Re: [rumori] gifts

From: Chris Stecker (
Date: Tue Apr 30 2002 - 12:18:06 PDT

Having long been an advocate of regular folks reclaiming their artistic
existence, creating, recreating, and sharing their ideas, I thought I'd chime
in... [thoughts entered in essentially random order]

Day Jobs

I can't see what's wrong with artists trying to focus on that one thing, that
is, with no day job. Unfair as it is, however, they've chosen poverty as a
lifestyle. I have serious problems with "artists" who expect to become
"stars," to the extent that they (a) systematically overlook work by others
of "lesser calibre" and (b) are forced to engage in whoresmanship, er,
"marketing" themselves to ensure their livelihoods.

I also can't see what's wrong with artists getting day jobs and pursuing
their art for the pure love of it. In some cases, though, this means giving
up the ability to execute certain types of projects, due to commitments of

Gift Economies

I'm intrigued by the idea of gift economies. I'm currently reading "Red
Mars," in which a gift economy emergeses among the underground class of
Martian colonists. Gift economies, it seems, require a strong sense of
value..."well, if you give me that, you must take this..." and there are
strong consequences for overgiving (essentially you bring about a trade debt
in your favor, which is unfair), but it does take into account individual
differences in ability to give "...I'll give you more than you think yours is
worth. You can burn the excess and call it even. In my mind the exchange is
fair, given the supplies involved...".

I think it makes a lot of sense for those of us just trading art ("Thank you
for the Original CD, here, take one of my GABA CDs" is better than
negotiating an exchange like "my GABA cd for 2 of your Original CD"), but to
make sense for those artists trying to get by on just their artwork, there
needs to be a far larger infrastructure, including all types of commodities,
based on a gift economy. This isn't going to happen.

Consumers vs Producers

I've consistently advocated losing the distinction between consumers and
producers of art, for various reasons understood by list readers and not
worth discussing here. However, one of the difficulties posed by this is
that artists can't survive on art. They need basics like shelter, food,
clothing, etc. If all consumers are artists and no artists have day jobs,
then nothing but art is produced, and we all starve. This happens regardless
of whether we have a gift economy or exchange economy.

So the question is, how can we help artists to focus on their work while
still producing or acquiring those things necessary for survival. We might
go the opposite direction from the last paragraph, where we designate a class
of artists and the rest of us (_not_ artists) must work to pay for them. As
an artist likely to be left out of the designated class, I think there must
be a better way.

Patrons of the Arts

Old school: those who can afford it pay the artists. In this system,
artists have patrons with the money to support them and their work.
Everybody benefits. Unfortunately, our current marketing system of pop music
means that musical and sound art is seen through the rock-n-roll lens:
artists are businesspeople with a product to sell (hopefully to many
consumers), so single large patrons are exceedingly rare. The role of patron
has shifted to the consumer, and the consumer will not pay without getting
something immediate in return. It's possible, however, that artists could
engage in a kind of mass-patron system, whereby fewer patrons offer smaller
donations toward the support of the artist. It is hoped that such patronage
is rewarded by the artist providing works to the patrons in such a system,
but it is not a purchase of pre-existing product; rather, a hope of acheiving
something new. Such a system could be implemented on the web quite easily,
though developing a worthwhile patron-reward system that differs meaningfully
from "pay-per-view" may be difficult.

Interestingly, the artist with a day job may be seen as his own patron. Or
possibly as two people: a sleep-deprived artist and well-to-do patron or a
working artist and starving patron.

Sabbatical Leave

In academia, there is a concept of sabbatical leave: after a certain amount
of service, faculty members "earn" a term (semester, year, etc.) on
sabbatical. During sabbatical they can conduct research, travel, write, etc.
 In short, sabbatical serves academic activities that require freedom from
regular job responsibilities for an extended period of time. If all the
faculty members were "on sabbatical" all the time, then none of the things
that need to be done to support the whole enterprise (teaching,
administration, etc.) would get done, so they take turns. A common figure is
around a year on sabbatical every 4-6 years. Many institutions allow shorter
sabbaticals, such as a semester off every 2 years or so.

Patronage Partnerships

Combining the ideas of patronage and sabbatical, you could imagine an
artists' co-op, where 2 or more artists group together to share income. One
may work while the other focusses on artmaking, and turns of this type can be
taken on a rotating basis. For artists with seasonal "day jobs" or artists
in committed relationships, this may be a real option. A tamer version could
be a co-op of 10-12 artists, 2-3 on sabbatical at any time, the rest working,
"saving up" for their next sabbatical. On a slightly larger scale, you could
imagine a fund with shareholders who must donate (pay dues) on a regular
basis while working. A small number of shareholders is on sabbatical at any
one time, and has their living expenses paid from the fund. (Quick
calculation: 9 shareholders donating $200/mo could pay $1800/mo in living
expenses, more than enough for an artist willing to live on the cheap. For a
3-month sabbatical term, 4 sabbaticals per year, this provides a sabbatical
every 2.5 years per member. Longer or more frequent sabbaticals can be
achieved with larger contributions).

For that matter, you could save up the money you'd need to support yourself
on sabbatical, then quit your job and eat up your savings. On the other end
of the scale, there are already funds that support (a very few) artists in
this way, that is, you could consider applying for a fellowship or grant.

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