Paid By Stupidity

8. May, 2011

Someone once said: “My knowledge is for free, my time is expensive. If you understand quickly, I’m cheap. If you’re dumb, I’m expensive.”

I think this is true for a lot of professions. We’re paid for the time we spend on something.

But there is an exception: Art. Artists aren’t paid for the time they spend on a work of art but by the greed of the people who want to own it.

This means that a director can spend three years on a movie and get anything between a huge dept and several hundreds of millions of dollars. A painter can die from starvation when his paintings make millions (after his death).

Artists are paid by greed.

Does that make sense? Does it make sense today, when greedy lawyers, publishers, vendors, try to push the limits of their salary envelope? All for the sake of the artist, of course. But wouldn’t it be better that artists are paid by the hour, just like anyone else?

The argument against is laziness: Why pay an artists if they take years to produce a painting when someone else could create a similar painting in a couple of days?

So what?

Art isn’t about productivity. We have to pay these people anyway. In a modern society, you can’t simply allow the unemployed to starve to death anymore. So when we have to pay them, what’s the urge to push them towards being more productive? If they were, why would they be unemployed to begin with? If you’re productive and you want a job, what would be your reason to stay unemployed?

If you’re unemployed, that either means you don’t want to work or that you don’t really fit into todays most(-ly) productive society. The simple solution would be to say “your fault”. But that just makes the speaker sleep more easily, it doesn’t solve anything. Also note that a lot of people become unemployed because factories get more productive. If you raise productivity by 7% each year, that either means you created 7% more output at the same price (= with the same people and by not giving them a raise) or 7% of the costs were cut, for example by reducing the staffing. Whose fault is that? And is the blame the solution?

So we have to pay for all the unemployed. As I argued elsewhere, artists don’t decide to do art; the piece of art beats us into submission. It bothers us until we materialize it for others. There is little in the way of “I wanted”; it’s more “it wanted”. It’s a bit like the scene in the first Alien movie where the disgusting little critter eats its way out: The host has little choice. Curiosity got us, too. And greed.

In the recent discussion in Germany, the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) argued that all art should be free (as in freedom) and that society should pay for what society wants to enjoy. There will be a little addition to the monthly Internet access fee that goes into a big pot, anyone can download anything from the Internet without paying twice and artists get their share from that money. So I thought: “If unemployed artists get paid anyway … why not take the money out of this pot and pay them by the hour?”

So artists A needs ten days for a painting. When the ten days are paid for, the painting goes into the public domain (which isn’t worse than today since artists already have to sell their artwork). The artist gets his/her money and the society gets new art without paying twice. There is also an incentive for the artists: He/she still gets the fame plus the money. A lot more people get to see the art. With the current, greedy model, art is stowed away until someone with enough money accidentally stumbles over it. More people can participate in the art. If someone writes a book, someone else can create an audio book from it or a movie, after the artwork has become public domain.

Artists B is a lazy slob and needs two years for a painting. Same deal. “Are you nuts?”, I hear you cry. Why? We’re paying this guy anyway. So if he has only one painting in himself for two years, what’s the difference? If he has art in himself, he can’t keep it in. The art wants to get out. The feeling you feel is pure greed. Ignore it. It’s not helping.

Artist C wants to live in a huge house with swimming pool, and diamond-laced roof. He doesn’t believe in the paid-by-the-hour model. Not sure that’s realistic but that’s not the point of a mind game. So he does all the usual things: Get some advertising, produces one great painting every day, sells them over any available channel. He might succeed and get insanely rich or he might fail and end up unemployed, forced to live on the model outlined above.

Anything we could lose by trying this approach? Oh, yes, the greedy lawyers, publishers, vendors.

Well, as they always say: Can’t make everyone happy 🙂

%d bloggers like this: