Why Creatives Deserve to be Paid Fairly

Why Creatives Deserve to be Paid Fairly

Glance around what you can see of your house. Now close your eyes. Imagine the same walls, but dull, drab and unbroken by decoration. Imagine your bookshelves empty aside from important documents. Imagine your furniture is practical but uninteresting and uninspiring. Any little figures or statues you might collect have vanished and your dishes and silverware are probably plain and undecorated.

This is the world without art.

We all take for granted how much art impacts our world. While necessity is the mother of invention, creativity inspired both the internal and external design of your house. It designed your sheets, your furniture, probably the mug out of which you drink your coffee, and many other things in addition to the art you have hanging around your house. Even photography is a form of creativity.

Yet we live in a society that systematically demeans and degrades the people who create the things we put on display. Young artists, writers and musicians are constantly abused for refusing to work for free, told that exposure should be enough to satisfy them, as if the work they do isn’t really important. But the cold, hard facts are that exposure doesn’t put food on the table, and there are lots of things that businesses require that couldn’t be created without the skill of a creative at some point (adds need art and music, for example).

For obvious reasons, my opinions on this matter are strong. Some people who read this might get angry, especially if they’ve had this discussion with me in person. But I hope those people will be able to read these words and understand where they come from. It’s frustrating, and horribly disheartening to read a new article every week about authors in a specific genre or geographic location who are paid pennies for their work. It’s disgusting how frequently an artists mentions on social media receiving messages demanding that they offer their services to a business or a fan for free.

The problem goes beyond the jerks sending those messages. It’s deeper than that. Agents, and even other authors, regularly comment that authors shouldn’t quit their day job. That real authors have other revenue streams. As if the idea that something which takes such a gross amount of time, energy and effort (such as writing a novel) should result in a living wage is laughable. But we don’t expect agents, editors or publishers to have other revenue streams – and the publishing industry would have a hard time existing if people didn’t regularly create work to be published!

And this isn’t the only backwards way of thinking that has twisted its way into societal norms. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard there’s no money in that. (If I had a nickel for every time someone said that to me or one of my friends, I’d be a rich woman indeed.) I can see where this statement might come from good intentions. If your child wants to take up a career in the arts, you might worry about how they’re going to put food on the table. But if you’ve ever discouraged an artist from their craft (be it art, music, writing, design or anything requiring creativity and passion), then you are contributing to the problem.

Art is a skilled labor. Whether you go to school for it or not (and lots of people do), it takes years to learn to draw at a professional level, years to learn how to polish a novel to the point where it’s worth adorning a bookshelf, and years to learn how to compose music that makes you want to listen to it again and again. We often talk about professions deserving to be ‘paid for their degree,’ but no one applies that to art or theater majors. I actually avoided going to school for creative writing because I couldn’t figure out what I could do with the degree other than teach – which I didn’t want to do. I ended up in an IT program because IT could make me money – and so it did while my husband was in teacher’s college and couldn’t work.

But I refuse to believe that writing, art and music should be confined to ‘hobbies.’ Writing is not my hobby. Writing is not something I do in my spare time. Writer defines me. It’s what I am, and it’s what I do. And I have spent years studying, practicing and honing my craft. I am not asking that someone throw money at my face for nothing. All I want is a fair wage for the work I’ve done. All any artist wants is to be treated with respect and dignity, to earn fair compensation for the skilled work they have put into a project.

The modern world cries foul when we suggest that Vincent Van Gogh should have had access to medication because it may have robbed the world of his masterpieces. People say this as if we would be depriving the world of something sacred. But these same people tell modern artists to work for exposure or to build their portfolio. These same people tell artists and writers their work isn’t worth money even though a business wants to use it for something. And sadly, many cultures have a long history of relegating their greatest artists to poverty and shame while they lived; we learned that at a special exhibit about the Ming Dynasty in Edinburgh.

So the next time someone tells you that they’re thinking about going into a creative field or pursuing a creative passion, stop and think before you comment on their future path. Encourage that artist, that writer, that musician, that thespian, that designer. If you want to caution them that it’s going to take a lot of hard work, fine; it takes hard work to become a doctor, nurse or teacher too. But we don’t tell people not to do it. We don’t tell them that they have to choose a more secure, more socially acceptable position because, apparently, money is the sole measure of a person’s achievements and worth.

It’s high time we start valuing the artists as much as we value their art.

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