artists are  able  to  make do on inherited income. Obviously,  those  artists are  living  on wealth not earned. They are  in a completely  separate  category and it is  often  difficult  for artists of such seemingly good fortune to  fit in easily with artists of unequal benefit who navigate less secure  circumstances.

In art  they  often  say you  have  to be  lucky.  Being  lucky and being born into some  wealth
are  often conflated.  However, the tremendous  lifelong  advantage of being born into wealth  is  a  circumstance  of  our  economic system and  the
unequal  benefits it confers  upon the  children of greater socio-economic  means.

There  are  two major  ways  artists diversify for survival:
1) Get one or more  jobs  earning  revenue in another  field.
2) Find a co-habitation partner who earns  revenue  in another  field.

The  necessity to  do one or  the  other for  survival  is so plain and  so  frequently  practiced   it  is  amazing  it  is  not  taught  as  a  principle  of  the   occupation  itself in  one  or  more  of  the  universities  that  take in , literally, billions  of  dollars  every  year  in  revenue  from  students  pursuing  education in  the  arts

The  economics of  art  in America are a  story  of  staggering inequality and and what is an almost medieval system.  It is so accepted that  it  barely deserves attention  when  someone  writes  such  an assertion. "Art is a tough  business."  The  phrase  is  repeated so often and so  frequently  among  practitioners  of  art  throughout  the industry  that  there  is  little  contest of the  statement  being  true both inherently  of  craft  and  occupation.  It  is  as  accepted  as   truth  and I  would   venture  to  speculate  that  across  great  party  lines  of  great  disagreement   in  our  country  you  could  get  wide  agreement   that   the  above  statement  is  true  in America, and  secondarily,  that  it  OUGHT  to be  true  in America and  finally , that  that  is  the  best   for  both  art  and  our  society.  Yet  the  economic  engine regularly  pillages  output  from  eras  when  such a  statement  was  less  true  for  tremendous  profit.

There  are artist unions, true,  but  the  unions   themselves are such  large  organizations, under such  great  assault  for  the bare minimums  they are able  to  provide, the unions  themselves  cannot  see  how  tremendously  disconnected  they are  from the  real lives of  everyday artists. Indeed, in  show  business union  contracts  can  become  the  bane  of a performer's  existence, and  customarily  serve  more as a  filter  to repress economic  competition  from a  grass roots  level.

In  order  to maintain  these  unequal  systems  within  unions which  are  formed  under  the  pretense  of  equality there  are  several key ingredients.  First  performers  must  begin  to  work  very  directly  against  one  another  and  members  of  the  union must  be  convinced  they are  more   entitled  to  benefits  than  n-n-members. They  must  understand  that all actors  who  are  "in" the  union are  their  "brothers  and  sisters"  - a  family  like  connection - and  actors  who  are  not "in" the union  are  not  "in" the  family.  They may  join  the  family  in  the  future  if  they  pass  through a  merit  test  and  cough  up an initiation  fee... Both  of  which  are  arbitrary  filters  to keep a  union's  ranks  of membership low  and  decrease  the  competition  for  jobs.  It has  nothing  to do with  fairness  for  "all artists",  it's  just   fairness   for  those  "whom  we  decide are  artists".   Not  surprisingly  this  creates a non-union work force  which  actually  serves  ultimately as a  competitive  force  for  the  union and  diminishes the  union's  bargaining  power.

The Art  Ghetto is  created as  union members  who  are  entitled  fight  for  opportunities  with  non-union members, and  non-union members  fight  to meet  criteria  to  become  members  of  the  union. Individuals  identifying  with  either  body  as a  family  or  identifying  the  struggle  for  admission into  the  union as a  the  struggle  for  professional  acceptance  are   caught  in  a  whirlpool  of  pointless  activity  that  leads to usually only  the  most  meaningless  of  jobs,  creates  a  vast  community  of  non-working  actors  who  feel  little  to  know   leverage  or  power  in  work circumstances  and  most  importantly  they  create  employees  who  are  slavishly  indebted  to  the   employers  when  the  employers   grant  employment.


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