Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts

By Hans Abbing | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Money for the Artist Are Artists Just Ill-Informed Gamblers?

Taking the Reckless Decision to Enter the Arts

At the age of thirty, Alex decided to stop working as an economist. At that
time, Alex unintentionally joined a life drawing class, and three months later,
he was admitted to art school. Alex had decided to become an artist. It was
a sudden and reckless decision. Alex felt relieved. It felt like he had finally
discovered his destiny. He was not worried about his chances. On the con
trary, Alex tried not to think about it. In the back of his mind, he must have
known that the odds were against him, as they are against any average art
student. Therefore, Alex told himself that he had no choice. If he wasn't
going to pursue a life in the arts, he might as well just die. Alex was also con
vinced that anybody as confident as he was about becoming an artist, was
bound to be a success one way or another. He stuck to a simple belief: the
more dedicated he was, the more inevitable his chances of success.

Looking back at that time, Alex realizes that, now as back then, he had
numerous choices. Becoming an artist was only one. Therefore, by not
pondering the odds, Alex tried to convince himself of the reasonability of
being unreasonable. As he now realizes, someone who makes it in the arts
is so unusual, that the desire to become an artist is little more than leaping
off a cliff with one's eyes closed.

The life drawing class that Alex presently teaches is made up of artists, art
students, and some extremely talented amateurs. The work of some of
these amateurs is better than that of the artists and would-be artists. Alex
has initiated some discussions between the amateurs and artists. In the
course of the conversations, it turns out that some of these amateurs are
aware of their talent. Some had even contemplated going to art school, but
decided not to in the end. One of the reasons they hesitated to enter the art
world was the many uncertainties involved in an arts career. They seem
less reckless than the artists. Moreover, they demonstrate that almost
anyone can find out that one's chances of success in the art world are low.
Nevertheless, they are often apologetic about their decisions.

-103-

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