Here’s an easily digestible summary of Hans Abbing’s seminal book, “Why Artists are Poor.” He argues that the arts are made ‘exceptional’, i.e. outside the market economy, by a combination of mythology and self-interested subsidies. Artistic production is only about half supported by the market, and the other half is supported by a ‘gift’ economy of subsidies by artists themselves, governments, and big donors. This economy is premised on non-monetary compensation recognition, status, appreciation, etc. Corporations who invest in the arts receive a similar return of social and cultural capital, an aura of civic engagement and high class status. Governments feel it is their duty to subsidize this ‘sacred’ sphere that is somehow beyond the market. Abbing concludes that subsidies and myths are making the situation worse and enticing more and more people to enter the arts under false pretenses.
Do non-monetary rewards make up for the fact that so many artists are monetarily poor? Why should or shouldn’t the arts be subsidized by corporations, governments, and artists themselves?
Here's Hans Abbing's website. He's both an artist and an economist/social scientist. We need more of those.
This blog is a collection of research and reflections produced in the planning of the Art + Value Conversations. It includes histories of artist labor organizing and activism in the US and abroad, advocacy toolkits for artists, personal narratives, and academic articles. We hope it will be a useful resource for Chicago artists to frame the Art + Value Conversations