Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Creativity wants to be paid

One of the questions on my students' exam last week was about the positive aspects of commerce for creativity. I put the question in there because, especially when we do our week on the music industry, students are very quick to call 'sell-out' and scoff at the idea of true 'artists' desiring to be paid for their work.

We do the week on intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, we look at the social, cultural and legal systems in place, we do all of that, yet they still call foul on the idea of money and creativity, or industry and creativity being intimately connected. The next week, we look at copyright and illegal downloading. And they're pretty much of the opinion that they should be able to get music for free. That it's okay to steal them because it's culture, not commerce.

I call bullshit.

A few weeks ago, Iggy Pop gave a thoroughly depressing and eye-opening keynote speech (for the BBC Music John Peel Lecture), talking about how he can't survive on music alone. Royalties don't put food on his table; all the non-music things did (endorsements, smart investments, restaurant chains). That it was Iggy Pop saying it certainly made a bunch of people uncomfortable, but there was plenty of feedback, especially of the 'der - artists shouldn't make art for money' variety. 

There have also been some really thoughtful articles in response. I'd highly recommend this by Elizabeth Renzetti on Iggy Pop not being able to live off his art and how we (de)value creativity, and this one by Lincoln Michel at Electric Literature on the myth of the greedy artist and in defence of Taylor Swift saying 'no' to Spotify.

And because what's a creativity issue without a hint of Gaiman, here's Neil Gaiman talking about fan entitlement and demands that writers put away their lives and churn out the next installment of whatever series the fans are craving. As he puts so eloquently 'George RR Martin is not your bitch'.

Creators want to be paid, folks, and appreciated. That doesn't make them greedy. It makes them just like the rest of us. 


  1. I so agree. Great post. You can also liken this to any creative pursuit. Why is there this mentality that art should be free?

    1. I suspect we have hang-ups about the 'arts' being like 'art' or fine arts, which are generally displayed for public consumption by their owners because there is a public good in having them shared. Plus we come from a place way back when, where culture was produced communally in small groups and shared. What's not recognised and reproduced with that sentiment is the value that culture makers had in those small communities, more often than not provided for by the group or supported by patrons to provide that service. We lost the community and the support, but I guess not the sense that culture should be free.

  2. Ditto. I'm a singer and my husband still works as a musician and it is a constant battle - fighting to valued. Creativity is still seen as a gift which should be gifted to others. When people query why I charge so much to perform I remind them that I started singing and training my voice when I was 12 (almost 20 years ago). That is a couple of decades worth of vocal lessons, books, exams, recording, university study, the creation of promotional material, advertising etc. This is a skill that I have refined to a professional level, just like anyone else in their profession. Fortunately there are many that love and appreciate creativity and many can learn from them.


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