Contribute to World Culture Instead

There’s a lot of reasons to make art in any of a variety of formats, but I’d like to recommend the more humble of your options to you: that is, create not for fame and fortune, or to entertain people or amass lovers, but rather, to contribute to world culture instead.

I realize this is butting heads with the conventional wisdom and the lower motives of greed and self-preservations that a neoliberal economy is founded upon, but to be honest, I have this much to say about the rock star model of the art market: it’s brutal, stupid, and destructive towards the cultural engine that art can and should be. As a creative or a creator of art, the higher calling of the profession is to forge new paths ahead in world or at least in local culture. In a globalized world that probably means world culture, whether you like it or not. There’s the charm of only selling your paintings at the local gallery, and that’s nice, but for most of us we create, and our venue or medium of distribution is the internet. Love it or hate it, that’s the new reality. You can try to go full analog but it probably will not work out (and I speak from experience as someone who deliberately tries to live a partially analog lifestyle); the internet of things is going to be rammed down your throat along with 5G and all the good and bad that comes with both.

Global culture still needs contributors, though. You can argue that there’s too much of the stuff already, or that there’s no pressing need for more, and you’d be kind of right, but I don’t see us living in a better world than we had several years back. In fact, I see quite the opposite; I see cultures growing senile, erasing decades of progress in the name of short-term profits and long-term destruction. I see the environment being put to the torch to serve, largely, the needs of people who, like myself, already have far too much as is. For solutions to the world’s problems to be possible, we need cultural innovation. For that matter, for the simple enrichment of everyone’s day to day life, cultural innovation is an imperative all on its own.

Contrast that, for a moment, with the rock star model of artistic production, which lyingly insists that all the true talent bubbles up to the top (and indeed, some of it does). According to that you’re either screwing around with nothing to say because you’re broke and can’t make it with your creative work, or you’re some kind of millionaire. This model wants you to work to become rich and famous, presumably so you can get laid, or otherwise get revenge on your enemies, or perhaps so you can push you dream political or religious agenda on everyone below you. Meanwhile tons of talent and expression that deserves airtime gets drowned the hell out, and like it or not, some of the talent and expression that deserves air time gets blasted constantly and with extreme volume. It’s not always a bad thing. I’d like to pretend I’m incapable of enjoying mainstream culture, but I like it as much as anyone else. The problem is some stuff stays fringe or utterly unknown and abandoned that more people should be seeing and experiencing.

If you’re a creator of any sort, and you’re finding yourself utterly devastated by everything that’s out there that keeps starving artists starving, I have a suggestion: if the rock star model is killing and screwing you over, drop out. Find a better way to make income and just contribute to the culture. Make making a better, richer, cultural world your reason for working, not the greed imperative. If you have something to say or contribute don’t let money stand in the way of it. Wealth is a rather fickle friend historically speaking anyway, and wisdom has the potential to endure. There’s no telling what was inside of you if you just clam up because you’re working yourself to death and not getting a paycheck.

It’s a lot less rough than beating yourself up and refusing to create and becoming a bitter shell of a human being because someone else arbitrarily got to be a famous millionaire instead of you, or because you’re working round the clock to start or maintain a career that the culture doesn’t care to support in any way, shape, or form, barring the star crowd.

I cannot tell you how much I have suffered at the hands of the economy; as I am writing this, the other day I found out there might actually be scam artists or pirate print shops selling my photography around the world via the net (and I can probably do precisely nothing about it). In over a decade of working seriously at my craft and quitting from frustration about money (only to start over again), I’ve realized a few things. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to get a career started, only to reach the final conclusion that the work is worth doing no matter what, and I have no real business skills to speak of- and that if I make money my way of keeping the score, I’ll be a miserable sod forever (and be standing in the company of the miserable sods who do that). It’s terrible having talent, being professional or higher skill level, and being utterly unable to turn a buck with either- or having that life of leisure that a few lucky others in the same market have, as I think is part of my situation. But I’ve finally realized that my work can and does serve a higher purpose in enriching culture, and that by refusing to create I am refusing to live.

In the end only you can silence yourself, and when you do everyone stands to lose by it. I don’t want to advocate working for free, or being a literal slave to creative work (or rather, a slave creative), but there’s no sense sitting around in misery because you wanted to make a difference or make good art and nobody is recognizing that or rewarding you for it. Your work is worth doing. If money fails to show up there is something to be said for suffering for your art, even if that means a little sacrifice on your own part. It can make a difference despite the dictates of all things monetary and money related.