Monday, September 27, 2010

Music and the "Gift Economy" 5: Supporting Artists

Previous posts in this series:
Music and the "Gift Economy" 1: An Introduction
Music and the "Gift Economy" 2: Examples
Music and the "Gift Economy" 3: Commons, Copyright, and Radical Politics
Music and the "Gift Economy" 4: Personal Versus Impersonal Transactions

Lewis Hyde is the person most closely associated with arts and gift economies. His book, The Gift, is considered a classic by many.
"In a society that mostly talks about money,” says Margaret Atwood, who keeps a half-dozen copies of “The Gift” on hand at all times to distribute to artists she thinks will benefit from it, “Lewis carved out a little island where you can say, ‘Life doesn’t always work that way.’” "What Is Art For? - Lewis Hyde - Profile," New York Times, 11/16/08.
To quote Hyde directly:
... there are categories of human enterprise that are not well organized or supported by market forces. Family life, religious life, public service, pure science, and of course much artistic practice: none of these operates very well when framed simply in terms of exchange value. The second assumption follows: any community that values these things will find non-market ways to organize them. It will develop gift-exchange institutions dedicated to their support. "Reflections of Arts Funding since World War II." The afterword of The Gift, printed in The Kenyon Review, Winter 2008.
Others share this viewpoint. For example, writer/environmentalist Dave Pollard:
Our society puts a value on human activities only when they can be monetized – when a transaction involving an exchange of money occurs. We tend to equate our time with money: If the "market value" of an hour of our time exceeds the cost of hiring someone else to mow our lawn or make a present for a loved one or look after our children or our home, we conclude that it makes sense to buy those services and to work longer hours to pay for them. ...

By contrast, the Gift Economy does not value monetized activity more highly than un-monetized activity. It suggests, on the contrary, that our time is invaluable and that therefore we should "spend" it, as much as possible, doing things we love and things that are our personal responsibility, and only buy goods and services we cannot possibly provide for ourselves. In doing these things ourselves, we learn to do them better, more efficiently, more effectively and more economically, saving the cost of outsourcing them to a third party. "The Virtuous Cycles of the Gift Economy," How to Save the World. 12/6/06.
Sharon Bolton warns that depending too heavily on a market economy mentality will strip us of traditional community values:
The market becomes disembedded, autonomous, self regulating and entirely economic in nature, purpose and outcome. For the moral economists, in modernity the market takes on a life of its own which is represented by the commodification of whole areas of social life. A process that eats into and, in some cases, consumes and overrides the values and norms of the non economic realm. Rather than society being integrated via non economic institutions of family, church and community; the market becomes the integrative mechanism pervading all aspects of the non economic. In other words the process of embeddedness is reversed; with modern society becoming embedded in the market, rather than the pre modern market being embedded in society, and "refashioning its ethos and relations after its own image" (Booth, 1994: 656). The tentacles of the "market society" extend to such an extent that the economic becomes the sole vehicle of analysis and all aspects of social life are objectified, quantified and couched in terms of maximising behaviour and efficiency – the human becomes understood only as homo economicus (Booth, 1994; Polyani, 1977). "The Idea of the Moral Economy."
Perhaps not surprising, many creative people don't want to have to think about using their art to make a living. Unfortunately, after giving us an entire book on gift economies, Hyde doesn't offer any new ideas on how artists can survive financially. He says they can get day jobs, find patrons, or sell their art.

Getting a day job is pretty self-evident and I have covered it in other blog posts.
The second job frees his art from the burden of financial responsibility so that when he is creating the work he may turn from questions of market value and labor in the protected gift-sphere. He earns a wage in the marketplace and gives it to his art.

... The artist who takes a second job becomes, in a sense, his own patron: he decides his work is worthy of support, just as the patron does, but then he himself must go out and raise the cash. "Lewis Hyde on Being an Artist in a Commercially Driven World." Excerpt from The Gift. In Saachi Online, 12/12/06.
Here's just one real world example of this:
Artists pay a significant economic penalty to pursue their practice, and are, through real monetary contributions, replacing potential income-earning employment with what amounts to free labour. In 2007, the average artist worked 26 hours per week on their studio practice, 14.5 hours on art-related employment, and 7.6 hours on non-art-related employment. In addition, they volunteered just over 3 hours a week to art-related activities. Those artists who spent a majority of their employment time in the studio earned significantly less total income, a median of $15,000, versus $28,994 for artists who spent most of their time in art-related employment, and $21,793 for those who spent most of their time in non-art-related employment. "Waging Culture: the socio-economic status of Canadian visual artists," Out There, 4/1/09.
Hyde includes grants as a form of patronage. I'll go step further than Hyde and suggest there is a continuum of financial support that includes patronage at one end and charity at the other, with nonprofit/government funding in the middle. All involve having a person or institution with greater resources giving to a creative person with lesser resources.

