Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts

By Hans Abbing | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
The Power and the Duty to Give Why Give to the Arts?

Serving Art

The other day Alex had a discussion with Robert. Robert makes installa
tions. As far as their reputation in the art world is concerned, Alex and
Robert are more or less on the same level. But as far as his career goes,
Robert has chosen a different path from the one Alex has chosen. Robert
has chosen a path with fewer financial rewards. He operates on the periph
ery of the `avant-garde' circuit. Every so often an artist from this circuit is
invited into the established avant-garde circuit and gains renown in the
general art world as well. Although this happens only to a select few,
Robert, without ever admitting as much, seems to be waiting for the call.

When they talk, Robert justifies his actions by personifying art. He `gives
his time to art'. He `serves art'. He sets himself apart from other artists,
whom in his view are `betraying art'. `Their solutions are superficial and
cheap. They're not interested in art, so much as pleasing the art world.' (In
Robert's circle pleasing the art world is an even bigger sin than pursuing
money.) Alex asks him if art has interests. Robert says it does. Alex believes
he is being sincere. According to Robert the interests stem from the legacy
of art. Robert mentions some famous artists from the past he admires and
who inspire him. At this stage in their discussions Alex always begins to feel
a bit inferior and guilty, because he's not as familiar with the works of these
famous artists as Robert is. Moreover, Alex has a difficult time seeing the
relationship between these artists' works and Robert's work. But Robert
thinks the relationship is evident. (Robert makes installations and sculp
tures primarily out of mud.) Nevertheless, Alex is impressed by Robert's
willingness to sacrifice himself to art.


Earning Less by Spending More Time Working as an Artist

When Alex is employed as an economist, he earns about four times as
much per hour as he does working as an artist. If he wanted to, he could
easily spend more time working in economics, but he usually doesn't. And
so it can be said that he gives to art what he could have earned had he
spent more time in economics.

-181-

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