Pay Artists, Don’t Buy Art

Imagine a world where artists, rather than selling their artwork, were instead paid for their time; paid to work on art with other artists.

Imagine collaborative art projects with dozens, hundreds, or sometimes thousands of artists working together on large projects — imagine each artist being so well compensated that they give their solo work away for free.

Imagine large repositories of open art, free to all, to borrow and use for any sort of new project — friendships would be made, ideas would be born, and every artist could stand soundly on the shoulders of all those that came before — a culture would emerge where artists contribute to these vast and growing repositories of open art.

Imagine an economy where artists are in demand; teams of recruiters would persistently track every artist and seek to hire them for some collaboration or another. New graduates would be poached quickly, invited to join large art projects to work with the masters.

Imagine that as the demand grew, opportunities and new economic models would also grow, keeping all artists in constant demand, even as new people enter the field — a little talent and dedication would go a long way — it would not be a zero-sum game, it would be a continually growing field of artistic achievement, where we create the new economies necessary for the future to survive.

Venture capitalists would seek out groups of talented artists and pay them obscene amounts to start projects — imagine that an project would go on for years without any attempt at seriously monetizing the work, imagine money pouring in with only a vague sense that, “if this works, we’ll figure out how to make money later”.

Obviously, this imagined fantasy sounds absurd in the fine art world — today, galleries and artists do everything they can to sell “works of art” exclusively to buyers. Art is proprietary and unshared. To the winner go the spoils, to the loser nothing. This is a field where very few make a living, fewer still attain fame or fortune, and even fewer will (typically after their death) transform society through their art.

But this imagined fantasy, it does exist, this is exactly what the world looks like to the technologists, scientists, and artists that have birthed the Internet and the modern field of software development. From simple web pages to streaming media, smart phones and app stores — to social upheaval and ecommerce, society is continuously transforming — civilization is growing faster and faster as these technological artists create new economies and new opportunities.

We pay technological artists, we pay them for their time, and they are increasingly in demand.

By comparison the fine art world looks rotten to its core, as if it’s intent on poisoning its own future — this isn’t even a controversial statement — what is controversial is proposing an alternative.

At first blush we may think that artists are different from creative technologists. Even if that were true would it justify the abysmal treatment of art and artists in our culture?

Artists of all variety; musicians, painters, photographers, poets, … all of them offer a mix of creativity and skill — a blend of creative insight with technical execution. This is the life and soul of all art.

Today the technological talents are drawn to the forefront of change in society, shaping the future. Meanwhile, the non-technological artists are… relegated to the whims of a buyers fancy. The fine art economy is barely distinguishable from antique collecting, not exactly a space that nurtures innovation.

The future is being created now, and you won’t glimpse the future in modern art galleries.

Think about it — what will privacy look like in just a few years? What will governments look like in the future? What will corporations look like in the future? All of this is changing right now, and none of it in galleries.

Governments are being toppled, civilization and culture are changing faster than ever, if the artists are not the technologists then where– in the forefront of this rapidly changing civilization –are the artists?

Fortunately, there’s another way to look at this — the world is changing, the artists are fundamental to this change — they are not yet being compensated with the same demand of, say, software developers. Not yet.

Every day that an artists chooses to sell to a rich buyer, to partner with galleries and sell to the aristocratic whims of collectors — then that is another day our culture has failed to nurture art as an integral part of the social change that is happening, now.

Support art, pay artists, invest in artists, and stop buying artwork.