(However, some of what passes for patronage doesn't involve the rich supporting the poor. For example, there are middle class "patrons" who commission works of art from affluent artists. In other words, the "patron" may actually have less money than the artist. But I'll treat these as market transactions because in return for financial support, a creation of comparable value is delivered. Similarly, there are financial prizes given out to artists in recognition of work they have done, with no regard to their financial need. I won't include those as examples of grants.)

To put that financial support continuum into perspective, let me start by citing a paper discussing 19th century English writers and their search for funding. (It's a long paper, but worth reading. Since the online copy is broken down into pages, I have included separate links to each page containing each quote.)

How to get money or resources into the hands of the poor (which can include artists) is at the heart of most economic, religious, political, and societal concepts, so understanding the process is fundamental to understanding how a given community/society conducts itself. In Dickensian England, outright charity was considered demeaning, so paupers sold items that actually had little value. No one needed what they were selling, but these transactions allowed the paupers to save face when accepting money. It was a "sale" rather than a "handout."

It was that same mentality that made giving handouts to writers unpalatable.
Like Mr. Dorrit and the little girls with their bouquets of violets, proponents of nonmarket forms of authorial support strive to dignify the transfers of cash they advocate by characterizing them as offers of tribute rather than alms, or as loans or payments of some sort rather than gifts. "Literary Paupers and Professional Authors: The Guild of Literature and Art." Daniel Hack. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Autumn 1999.
Although gifts and charity were frowned upon, the marketplace wasn't doing a good job of supporting writers either.
The disjunction between intellectual pursuits, on the one hand, and commerce and the provision of daily wants, on the other, explains why men of letters require extramarket support. "Literary Paupers and Professional Authors: The Guild of Literature and Art."
So a debate was going on as to whether government subsidies would be appropriate. The pro-subsidy writers felt the market wouldn't provide enough money, but on the other hand, they didn't want government funding to be seen as any sort of charity, which would demean them and devalue their writing. Therefore they said that the government should pay writers because writers contribute so much to society.
Services done to the State by distinguished efforts in art, literature, and science, are as unequivocal, and at the least as important as services done by professors of arms, law, divinity, and diplomacy. The claims of literature and science are for a due recognition and recompense of such valuable service rendered to the State. ... the state is indebted to these men, and therefore that any payment it makes to them constitutes repayment of that debt. Pensions and the like are not charity, nor even supererogatory tokens of gratitude or esteem ... but simply "due ... recompense." "Literary Paupers and Professional Authors: The Guild of Literature and Art."
Hack points out that justifications for having the government pay writers covered all bases (sometimes in a contradictory fashion):

  • They deserved it.
  • They needed the money to subsidize their creativity.
  • Their craft would suffer or not advance if all they did was to focus on what they could sell rather than taking time to pursue worthy, but not necessarily salable works.
  • Their writings were a gift to society, so no monetary price could be put on the creations and therefore the government would never be able to pay them enough, but it should give them something anyway.

  • The problem with giving writers money in recognition of something they had already written was that many of them were too poor to write without upfront funding to cover their living expenses while they wrote. In a nutshell, in Victorian England, like today, people were trying to decide whether or not to use government money to fund writers and if so, if it should come as an advance for future work, or as a reward for already completed work.

    Another concept that was being promoted was a writers' guild.
    In order to offer such tributes, the Guild proposes establishing an "Institute." This Institute, carefully designed in such a way as to distinguish its support from "the humiliating charity of an Asylum," will have a Warden, Members, and Associates, who are to receive "salaries" of £100 to £200 a year, some with housing on land donated by Bulwer Lytton. Individuals insured through the Guild, along with certain "exceptional cases," will be eligible to offer themselves as candidates for these positions, which are to be filled (again with certain exceptions) through a vote of the Guild's members. Institute Members will be elected for life from "Writers and Artists of established reputation, and generally of mature years (or, if young, in failing health), to whom the income attached to the appointment may be an object of honourable desire"; associates will be chosen either for life or a fixed term from among those who are "less known to the general public" and those "in earlier life, who give promise of future eminence, and to whom a temporary income of £100 a year may be of essential and permanent service". Applications are required for these positions, but there is no means testing; instead, "the application for the office should be held a sufficient presumption that the candidate does not disdain the modest salary attached to it". "Literary Paupers and Professional Authors: The Guild of Literature and Art."
    But just as artists today run into problems trying to value what can't always be monetized, so too did this guild run into the same problems.
    ... to legitimize the Guild's supplementation of the marketplace, literary labor and its products must be shown to have a value the market does not always recognize or reward, but the best way to ensure this supplement's difference from charity is to represent it as a calculated, calibrated payment for goods and services. "Literary Paupers and Professional Authors: The Guild of Literature and Art."
    Then there was the problem of how to raise funds for the guild. They didn't want to taint their image by hustling for money. Other options: Stage some plays and sell tickets? Sell annual subscriptions? (Not a whole lot different than ideas being tossed around today, is it?)

