Bricole Reincke Asks: How can we Pay for Creativity in the Digital Age?

Technology, and specifically the internet, has significantly changed the relationship between the artist and the public. While it may be easier than ever to distribute writing, music and other works, it is harder than ever to get paid for it. In previous decades, it seemed that record companies, movie studios and publishers acted as gatekeepers, keeping many artists from being heard, seen or read altogether and others from getting paid as much as they should. However, in the free-for-all online world, the glut of content can make it harder than ever to get noticed, let alone paid. Critic William Deresiewicz has examined these and other trends in his book “The Death of the Artist.”

In interviewing well over 100 musicians, filmmakers, writers and visual artists, Deresiewicz discovered a landscape in which creatives spend an enormous amount of their time not creating but acting as small business owners. Marketing, promoting and branding have become more important than ever, but today it is the artist and not companies that are increasingly responsible. Moreover, there is an expectation that creatives should work for free, with the promise of “exposure” enough to justify the time they spend working.

A lackadaisical approach to controlling piracy on the part of tech companies may in part be responsible for the expectation of free content. While people are still making money from art, it tends to be a very small number at the top. In the past, top earners helped pay for a middle tier of artist who were neither unsuccessful nor wildly successful. Today, that middle artist has largely been eliminated. Even the rise of companies that allow for self-funding, such as Kickstarter and Patreon, have not solved the problem. Few creators make enough to live on through these services. Meanwhile, rising costs in big cities mean artists can no longer support themselves on minimum wage jobs there and do their art.

Deresiewicz’s book ultimately argues for a number of reforms, including a higher minimum wage and an end to monopolies and tax cuts for corporations. However, the current trend and potential solution that he finds distasteful is embraced by many younger people, that of selling the self, or at least the illusion of a self, to the public at large.



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