The issue about unpaid artists is nothing new, however, the news The Guardian reported about this situation is alarming.
About 71% of artists who participated on publicly funded exhibits weren’t paid a fee. 63% turned down gallery requests due to the fact that artists could not afford to work for free while struggling to pay the bills.
“People always think that artists are exception to the rules when it comes to paying for work.” What they don’t understand is that “what we do is also the fruit of our labor”. Although it’s true that we may compromise a good paying job for our passion for arts, still, our compensation should not be the price we need to pay.
I remember few years back, when my uncle and I visited the art gallery in Manila where he usually displays his paintings, he introduced me to the gallery owner. This old Filipino-Chinese man looked at me from head to foot and asked if I’m starving. It seemed odd to ask that a stranger. Though perplexed, I said yes. I wasn’t hungry at that moment, but subconsciously, I knew he meant something deeper.
That question always retrieves from memory each time I see sentiments on Facebook by my artist friends who were offered exposures instead of being paid. Or every time I involuntarily think of those clients who asked me to make portraits then disappeared from off the face of the earth when I finished their request. The epidemic is real.
Blog Director and Art Critic Paddy Johnson of New York Times wrote, “making arts is not an economic decision for most artists who are continually exploited for their ideas and labor”. She then cited a prevalent scheme in New York wherein real estate developers solicit artists to lease a raw work space, then would impose rent hikes once the space is renovated.
This exposed artists’ dilemma on different perspective. We are paid less, on the other hand, we are charged more. Studios, paints, brushes and canvasses aren’t cheap. “Exploited” is the right adjective to describe contemporary artists. “The intention behind these…is not inherently malicious but is certainly ignorant”, said Zach Ienatsch when he wrote for University Star. People have the slightest idea why art existed in the first place.
Just think about an instance wherein art doesn’t exist. A world without art. Doesn’t that sound vague? There’s just simply no civilization, or worse no survival. We will never reach this modern hi-tech era. No learning, no education, we will be stuck in an age when all we can do is eat, drink, hunt for food and die.
There’s a reason why we call basic commodity “basic” and fine arts “fine”. Because it’s tenfold valuable. It’s not just important, it’s fundamental.
So as long as people don’t realize this, I’ll continually ask myself: Am I starving?
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