    The guild organizers contacted a duke to sponsor a play to be attended by Queen Victoria and her court. But then they worried that the Duke might be offended by the play (a satire about a duke). (Sound familiar? Sponsors influencing art.) Luckily the Duke read the play, found it funny, and approved it.
    ... although the theatrical performances raise over £4000 by 1854, the Guild's Institute is variously derided as a "literary Soup-Kitchen" and "a system of outdoor relief," and the parliamentary bill incorporating the organization forbids it to fill its offices for seven years, after which time its structure proves largely unwieldy. "Literary Paupers and Professional Authors: The Guild of Literature and Art."
    Fast forward to today. Not much has changed. People are still looking for funding models for artists, writers, and musicians. And even though there has been talk of gift economies, most of the proposed solutions still involve a world where a market economy is a necessity.
    How, if art is essentially a gift, is the artist to survive in a society dominated by the market? Modern artists have resolved this dilemma in several different ways, each of which, it seems to me, has two essential features. First, the artist allows himself to step outside the gift economy that is the primary commerce of his art and make some peace with the market. ...

    And then - the necessary second phase - if he is successful in the marketplace, he converts market wealth into gift wealth: he contributes his earnings to the support of his art.

    To be more specific, there are three primary ways in which modern artists have resolved the problem of their livelihood: they have taken second jobs, they have found patrons to support them, or they have managed to place the work itself on the market and pay the rent with fees and royalties. The underlying structure that is common to all of these - a double economy and the conversion of market wealth to gift wealth ...

    ... When an artist takes a second job, a single person moves in both economies, but with patronage there is a division of labor - it is the patron who has entered the market and converted its wealth to gifts.

    ... Each of the paths I have described is most often a way of getting by, not a way of getting rich. No matter how the artist chooses, or is forced, to resolve the problem of his livelihood, he is likely to be poor. "Lewis Hyde on Being an Artist in a Commercially Driven World," Excerpt from The Gift. In Saachi Online, 12/12/06.
    Even though Hyde says in the above piece that "our gifts are not fully ours until they have been given away," a profile of Hyde points out that:
    Hyde is not a free-culture purist; he holds copyrights on his books, and those copyrights contribute to his income. "What Is Art For? - Lewis Hyde - Profile," New York Times, 11/16/08.
    Artist/writer/curator Jon Ippolito also writes about art not being able to survive in a market economy, but at the same time needing help from it.
    For property, intellectual or personal, is the enemy of art.

    This essay offers neither a Marxist attack on personal property nor a rosy vision of George Bush writing artists a fat check every year. It is simply an acknowledgment of the fact that a gift culture dies if people stop giving. Making art into property helps plenty of folks--even a few artists. The problem is, it cripples artists more than it helps them, by covertly impeding their power to create, to get paid, even to give. ...

    In principle, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make a living as an artist. What's wrong is the perception that our society's art market will ever make that possible for more than a token few.

    ... The plentiful supply of art in our culture is the product of the unrecompensed labor of countless artists working away in their studios.

    ... How would they pay the studio rent and DSL bill? The same way their parents' and grandparents' generation did, the same way the overwhelming majority of them do now: a day job. Day jobs suck, but they help reinforce the line between the choices artists make for commercial reasons and the choices they make for their art. ...

    Artists aren't the only ones whose illusions would be shattered by taking away the false promise of commercial success through selling art. ... Without the pretense of market compensation, the wealthy and powerful might be under a little more pressure to sponsor free health care, grants, and other mechanisms to sustain this invaluable cultural production. "Why art should be free.", April 2002.
    Here's yet another acknowledgement that in today's world, we don't have a gift economy that exists without a market economy.
    The economy of the public domain in fact is a form of gift exchange, involving gifts from the past (our natural and social inheritance), in the present (unpaid and underpaid work), and to the future (including our children as a future workforce). The economy of the real world is in fact a synergy between a market economy and a gift economy. Prosperity arises from the interaction of these two sides of the economy, and not from just the market side or just the gift side. In the market economy we work for a private wage or for profit. In the gift economy, we work on a voluntary basis for the benefit of family, community or society, in the general expectation that others make the same sorts of unpaid contributions. Socially responsible businesses (and their employees) pay income taxes for their use of the outputs of the gift economy, while themselves contributing "external" benefits to the gift economy. "Revisiting the UBI." Keith Rankin. New Zealand Political Review, July 1998.
    Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, who has written extensively on copyright and founded Creative Commons, says something similar.
    One of the most important conclusions that can be drawn from the work of Benkler, von Hippel, Weber ... and many others is that the Internet has reminded us that we live not just in one economy, but at least two. One economy is the traditional "commercial economy," an economy regulated by the quid pro quo: I'll do this (work, write, sing, etc.) in exchange for money. Another economy is (the names are many) the (a) amateur economy, (b) sharing economy, (c) social production economy, (d) noncommercial economy, or (e) p2p economy. This second economy (however you name it, I'm just going to call it the "second economy") is the economy of Wikipedia, most FLOSS development, the work of amateur astronomers, etc. It has a different, more complicated logic too it than the commercial economy. If you tried to translate all interactions in this second economy into the frame of the commercial economy, you'd kill it. "on the economies of culture," Lessig, 9/28/06.
    And here is this from Michel Bauwens, the creator of the Foundation for P2P Alternatives, which advocates the peer-to-peer concept in as many aspects of life and economics as possible.
    Participants cannot live from peer production, though they derive meaning and value from it, and though it may out-compete, in efficiency and productivity terms, the market-based for-profit alternatives. Thus peer production covers only a section of production, while the market provides for nearly all sections; peer producers are dependent on the income provided by the market. So far, peer production has been created through the interstices of the market. "The Political Economy of Peer Production,", 12/1/05.
    Those who acknowledge that artists can't survive without either participating in or getting help from the market economy are at least being honest. In contrast, when it is suggested that artists, writers, and musicians should give away their works, but no provision has been made for them to receive life-sustaining gifts in return, this is inherently unfair.
  • We need to question naive campaigns that merely promote "free culture" without questioning the underlying parasitic economy and the "deprofessionalization" of cultural work. "The Digital Given–10 Web 2.0 Theses by Ippolita, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter," Network Cultures, 6/15/09.

  • Without an exchange of roughly equal value occurring, a marketplace becomes a cruel power game in which one party gets what he wants while offering nothing of equal value in return. Social damage is the inevitable long-term result. That freeloaders are generally unaware of this damage does not mean it is not real, that it is not in fact piling up even as we speak.

    I find it interesting that those who take digital music for free that is not being offered for free are not generally attempting to make a grander statement about capitalist society. Few if any seem to be trying to undo marketplace protocol in general, although that would, at least, make some philosophical sense. No, it’s just the digital music they want for free (and okay, maybe movies too, as bandwidth increases). "Free is Not the End (a Fingertips Commentary)," Fingertips Music, 9/13/10.

  • ...The Story of Stuff, seems to be a success. This is work that wants to be given away, distributed freely. We have the technology, a large and growing audience has access to it, but how can we arrive at schemes to fund the creation of this work? We need improved models of state support, new collective and entrepreneurial models and appropriate forms of sponsorship. "The value of didactic art and the gift economy—from object ownership to object affiliation." Adelheid Mers. Art21 Blog, 7/6/09.
  • So here we are. We still haven't found a way to support most writers, artists, and musicians other than the usual ways -- day jobs, grants/patrons, or selling the works -- all of which still depend on market economies to provide the money to buy the basic necessities of life. And it gets even more complicated when "free" changes people's perception of art and its value:
    Music and the "Gift Economy" 6: Problems with Free Art

    Suzanne Lainson
    @slainson on Twitter

    UPDATE 10/12/10
    Erik Sherman writes about people who give their work away for free while companies profit from it:
    I call it the New Feudalism. There is a dependent relationship uncomfortably reminiscent of the common political and social structures from just before the turn of the first century up until the dawn of the Renaissance. In theory, there was a hierarchy from royalty down to serfs, and people swapped military service to their immediate superiors for the use of land and their ability to make an agricultural living.

    In the New Feudalism, workers are technically free, in that they aren’t property. If they receive money, it is a token amount. Instead of land, they receive “exposure” when their material is published. "Huffington Post Makes a Profit? All Hail the New Feudalism!" BNET 10/11/10.

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